By Emily Dean, Director of Market Development, NYSERDA / Member, BE-Ex Board of Directors
Contributions from Christian Bergland, Project Associate, Building Energy Exchange
This July was the hottest month ever recorded. As our planet experiences record temperatures with increasing regularity, urgency of climate action has never been more apparent. Preventing climate catastrophe is an enormous task, requiring shifting from a carbon-driven society to a carbon-neutral one. This shift will not happen on its own, and its catalyzation requires significant public and private sector support.
Placing New York at the vanguard of the fight against climate change, the State recently passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). An ambitious body of legislation aimed at curbing New York’s climate impact, the CLCPA is nothing short of groundbreaking. Mandating that 70% of the State’s electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2030, increasing to 100% clean electricity by 2040, the CLCPA charts New York’s path to a carbon neutral economy.
A Grid for Tomorrow
Renewable energy sources currently account for 28% of New York State’s electricity, with hydropower making up the bulk of that number. Dramatically increasing this capacity in just over a decade will require a significant undertaking with innovative approaches to adding renewable energy sources. To this end, the CLCPA targets adding 6,000 MW of solar capacity by 2025 and 9,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2035.
Solar and wind are considered intermittent resources, as they only produce electricity when weather conditions are right. Solar panels only produce energy during the day, while wind turbines require that the wind be blowing. In both cases, energy might be produced at times when the grid is experiencing low demand, leading to excess production, and may fail to produce when electricity demand is highest. To manage intermittency, the CLCPA includes a mandate for 3,000 MW of energy storage by 2030, allowing for optimization of renewable sources, storing excess energy to be released at times of peak demand.
Land-based wind’s potential is well proven, but with land at a premium in downstate communities, offshore wind promises to provide renewable energy to New York’s largest load center. Offshore wind can be positioned close to densely populated coastal centers like New York City and Long Island, where winds at sea are strong, allowing for unparalleled productivity and resource reliability. New York State has already moved towards realizing the resource’s potential with Governor Cuomo announcing in July two projects totaling nearly 1,700 megawatts – the single largest renewable energy procurement by any state in U.S. history.
Achieving New York’s net-zero carbon goal is predicated on the State’s ability to add renewable capacity. It will also require a radical transformation in how our building stock uses energy. As BE-Ex has written about previously, decarbonizing our buildings requires ending their reliance on on-site fossil fuel combustion for heat and hot water, phasing out oil and gas-powered boilers and furnaces. Instead, buildings must begin to transition today’s fossil-fuel based building systems to run on grid-sourced electricity, a process known as “electrification”. With a renewably powered grid, building electrification will deliver carbon-free heating, cooling and hot water services while improving occupant comfort and health.
Electrification is an essential part of the solution, but it must go hand in hand with deep efficiency and load reduction. Currently, New York’s grid experiences peak demand during the summer months, largely due to air conditioner use. This will likely shift, however, as buildings transition from on-site fossil fuel combustion to electricity for heat and hot water. Deep efficiency improvements are necessary to avoid creating winter demand peaks that dwarf those that we currently experience in the summer.
In our current paradigm of cheap, polluting fossil fuels, a significant portion of the energy that buildings consume is wasted. The good news is that nearly every building can benefit from energy efficiency solutions that will reduce energy cost and improve tenant comfort. NYSERDA’s RetrofitNY initiative is an example of how New York is accelerating innovative solutions and driving toward deep energy retrofits, working to build a market for high-performance retrofit solutions beginning with New York State’s affordable housing stock.
All Hands on Deck
Preventing climate calamity requires leadership and action at all levels. In April, New York City passed its own groundbreaking legislative package, the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA). The CMA limits building emissions beginning in 2024, mandating an 80% cut in median building emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2050. In addition, communities across New York State, covering over 80% of the State’s population, are taking action to reduce emissions and bring clean-energy solutions to their residents and businesses through initiatives like Clean Energy Communities and Climate Smart Communities. Industry leaders are demonstrating how dramatically reducing their energy use is good business practice. We have the tools and the technologies to embark on this transition, and a growing number of buildings are demonstrating what is possible. Resources like BE-Ex’s series of Tech Primers and Pursuing Passive report can help decision makers determine how best to make this transition themselves
Green Job Creation
In addition to its direct environmental benefits, the CLCPA will create thousands of green jobs in communities across the state and transform the State’s energy economy. New York’s aggressive stance in fighting climate change is already expanding and driving job growth. There are over 150,000 clean energy jobs across New York State, a segment of the economy that grew at twice the rate of the statewide economy during the last reporting year. The availability of a skilled workforce is critical to delivering on the clean energy goals codified in the CLCPA, and will continue to be a core focus of NYSERDA. The CLCPA will create jobs for New Yorkers– factory workers to engineers, financiers to maintenance operators.
Establishing New York State as a leader in the fight against climate change also means providing its workforce with the skills and education to lead the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. With the effects of climate change only set to worsen in the coming years, other jurisdictions are sure to follow New York’s lead, passing legislation to move their economies away from fossil fuels. As the post-carbon transition spreads across the country and the world, the CLCPA sets New York up to be a workforce leader, providing skills, knowledge, and technical know-how across the clean energy economy, including burgeoning markets like offshore wind energy, utility-scale solar, and energy storage. With the CLCPA, we are leading the way in preparing our workforce and our state’s economy for a post-carbon future.
Environmental Justice for All
Historically, disadvantaged communities have disproportionately borne the brunt of environmental pollution and negative public health effects from our fossil fuel-based economy. Compounding these historical injustices, these same communities are often the ones most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such an increased flooding and heatwaves. Homes in these communities are also more likely to lack air conditioning and proper insulation, rendering heatwaves potentially deadly. Efforts to stave off climate catastrophe must enhance our most vulnerable communities’ resiliency in the face of future climate challenges.
The CLCPA is ground-breaking in its emphasis on environmental justice, providing specific guidelines for insulating disadvantaged communities from the worst effects of climate change while mitigating past environmental wrongs. Seeking to actively improve environmental standards in disadvantaged communities, the legislation:
- Guarantees that a minimum of 35% of overall benefits of spending on clean energy and energy efficiency be directed towards disadvantaged communities.
- Establishes an environmental justice advisory group with diverse representation, including individuals from New York City as well as rural and urban communities upstate.
- Institutes a community air monitoring program, deploying air monitoring systems in highest risk communities statewide.
- Promises that carbon offset projects be located near the polluting entities which they offset, providing benefits to local communities impacted by pollution.
These measures will ensure that disadvantaged communities share equally in the environmental and economic benefits of the clean energy transition.
New York State: Climate Leader
With the CLCPA, New York State builds upon a legacy of successful clean energy initiatives and cements its place as a national and global leader in the transition to a net zero emissions future. While this transition will present challenges, it promises to benefit all New Yorkers and position the state for economic success.
Interested in learning more about NYC’s Climate Mobilization Act? Visit our Climate Mobilization Act Series website, a series we’ve developed to demystify the components of the Climate Mobilization Act and connect our community with relevant solutions.