Vision for environment must be followed up with action

In the last 10 years, New York’s renewable energy — solar, wind, small hydro and other resources — g

On Oct. 8, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by former Vice President Al Gore, made some forceful statements on climate change, saying that “to deny that climate change is real is to deny reason.”

He went on to say, “Today, New York is stepping up. We are demonstrating the leadership and focus that this issue demands. We are joining together and committing ourselves to tackling climate change and showing the nation what is possible.”

The occasion was the governor’s signing of what is called the “Under 2 MOU,” a memorandum of understanding endorsed by more than 46 jurisdictions representing more than 497 million people in 19 countries and five continents.

It affirmed New York’s commitment to helping keep Earth’s average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius and committed the state to working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and the generation of electricity 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

To help achieve these goals, the New York State Energy Plan calls for generating 50 percent of our electric power from renewable sources by 2050.

While Gov. Cuomo has talked about climate change before — especially in the aftermath of hurricanes Irene, Lee and Sandy — the speech was notable in the clarity of New York’s obligation and intention to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was a speech that made me proud to be a New Yorker.

Signing the MOU, though, doesn’t spell out exactly what New York will do, so the speech might have left some wondering what happens next.

We could say, “Now is when the real work begins,” but the fact is that the governor’s energy team has been working hard for several years — creating demand for the clean energy we need to meet our needs while reducing the pollution that causes climate change.

Today, through the Reforming the Energy Vision proceeding and other initiatives, the state is considering the keystone to meeting these commitments: how to increase our renewable energy resources by a significant order of magnitude.

In the last 10 years, New York’s renewable energy — solar, wind, small hydro and other resources — grew from roughly 19 percent to 25 percent of total electricity use. How can we realistically double that to 50 percent in the next 15 years?

A critical step is to replace the state’s renewable energy standard. It expires at the end of 2015 after 10 effective years. For the past six months, New York state’s Public Service Commission has reviewed options for improving the program and collected public input, and should now be poised to make a decision. There is a high level of support for a new approach to large-scale renewable development; state regulators have received hundreds of letters of support.

The clean energy companies that are members the Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE NY), including producers and manufacturers of wind power, hydropower, solar, fuel cells and clean bioenergy — stand ready to invest in New York. But they need the certainty that only a strong, consistent and long-term public policy provides.

new program needed

New York needs a new, 10-year large-scale renewable energy program that requires utilities to purchase power from clean energy companies through long-term contracts, and to do so at the scale necessary to make sure New York achieves the state’s 50 percent goal.

These power purchase agreements will further stimulate the market, create jobs and get projects financed and built. This is an affordable plan, as the costs of wind and solar have dropped dramatically in recent years.

To follow up on Gov. Cuomo’s strong climate change speech, New York needs to get a strong large-scale renewable program in place now, so that investment can begin in 2016.

Certainly our clean energy and climate goals will not be met by one technology or one program, but this is a critical foundational step toward what will prove to be a long walk toward a healthier and more resilient New York.

Anne Reynolds of Glenville is executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a broad coalition dedicated to promoting clean energy, energy efficiency, a healthy environment and a strong economy for the Empire State.

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