Yesterday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that’s been described as the state’s Green New Deal. Unlike the one that’s been floated in Congress, this one isn’t a grab-bag collection of social and energy programs. Instead, there’s a strong focus on energy, with assurances that changes will be made in a way that benefits underprivileged communities.
The bill was passed by both houses of the New York legislature last month, but Cuomo held off on signing it so that he could pair it with an announcement that suggests the new plan’s goals are realistic. The state has now signed contracts for two wind farms that will have a combined capacity of 1.7 GW. If they open as planned in under five years, they will turn New York into the US’ leading producer of offshore wind power.
What’s the (social) deal?
The national Green New Deal did include some energy-focused plans, but it mixed them in with aspirational ideas like a guaranteed basic income. It’s hard to understand how New York’s plan has picked up the same name given that it’s nothing like that. While there is some nod to New-Deal-like programs (the law will create a Climate Justice Working Group for instance), those aspects are limited in scope to issues brought up by transitions in the energy economy. Instead, the majority of the law is focused on changing the state’s energy landscape.
Chief among the law’s focus are clear targets, set using a baseline of 1990 emissions. The law wants all of those gone by 2050, with an interim goal of shaving them by 40 percent by 2030.
There are also specific goals for different types of clean energy. Distributed solar is expected to have a capacity of six GigaWatts by 2025. Offshore wind is expected to reach nine GigaWatts of capacity by 2035. There’s a target for energy efficiency improvements (a 185 trillion BTU reduction by 2025) and storage (3GW by 2030) as well. Emissions from the production of electricity are expected to be zero by 2040, a decade ahead of the state going carbon neutral.
The actual detailed regulations and incentives that will get New York to this clean future, however, aren’t spelled out in the bill. Instead, they will be set by administrative actions, taken by various state regulatory agencies, which will calculate a social cost of carbon, evaluate current emissions, and update their plans every five years. Responding to concerns about the “greenwashing” of emissions, the law does spell out some extensive restrictions on emissions offsets, as the value of many offset schemes has been questioned.
The attempts to tackle social issues are embedded in this framework. Fossil-fuel-powered generating sites tend to produce environmental issues that disproportionately hit poor communities; the law seeks to ensure that the move away from fossil fuels benefits them accordingly. For example, site decisions for air pollution monitoring equipment are directed to make disadvantaged communities priorities. A similar focus will be brought to training people to find work in the companies that will benefit from the energy transition. As for direct spending on energy and efficiency, the law sets a goal that 40 percent will go to disadvantaged communities.
What’s the (economic) deal?
While the law recognizes that the state’s emissions are relatively small in the global sense, it argues that the plan can have an outsized economic impact. “Such action will encourage other jurisdictions to implement complementary greenhouse gas reduction strategies and provide an example of how such strategies can be implemented,” it states. “It will also advance the development of green technologies and sustainable practices within the private sector, which can have far-reaching impacts such as a reduction in the cost of renewable energy components, and the creation of jobs and tax revenues in New York.”
The factual nature of these statements was demonstrated by the accompanying announcement of offshore wind. While onshore wind is now one of the cheapest sources of electricity, the offshore option remains about a third more expensive than options like nuclear power. However, that represents a dramatic drop in price from just a few years earlier, primarily driven by the efforts to develop the technology in Europe. So, it’s not a surprise that the two large offshore projects planned in New York are going to be done by Norwegian and Danish companies. Similarly, in June, New Jersey announced a deal with a Danish company to develop a 1.1 GW project off its coast.
While other states have set goals of larger total offshore capacity, New Jersey’s deal will see the construction of what will be the largest single site to date in the US. New York will not be able to dethrone its neighbor, but its two sites combined will have a capacity of 1.7GW, potentially turning it into the national leader. Both will be situated offshore of Long Island, one off its eastern tip and the second closer to New York City. While the electricity they produce is likely to remain expensive, said production will begin in less than five years.
While New York does have some onshore wind, the majority of its renewable energy comes from hydroelectric power, much of that imported from Canada. Large projects like this will be essential to reaching its energy goals. Given the state’s coastline is largely limited to Long Island, the region will likely provide a valuable testbed on how to integrate large amounts of renewable energy into a grid that has, historically, been quite prone to failure.