Independent power producers in New York have partnered with labor unions to petition the state to support development of nonemitting generating resources not currently defined as renewable, potentially leading to investment in carbon capture, green hydrogen, nuclear and renewable natural gas.
New York wants to decarbonize its electric sector by 2040, and wind and solar alone will not be sufficient to meet that goal, according to Independent Power Producers of New York (IPPNY) President and CEO Gavin Donohue. "There is no single technology that is the answer," he said in an email.
Renewables advocates concede the state will need some forms of nonemitting, dispatchable power in the future, but they say the electric sector's focus for now should remain on developing more storage, transmission, wind and solar.
New York passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019, requiring 70% of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040, en route to full decarbonization of the state's economy a decade later. The first goal is in reach, generators say, but eliminating all emissions will require the development of new technologies, and they want the state to assist.
"If New York State executes properly, our grid can handle the transition to 70% renewables by 2030. But how we reach zero emissions by 2040 while maintaining reliability is a massive question mark," Donohue said. "There is no single technology that is the answer, and we need all solutions on the table."
IPPNY, along with the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council and New York State AFL-CIO, has petitioned the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) to develop a "new competitive program or tier under the Clean Energy Standard to encourage the development of zero emitting electric generating facilities that are not renewable energy systems."
IPPNY underpins its petition with analysis like the 2020 Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) report, conducted for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which concluded "firm capacity resources will be needed to ensure year-round reliability, especially during periods of low renewables output."
"The PSC can send the needed investment signal to foster the development of the zero emission, dispatchable resources we need," Donohue said.
The generators and unions want the new program or clean energy tier to encourage a minimum of 1 GW of firm capacity to commence commercial operation by 2030.
The groups have asked regulators to make a determination by July 2022 that nonrenewable, zero-emissions energy systems "are likely to be technically capable by 2030 of providing the operating flexibility and dispatchability to provide the necessary reliability services that have historically been provided by fossil-fueled generating resources."
'False sense of urgency'
Conservation advocates say even if dispatchable resources are needed, the priority at the moment remains renewables and other nongenerating technologies.
"New York's focus now should be on building renewable electricity facilities, like wind and solar," Clean Energy New York Executive Director Anne Reynolds said in an email. The state "has a long way to make it to 70% renewables by 2030," and it should be investing in transmission, batteries, research and development for long-duration storage, wind and solar.
"By 2040, New York will need some dispatchable zero-emissions power, but how much we will need depends on our success with renewables, transmission and storage, so that should clearly remain the focus in the near term," Reynolds said.
With full decarbonization still nearly two decades away, IPPNY's proposal "represents a giant, unnecessary step backward for New York, manufacturing a false sense of urgency," Allison Considine, a campaign representative with the Sierra Club's New York chapter, said in an email.
Considine also warned that a broad definition of "zero emissions" could "perversely subsidize new fossil fuel generation and false solutions in the name of eliminating greenhouse gases."
New York is making progress on decarbonization, the E3 analysis points out. In the last 30 years, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 13%, with most of those reductions coming from the electric sector, which has decreased emissions to more than 50% below 1990 levels.
The transportation sector is New York's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and it constitutes about 36% of the total. The electricity sector is about 15%, according to the report, which concludes that New York's need for firm resources "would be most pronounced during winter periods of high demand for electrified heating and transportation and lower wind and solar output."
E3 also notes that decarbonization could lead to significant electric system cost reductions, but just how deep those cuts would be is unclear. A grid with high penetrations of intermittent renewables paired with firm, zero-emission resources could lead to cost reductions ranging from 10% to 62%, the report said.