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New York REVs Up: Will We?

Paul Kando

Electricity is the energy form of a climate-friendly future economy. A combination of technological innovation, increasingly competitive renewable energy sources, aging grid infrastructure, climate change, extreme weather events, and system resiliency and security needs, are all harbingers of significant changes in how electricity is generated, distributed, managed and consumed. The availability of reliable, resilient, and affordable electricity is critical to the welfare of the public and essential to the economy. Therefore policies must ensure that the systemic changes taking place benefit everyone.

Last year New York State unveiled an ambitious energy plan. Its goals include reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, from 1990 levels, of 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. By 2030, half of the state’s electricity should be renewably generated; and a 23% decrease of energy consumed in buildings, from 2012 levels, is planned,. Energy use in state buildings will be reduced 20%, by 2020.

Accordingly, the state’s recently unveiled Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy capitalizes on the electric power industry’s transition, to put consumers first and financially benefit everyone. It marshals the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) power to regulate in support of these policy objectives by promoting energy efficiency, deeper market penetration of wind, solar, wider deployment of distributed power generation via micro grids, and other on-site power supplies and storage. Regulations will also promote greater use of advanced energy management products to enhance demand elasticity and efficiency. These changes, in turn, will provide consumers with greater choice in sourcing and consuming electricity.

Under the REV program, already 800 schools signed up for reduced cost solar systems, $40 million in grants encourage towns to build local micro-grids, and $13 million is available for low and middle income solar installations, &emdash; with a goal of 3,000 MW installed over 10 years. Also available: $1 billion in green financing, through public-private partnering.

Last month, the town board of Nassau, NY &emdash; population 5,000, next door to Albany &emdash; voted to get all its power from renewable sources by 2020 and reduce its reliance on the electric power grid. The town plans to convert to renewable sources over the next four years, using a combination of rooftop and ground-mounted solar, wind turbines and methane captured from organic waste – beginning with all six municipal buildings becoming 100% energy self-reliant.

The REV program encourages other towns to follow Nassau’s lead. But what about Maine towns like Damariscotta? The Paris climate agreement will remain empty words if we don’t minimize our energy consumption and develop our own renewable energy resources. Luckily, low oil prices free up money for investing in decentralized power systems, which are also less costly and cleaner than the big central power stations that make up today’s power grid.

As I wrote last week, good things happened locally last year. Let’s build on that. As for the electric power industry, it knows its business model must change. The shorter the transmission lines the cheaper the electricity. Let’s adapt together. The world that today’s children will inherit is at stake.