N.Y. OKs ambitious climate plan to boost renewables, nuclear

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2016

New York regulators today signed off on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for tackling climate change by rapidly expanding the state’s renewable footprint and throwing a lifeline to ailing nuclear reactors.

The New York Public Service Commission approved key parts of Cuomo’s landmark clean energy standard, which requires the state’s electric sector to generate half its power from renewables by 2030 (Greenwire, July 11).

Central to the strategy is shoring up more wind and solar power while providing hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to three at-risk nuclear plants in upstate New York.

Audrey Zibelman, whom Cuomo tapped to lead the agency through 2018, told a packed conference room in Albany, N.Y., that the governor’s clean energy standard is not “anti-gas” but instead “pro-diversity” and warned that New York’s carbon-free reactors would be replaced with fossil fuels if allowed to close.

Democratic Commissioner Gregg Sayre, another Cuomo appointee, said today’s decision showed that the cost of climate change needs to be incorporated into economic decisions and that closed reactors would likely be replaced with more gas facilities and higher emissions.

“I don’t think that’s the result we want,” Sayre said.

Republican Commissioner Diane Burman also voiced support for the plan, noting that anti-nuclear sentiment that surfaced in the record was expressed by individuals who don’t live near New York’s upstate reactors.

Zibelman reiterated that the plan — but not the state goal of achieving 50 percent renewable energy — could be tweaked to protect consumers should underpinning energy data change.

She also said addressing climate change is now a moral imperative and no longer a choice, pointing to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message during the Paris climate talks that saving the planet, lifting millions out of poverty and advancing economic growth are linked.

“It really may seem odd for an economic regulator to be so worried about carbon, but that would really be wrong,” Zibelman said. “By not effectively pricing in the cost of the environment to our electric choices, we are in fact causing economic inefficiencies.”

Commission staff said today’s decision kicks off a series of meetings and briefings with load-serving entities, including electric distribution companies, the Long Island Power Authority, the New York Power Authority, electric cooperatives and a group of direct customers.

Staff also reassured Burman that the plan would not affect revenues for utilities in the state and explained a number of changes in the final version of the clean energy standard approved today.

Yet Cuomo’s plan does face pushback from the state’s electricity grid and power market manager, the New York Independent System Operator, which has warned that doubling down on renewables could affect grid reliability (EnergyWire, Aug. 1).

And an outburst by a protester at the meeting also reflected that not all environmental groups support the agency’s path forward.

“I guess she doesn’t like renewable energy,” Zibelman said as the protester was led out of the room.