Sierra Club applauds Cuomo plan to get rid of coal in New York by 2020

The Sierra Club applauded the fact that in his annual State of the State address on Jan. 13, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed to a full phase out of New York’s coal-fired power fleet by 2020 while doubling down on his promise to rapidly usher in a new energy economy fueled by renewable energy.

Cuomo has raised the bar coming out of the climate change conference late last year in Paris for the 200 countries committing to solve the climate crisis, the club said. The covernor’s coal phase out commitment follows on, and is more bold, than the recent coal phase outs announced by the United Kingdom and Alberta, Canada.

This historic step comes as the governor reaffirmed his pledge to reduce climate pollution 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, and cemented his mandate that 50% of New York’s electric energy will be sourced by renewables by 2030. In a suite of groundbreaking climate commitments, the club said that the covernor pledged to add 150,000 solar panels and 300 wind turbines and convert the State University of New York (SUNY) campuses to renewable by 2020. He also committed $300 million to bolster the Environmental Protection Fund.

In the year since he banned natural gas fracking, Cuomo has become a national leader on climate protection through renewable energy programs such as the Reforming Energy Vision (REV), the Clean Energy Fund and the recently announced Clean Energy Standard, which will be finalized in July, the club added. An increased investment in renewable energy, including offshore wind, will provide jobs, new manufacturing and increase economic development while protecting communities from dangerous climate pollution.

Lisa Dix, New York Senior Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said: “Governor Cuomo has enshrined himself as an international climate leader with today’s commitment to phase out all coal in the state by 2020. This measure, coupled with a transition plan for coal affected communities, will both protect the health of New Yorkers and the climate while finally putting an end to coal’s dirty legacy in the Empire State.

“Today, Governor Cuomo has shifted New York’s focus from the energy of the past to the energy of the future. We look forward to working with the Administration toward a just and fair transition policy framework for coal affected communities and to support the Governor’s legacy climate and energy programs. His commitment to end coal, and invest in New York communities and jobs will build New York into an economic powerhouse, and an international leader, fueled by renewable energy.”

There has been a recent flurry of news over coal plants on the brink

A number of coal plants in New York are already heading for the exit. In some recent news from that front:

  • Huntley Power LLC, the operator of a coal-fired power plant in New York, on Jan 11 notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of its withdrawal of a proposed unexecuted reliability must-run (RMR) agreement. Huntley, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), owns and operates the Huntley generating facility located in Western New York. It now intends to retire the plant’s two units by March 1. Huntley Units 67 and 68 are coal-fired units, with 218 MW of nameplate capacity apiece, that began operating in 1957 and 1958, respectively. The units are located in Tonawanda, N.Y.
  • Filed with the New York State Public Service Commission on Dec. 17 was a Dec. 11 letter from the New York ISO to National Grid about the possible shutdowns of the Dunkirk and Huntley coal plants. Said the New York ISO letter: “By letter dated October 30, 2015, National Grid informed the New York Public Service Commission that reliability of the local National Grid transmission system and the Bulk Power System can be maintained through at least 2020 even if Dunkirk is mothballed and Huntley is retired effective March 1, 2016, subject to the implementation of certain system upgrades.” NRG Energysaid in its Nov. 4 Form 10-Q quarterly report that it has taken impairment losses related to plans it recently communicated to the New York PSC to shut the coal-fired Huntley and Dunkirk power plants. Dunkirk is a coal-fired station in Dunkirk, New York, made up of a (nameplate) 100-MW Unit 1, a 100-MW Unit 2, a 217.6-MW Unit 3, and a 217.6-MW Unit 4.
  • Greenidge Generation LLCGreenidge Pipeline LLC and Greenidge Pipeline Properties Corp. sent a brief Dec. 15 letter to an administrative law judge at the New York PSC that there’s been a delay in the air permitting for a coal-to-gas conversion project at Greenidge Unit 4. Greenidge Pipeline LLC and Greenidge Pipeline Properties Corp. had filed on Sept. 24 with the New York commission for approvals for a natural gas pipeline project to serve the Greenidge plant. Greenidge Generation on Sept. 10 applied at the New York PSC for an approval to re-start Greenidge Unit 4. Greenidge 4 is a 106.3-MW steam turbine facility.
  • The current and prospective owner of the coal-fired Cayuga and Somerset power plants told the New York PSC in a Dec. 15 brief that the Sierra Club can’t drag in outside issues about future plant operations into a case where the PSC is being asked to approve the sale of these plants. On Sept. 29, Upstate New York Power Producers Inc. (USNYPP), Cayuga Operating Co. LLCSomerset Operating Co. LLC and Riesling Power LLC filed a joint petition seeking expedited approval for the transfer of 100% of USNYPP’s ownership interests in Cayuga and Somerset to Riesling. Cayuga and Somerset own and operate the 312-MW Cayuga facility located in Lansing, N.Y., and the 668-MW Somerset facility, located in Somerset, N.Y. The Sierra Club submitted comments aimed at these plants and any future operation they might have on coal. The companies noted that the commission is examining in a separate case whether Cayuga’s proposal to repower the Cayuga Facility to using natural gas better satisfies an identified grid reliability need. The companies pointed out that the Cayuga plant’s current reliability support services agreement (RSSA) with New York State Electric & Gas expires on June 30, 2017. The Sierra Club requested that the commission direct NYSEG and the New York ISO to investigate reliability issues and solutions associated with a potential retirement for Somerset. “The Sierra Club’s purported concern regarding the Somerset Facility is entirely speculative as there has never been any notice of intent to retire the Facility,” the companies said. “Moreover, the results of any reliability study conducted now would be stale by some future date if and when a notice of intent to retire the Somerset Facility is filed.”

Governor wants last coal plants shut or refueled with natural gas

Says a policy background memo issued Jan. 13 by the governor’s office in support of his State of the State address: “Coal is one of the highest greenhouse gas emitting and environmentally harmful fuel sources for power generation. While coal supplied the bulk of our energy needs up until the 1950s, the nation now enjoys access to cleaner, greener and more sustainable energy resources for power production. In fact, today, New York State has only three active coal fired power plants that produce less than 4 percent of the state’s energy load and one plant is scheduled for closure in 2016.

“To achieve the state’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector 40 percent by 2030 the Governor seeks to close or repower the three remaining coal burning power plants to cleaner fuel sources by 2020. To accomplish this goal, the Governor will direct the Department of Public Service and the DEC to work with the New York Independent System Operator to develop a regulatory framework that will ensure system reliability while facilitating repowering to cleaner fuel or closure no later than 2020.

“To minimize economic impact on communities and workers the Governor will draw upon the state’s $19 million mitigation fund to help offset financial losses associated with the retirement of aging or obsolete power plants. Governor Cuomo is committed to working with plant owners and host communities to achieve his objective in a manner that will preserve jobs or retrain current employees for new jobs in New York’s clean energy economy and provide tax revenue stabilization assistance to local governments and school districts.”

Said the policy memo about $300 million more for the Environment Protection Fund: “The Governor announced that New York State will allocate $300 million for the state’s Environmental Protection Fund – the highest amount ever for the fund and more than double the fund’s level when the Governor first took office. This increase will provide record funding for urgent environmental investments, adding resources for land acquisition, farmland protection, invasive species prevention and eradication, waterfront revitalization, and an aggressive environmental justice agenda.

“These proposals further New York State’s legacy as an environmental leader and build on the Governor’s previous accomplishments – including his efforts to both reduce state greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and guarantee that 50 percent of all electricity consumed in New York by 2030 result from clean and renewable energy sources.”

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.