NY Senate Passes Ambitious Renewable Energy Measure

The NY state Senate has passed the most ambitious climate legislation in the nation, codifying a goal of net zero emissions in New York by 2050.

The bill passed 41-21 early Wednesday morning.

The measure is expected to be approved by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It puts in law a target of eliminating emissions from the electric sector by 2040 and increasing renewable electricity to 70 percent by 2030, and includes Cuomo’s re-branded “Green New Deal” goals for offshore wind, storage, energy efficiency and small-scale solar.

“This bill will create a roadmap to having a society, a state, where we have a carbon neutral economy,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Nassau) during debate Tuesday night. “That’s an incredibly important point in a state with an economy as consequential as ours.”

The final deal, released on Tuesday morning, drew praise from environmentalists who pushed for action on climate this session. The targeted emissions reduction to 15 percent of 1990 levels by 2050, with the remainder offset through natural carbon sinks or other measures, is the most aggressive legal mandate in the country.

“Overall this is an incredible bill. It is going to be the strongest bill in the country on climate mitigation,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar with The Nature Conservancy. “We’re going to net zero with very, very stringent requirements on how we’re going to do it.”

Republican senators raised concerns about the potential costs of the measure, impacts on businesses and the lack of detail about how the goals would be achieved.

Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) questioned established climate science which indicates that humans are accelerating climate change. He said he doesn’t think giving “unilateral power” to the 22-member climate council created in the bill is the right approach.

“Their solution is going to be to make it more expensive to live in the state of New York,” he said. “I don’t know what solution this legislation is going to propose.”

Senate Finance Chair Liz Kreuger (D-Manhattan), responding to Lanza, said there could not be any more delays in addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

“With all due respect, this is the worst drivel I’ve ever heard on this floor,” she said. “We are in a crisis … We have to act now. This bill isn’t saying exactly what we’re going to do between now and 2050,. This bill is saying we better damn well start.”

Business groups and the Independent Power Producers of New York, which represents merchant generators, have raised concerns about the cost of the targets and impacts on energy-intensive industries.

“When I look at these solutions — I see loss of jobs, I see increased energy rates… and I see further hampering of New York’s economy without any guarantee that we are meeting these goals,” said Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda). “This is going to be especially harmful to upstate New York.”

Ortt said the community he represents, where one of the state’s last remaining coal plants is slated to shut down, has already been hurt by the governor’s policies.

Kaminsky said the measure allows for industries that can’t reduce emissions to pursue offsets.

Renewable electricity generation accounted for about 27 percent of total produced in 2018, according to the New York Independent System Operator. The state has consistently missed its goals for increasing renewable power in the past and even Cuomo’s previous goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030 is seen as challenging because of issues with siting and transmission.

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan raised concerns with the speed of the movement of the bill and the creation of a 22-member council that will come up with a road map to achieve the carbon neutral emissions goal.

“I think it’s wrong to do something of this magnitude in this short period of time, particularly when we’re giving up our authority… to this unelected committee of state bureaucrats,” Flanagan said during Tuesday night’s debate, noting that the Department of Environmental Conservation must implement regulations to enforce and achieve the goals. “Aspirational? Yes. Realistic? No.”

Kaminsky noted that the Climate and Community Protection Act, on which the bill is based, has been around for years.

Some advocates expressed disappointment at late modifications backed by Cuomo.

NY Renews, a coalition that backed the longstanding CCPA that forms the basis for the measure known as the “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” said the final version didn’t include specific worker protections and watered down requirements to target environmental justice communities with clean energy funds.

“On climate, we won the strongest emissions reduction standards in the country in the face of immense resistance from the powers that seek to preserve the status quo,” the group said. “On climate justice and labor justice, we pledge to continue the fight for New Yorkers to win and maintain true investment in low-income and black and brown communities that too often bear the brunt of the climate crisis.”

The bill requires that 35 percent of uncommitted “clean energy and energy efficiency” money flow to “disadvantaged communities” — a term that a working group would define but includes low-income, minority and historically polluted areas. NY Renews had pushed a 40 percent mandate applying to a larger pool of money collected from utility ratepayers and power generators.

Some Democratic senators also raised concerns about the changes to the final measure.

Sen. Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan) voted for the bill but said it was not a “full loaf” and that he hoped there would be changes to include stronger labor protections and more funding for environmental justice communities.


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