New York governor outlines transmission, renewable energy priorities

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 8 in his 2014 State of the State Address outlined plans in the area of power transmission, including to get more upstate-generated power into load centers downstate, and solar energy development.

The governor said the state’s transmission infrastructure is antiquated and is preventing excess power in Upstate New York from entering the downstate region where demand is greatest. “Transmission bottlenecks on the aging electric grid increase utility bills and result in adverse environmental and economic consequences when older, less efficient plants must run more frequently,” said a background document on the speech. “In order to meet the State’s electric needs as well as preserve the quality of life in local communities, the Governor proposes expediting projects that would be built wholly within existing transmission corridors or buried along existing State-owned rights of way such as waterways and highways.”

Following the impact of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, Cuomo proposed a $17bn strategy that will transform New York’s infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning system and emergency management to better protect New Yorkers from future extreme weather. The state will undertake major projects including the hardening of the state’s electric grid and creating 10 microgrids for communities and buildings that can operate as “energy islands” in the event of a power outage.

The governor’s office said the New York State Public Service Commission and the state will work with utilities and private developers to reform regulatory and financial hurdles that have prevented investment in microgrids. The goal is to develop at least 10 community grids and microgrids statewide in 2014.

In the past, the governor launched his Energy Highway initiative to stimulate new investment in energy infrastructure and develop energy policy recommendations. The Energy Highway Initiative is now well underway and has made substantial progress, said a background document, such as:

  • Development of a Reliability Contingency Plan to prepare for potential large power plant retirements (the PSC since November 2012 has been looking at alternatives in case the 2,000 MW+ Indian Point nuclear plant has to be shut);
  • Acceleration of investments in electric generation, transmission and distribution to improve reliability, safety and storm resilience;
  • Evaluation of opportunities for repowering older inefficient plants upstate, including the recent agreement to upgrade the coal-fired Dunkirk facility to cleaner-burning natural gas;
  • Initial steps toward development of offshore wind resources;
  • Initial funding for Smart Grid demonstration projects; and
  • Initial development of an Advanced Energy Management System Control Center.

Local solar, biomass initiatives are part of the Cuomo plan

In 2013, Cuomo launched a $1bn Green Bank to work in partnership with the private sector to remove financing market barriers in the clean energy sector, expanded the NY-SUN solar energy program, and set a goal of 2,500 new electric vehicle charging stations by 2018.

In another area, the Renewable Heat NY will challenge communities to develop clustered approaches for sustainable biomass heating markets, through a competitive grant program. In addition, through Gov. Cuomo’s $800m BuildSmart NY initiative, NYPA can finance all up-front costs for advanced biomass heating systems in state and municipal buildings and will coordinate with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to ensure that biomass heating projects can take advantage of all available financing and technical assistance from the state. Renewable Heat NY will also work to develop long-term, reasonably-priced private sector financing to cover the up-front cost of qualified biomass heating systems for buildings outside of the municipal sector.

During NY-SUN’s first year, the governor made a commitment to double the state’s solar capacity. NYSERDA estimates that developed capacity in 2013 will be four times greater than 2011. Under NY-SUN, the State is working to expand the solar market by providing long-term program certainty, and to reduce “soft costs” of solar development by helping local governments adopt model zoning and permitting procedures and providing innovative financing options. In recognition of these efforts, the state was awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge. The next phase of this work is to lower the costs of project initiation by encouraging the aggregation of customers, helping more people to deploy solar through consumer awareness and lowering the total cost of solar photovoltaic systems.

“Despite massive growth in this industry, there are still opportunities to expand solar energy into new markets,” said a background document for the Jan. 8 speech. “While virtually every New Yorker pays for renewable energy programs through surcharges on their utility bills, private solar installers have offered their services to only a fraction of the state’s population. Of the nearly 5,000 public schools in the state, many are prime candidates for solar energy but have not been able to navigate the bureaucratic channels to finance it through potential energy savings.”

As the next phase of NY-SUN, Cuomo will establish Community Solar NY, which will be a comprehensive community solar package to address these issues and make solar energy available to all New Yorkers that want it. This initiative will include “K-Solar,” which is a program to provide incentives, financing, and technical assistance to school administrators who want solar installations at their schools.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.