Kicking the carbon habit

Kicking the carbon habit

Kicking the carbon habit
September 30, 2015

Though the majority of the state’s energy policy is under the administration’s control, the state Legislature will still have a handful of important related issues to address when it returns in January.

According to the chairs of the energy committees in each chamber of the Legislature, lawmakers will need to closely monitor the state’s implementation of its new Reforming Energy Vision plan. Developed, rolled out and overseen by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the state Public Service Commission, the plan demands that the state reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.

To comply with the plan, the state will also need to draw 50 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, compared with the 30 percent taken from them now.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the Democratic chairwoman of the chamber’s Energy Committee, said that the finalized plan will be the guide for the session’s biggest pieces of energy-centric legislation.

“We’re all watching the REV, and clearly we’re going to have to put out a (renewable portfolio standard),” Paulin said. “The new RPS will need to be adopted, which may require legislative changes, so I think that is the most important issue, and key if we’re going to increase renewables in this state.”

The RPS will determine goals for how much renewable power each energy production facility will need to generate, and may have legislative components that will need to be approved by lawmakers before taking effect, Paulin said.

“We have to ensure that our plan going forward is solid,” she said. “We’re going to be watching it to make sure it is solid, and then give the Public Service Commission and NYSERDA any legislative support they need to make that happen.”

Paulin said she anticipates the process will be mostly painless, because of her positive working relationship with Republican Sen. Joseph Griffo, who chairs the Senate’s energy committee.

“I think Sen. Griffo and I work very well together,” Paulin said. “We both have the same vision for New York, which is making smart renewables for New York, as fast as possible.”

Griffo agreed, telling City & State that he doesn’t see too much of a divide between Democrats and Republicans on the major points of the REV and other energy policies.

“I think generally we agree a general energy policy needs to be established, and I think we agree about diversification,” Griffo said.

State Sen. Kevin Parker, the Democrats’ ranking member of the energy committee, also agreed that the issues generally are not contentious.

“Chairman Griffo and I have a remarkably congenial and collegial relationship and have worked really, really well together, and I speak to him often,” Parker said. “I don’t think these issues are partisan at all. I think everyone in the state is really invested in a reliable, safe grid, and making sure that consumers all over the state are protected.”

Griffo said he’ll be looking to ensure that the implementation of the REV is both responsible and transparent to spare New Yorkers from energy rate increases, citing East Asian countries that have too rapidly adopted renewables-centric energy plans.

Griffo said that despite Cuomo’s wide control over energy policy, the Legislature has a fair amount of leverage on the specifics, thanks largely to annual budget negotiations.

Beyond reviewing – and potentially modifying – the REV, the lawmakers named a handful of other projects they intend to focus on. All three legislators agreed that the state’s aging energy transmission lines need attention, especially in the wake of severe weather events in recent years.

“We need to continue to build out our transmission lines in the state,” Parker said. “As the governor says, we’re having 100-year storms every two years now. ... Transmission’s been a huge problem, so building out these transmission lines is a critical part of what we’re going to do.”

Griffo agreed, calling for “strategic” upgrades to the transmission infrastructure.

“Many are archaic now; they’re crumbling, like our bridges and roads, basically,” Griffo said. “So the same thing holds true here. If we don’t invest properly and try to modernize and upgrade them, we’re going to have a problem.”

Each lawmaker also listed other, less prominent bills and projects they are interested in pushing through the Legislature.

Parker said he would seek every opportunity for the Senate to be involved in improving access to high-speed, reliable broadband Internet.

“This is the Energy and Telecommunications Committee,” Parker emphasized. He said that broadband is the “next digital divide,” and is another issue on which he and Griffo “see eye to eye.”

Paulin, meanwhile, said she would seek action on a program to allow schools to invest in solar panels. And two measures she co-sponsored with Griffo that were punted out of the 2015 session are likely to be reintroduced this coming year. One bill would require gas companies to use a tiered system to report the severity of gas leaks at their facilities, to better inform residents and businesses of potential hazards. The other would offer incentives to homeowners investing in fuel cells as backup power generators.

Griffo said safety regulations for natural gas pipelines and incentive programs for homeowners looking to convert from coal to natural gas need attention, to ensure both are held to high standards.

The state’s rollout of the REV plan, along with its decisions on whether to keep aging power plants open, where to get power for the state, and how to regulate the energy industry as a whole, are all dependent largely on the Public Service Commission, out of reach of the Legislature. As Griffo told City & State, the lawmakers will first need to figure out “what, if anything” they can change, before looking to write new legislation.

What Got Done in 2015

Oil spill fund cap increases from $25 million to $40 million and industry fees for fund increased

Legislation making it easier for localities to negotiate with electric utilities over purchase of street lights, with the goal of making municipalities more energy efficient

What Got Done in 2015

Implementation of REV

Pipeline safety

Broadband Internet

Will Brunelle