New York’s Clean Energy Transition Must Foster Economic Growth & Protect Public Safety

By Ryan M. Silva | August 14, 2023

When New York finalized the details of its nation-leading plan to combat climate change and forged ahead with an implementation blueprint, it did so with the support of hundreds of local development officials statewide.

New York State Economic Development Council (NYSEDC) members, including the leadership of Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) and Local Development Corporations (LDCs), know first-hand the devastation that extreme weather events have inflicted on local communities, and the long-term economic toll of recovery efforts that divert time and funding away from proactive development.

The NYSEDC worked with and supported the state to enact statutory changes that explicitly authorized IDAs to support renewable energy projects and ensure they considered the state’s clean energy goals in evaluating projects to help New York achieve its goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050.

NYSEDC recognizes the acute need for our state’s clean energy transition. But we also strongly believe that New York’s move away from fossil fuels and onto renewables must occur in a methodical manner that safeguards the reliability necessary to foster economic growth and protect public health and safety.

Recent developments have raised red flags about the state’s progress toward a clean energy future and require serious review about how our ability to keep the lights on in the short term is being impacted.

A report from the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the independent nonprofit tasked with maintaining reliability of the grid, determined the New York City area could have a deficit as large as 446 megawatts as early as summer 2025.

The report also found that as building and transportation sector electrification increases there may not be enough power to supply large economic development projects in the pipeline across upstate. The report goes on to state that a future shortfall of power will significantly strain the electric grid’s capacity – and threaten reliability – if new renewable power generation and transmission projects are significantly delayed.

Further analysis by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli say we need to increase renewable energy generation by 200% above 2022 levels in order to achieve our 2030 goal of 70% renewable electricity.

New York needs to proceed toward its clean energy goals in a way that balances both practicality and reliability. After engaging in thousands of successful economic development projects statewide, NYSEDC members know that the best-laid plans require frequent revisiting as the landscape changes. Everything from labor shortages to the faltering energy grid, which the U.S. Department of Energy says must be expanded by 57 percent over the next 12 years, present previously unforeseen challenges on the path to a clean energy future.

This is not to say that we should put a halt to green energy spending, which has the potential to power the economy for years to come. A study commissioned by NYSEDC shows our members have supported over 300 renewable energy projects — from wind and solar farms in the Western NY, the Southern Tier and the North Country to offshore wind on Long Island — that will generate up to 4809 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power nearly 3.6 million homes — or about 47 percent of the state’s households. Clean energy is also expected to be a major job driver: To reach its 2030 benchmark of reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, the state estimates more than 200,000 new clean energy workers will be needed.

We need to take seriously the warnings issued by the NYISO, an independent and data-driven organization that has been closely monitoring the grid and its capacity to meet growing demand. New York must remove obstacles preventing the introduction of renewables into the grid and the infrastructure upgrades necessary to bring clean power where demand is highest. In the meantime, we must invest in bridge solutions that safeguard reliability and preserve our economic capacity – because no business can operate if the power goes out.

An orderly transition is needed, which means regulators, elected officials, and members of the public must keep an open mind about timelines and short-term solutions to preserve stability both in our grid and our business climate. Flexibility and the ability to readjust expectations are the keys to long-term success and accomplishing our renewable energy goals.

Ryan M. Silva serves as executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council and is a board member at the International Economic Development Council.

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