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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.Torchlight

Show Us The Power

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

March 05, 2018

The only chance for New York City to meet its pledge to cut its carbon footprint 80% by 2050 is to make sure that its buildings and its transportation are powered without (much) fossil fuel. While we have a long way to go in a time frame that's short, there is a lot of creative ferment and public discussion about making new and old buildings alike proudly energy efficient, along with accelerating the introduction of electric vehicles, while throttling back on total car use and reviving the decrepit mass transit system. Calls to electrify everything abound and New York State's REV (Reforming the Energy Vision), gives pride of place to shifting the electric power supply model in the direction of Distributed Energy Resources that will rely on clean power sources like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal.

While the Sallan Foundation sponsored the panel Offshore Wind in New York: What's Next? during Climate Week 2017, prospects for onshore, rooftop scale on-shore wind power also have been getting attention. In February 2018, the City Council Environmental Protection Committee conducted hearings focused on rooftop scale wind turbines, as it contemplates new local legislation. Intro 0048-2018 would require the City to map local wind resource potential for buildings taller than 100 feet and situated in designated "Zone Green" areas. This mapping initiative could both create informed decision-making on wind power's contribution to growing total renewable energy capacity as well as to saving time and money for building owners considering this energy option.

Intro 0050-2018 would set noise limits and establish building code specifics to guide property owners in "Zone Green" areas interested in installing rooftop wind power devices, sized at 100kW or less. The Committee had experts testify about emerging and existing technologies, like vertical or bladeless rooftop scale wind turbines and what could be done to remove legal impediments to their installation diffusion, while ensuring public safety and enhancing New York City's supply of clean energy. The Committee is also considering Intro 0598-2018. It would require all City-owned buildings to be powered by green energy sources no later than 2050, as well as Resolution 176-2018 in support of developing New York's multi-megawatt offshore wind power potential, in recognition of its role in realizing the State's Clean Energy standard, which requires all utilities in the state to distribute 50% of the electricity from renewable sources, not limited to wind, by 2030.

At the Environmental Protection Committee hearing, the De Blasio Administration offered "general support" for the bills. The NYC Environmental Justice Alliance testified on behalf of wind power, specifically addressing Resolution 176-2018 by observing, "In addition to its promising economic potential, wind power — particularly through large-scale offshore wind development — can have extensive environmental and health benefits in vulnerable communities who have been historically exposed to noxious pollutants generated from fossil fuel energy infrastructure … The City should study, prioritize and streamline the deployment of wind power systems in the coming years … We recommend that any offshore wind power cost-benefit analyses include economic, social environmental and resiliency benefit inclusive of robust equity metrics." Much the same could be applied to rooftop scale wind power.

Now, let's kick things up a level to New York State. That's where the major, direct levers of energy law and regulation reside, as well as funding for utilities' energy efficiency incentive programs; the City's direct legal powers when it comes to utility and non-utility electricity are circumscribed in comparison. The Cuomo Administration has been making major decisions and making headlines about its efforts to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, something slated to occur in 2021. Its closure will mean an end to 25% of New York City's current electric supply, all 2,000 megawatts of it carbon-free.

At a February 2018 panel hosted by the Guarini Institute at NYU Law School, panelists were confident that replacing the carbon free power now generated by Indian Point would be achievable. NRDC commissioned a report about the impact of the plant's shutdown, which modeled six different futures. It supports Indian Point closure and concludes that the shutdown will not hinder the State goal of getting 50% of its electric power supply from renewables by 2030 or raise carbon emissions levels. It also posited that energy efficiency gains will be critical to this endeavor, although the current 1% annual gains in efficiency can and must be ramped up to 3%. Jackson Morris, the NRDC panelist, called this "hard but doable".

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), whose job it is to "keep the lights on" was confident, based on its analytic work whch found a steady 8 year trend of declining electricity demand in this state, that the post-Indian Point power grid will be able to ensure continued energy reliability, even as the moderator pushed panelists hard on both reliability and decarbonizing the power supply, calling the nuclear shutdown "nuts" from a climate change perspective.

So, is a clean, low carbon, reliable and cost-effective energy future for New York "hard but doable" or "nuts" without Indian Point? Stay tuned, or better yet, get engaged.

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