Interviews & Profiles

Making a case for how New York can reach its climate goals

As state Climate Action Council hearings solicit public input statewide, National Grid New York President Rudy Wynter discusses a new report where the company details ways the state can reach its ambitious climate goals.

National Grid New York President Rudy Wynter.

National Grid New York President Rudy Wynter. James Diaz Photography

Energy provider National Grid has unveiled a new report, “National Grid’s Clean Energy Vision: A fossil-free future for cleanly heating homes and businesses,” which describes the company’s proposal for a hybrid approach to delivering fossil-free fuel. That energy delivery, the company says, would come through National Grid’s existing gas network, combined with energy efficiency for buildings and what it calls “targeted electrification.”

The report comes as the state Climate Action Council has been soliciting public input that will be used for a draft and eventually a final scoping plan to guide implementation of the state’s climate goals. Hearings have already been held in the Bronx, Brookhaven, Binghamton and Albany, while more are planned for Syracuse, Buffalo, Brooklyn and Tupper Lake in the coming weeks. Virtual hearings are scheduled for May 7 and 11. National Grid’s proposal also is coming just days before the celebration of Earth Day.

City & State sat down with National Grid New York President Rudy Wynter to discuss the company’s report and how its plan might help New York achieve its clean energy goals. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Please talk about your “clean energy vision for New York” report and how it came about.

Our exciting vision outlines how exactly we want to bring about fully decarbonized energy as well as decarbonized heating to homes and businesses across New York and doing that with a diverse set of solutions. Clearly, climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation. We operate in New York state, which is an absolute leader in looking for solutions to combat climate change, delivering natural gas and electricity. We also have investments in renewables across New York state. We drafted the report because it’s up to us to lean in, be a leader and bring forward practical solutions that could help the state meet its goals. But at the same time, we want to make sure we had solutions that were affordable for consumers, because we’re on an energy transition. This has to also be a just energy transition. What we’ve seen is that usually certain communities get left behind with past transitions. We cannot let that happen with the energy transition. We need solutions that also are practical and maintain reliable reliability of the network. So that’s why we put forth this vision, a vision of how we can get there by 2050. 

The report talks about using “four pillars” to achieve this vision. Can you please elaborate on what that means?

The four pillars are about bringing a diverse set of solutions. You might ask well, “Why such a diverse set of solutions? Why can’t we just pick one.” This is a complicated and complex problem. It’s a complicated and complex problem that needs a complex set of solutions to bring to bear. We need to bring forward more clean energy solutions, and it’s too early in the energy transition to start taking things off the table and picking winners and losers. Let me make it clear, New York is a leader and will hit its climate change and climate goals, and we’re going to be a part of that.

Please describe each pillar and what they each hope to accomplish.

The first pillar is energy efficiency. We have got to use less energy, less electricity, less natural gas, and we have to start as a utility. Our role in that is working with customers, to help them inspect their homes, their businesses and understand what else they can be doing to reduce their energy usage, and then, connecting them to programs and incentives to help them do that. Whether it’s insulation, putting in new systems in their homes or businesses, replacing windows, whatever the right solution is for them. We have to start with energy efficiency, reducing the amount of energy. 

The second pillar is centered around our 100%, fossil-free gas. We operate in the outer boroughs of New York City and Long Island (as) a natural gas distribution business. In upstate New York, we’re in the electricity distribution business, electric transmission business and the gas business, and we’re also investing in renewables. This particular pillar focuses on the role of the gas network going into the future and how we are well on our way to decarbonizing the electric grid. By adding in solar and wind, we can also decarbonize the existing natural gas. We can do that by blending in what’s called renewable natural gas, or RNG, and green hydrogen. Over time, it can blend into the existing infrastructure. It can blend with the natural gas that we have in there now, which is essentially methane that gets taken out of the ground. It’s a fossil fuel, we can blend over time and reduce the dependency on the fossil fuel, increase the RNG and hydrogen, and our vision is to be by the year 2050, essentially, fossil fuel-free. 

The third pillar is what we call the hybrid heating pillar. Hybrid heating essentially allows you to utilize your heat pump in those months where it’s cold, but not extremely cold. But when it gets extremely cold, and the heat pump might be struggling a bit to keep a property warm, you could then utilize pillar two, the cleaner burning natural gas network, to heat in those times.

And then the fourth and final pillar is targeted electrification, and electrifying a lot of the heating sector, as well as utilizing a geothermal system and network geothermal.

What kind of policy moves would help you execute this vision? 

What we need is an RNG standard in New York state to send a market signal to developers, and then, also allow the utilities to purchase renewable natural gas in the market. There isn’t a particular physical impediment for doing this. It’s really just about sending out the right market signals that it’s needed. That it’s wanted. Developers will actually come in and make that happen. 

So what are your next steps with the report?

Climate Action Council hearings are happening across the state. We are a part of that process, and we are offering up solutions to that process, so that the state can look at this, as well as information from a number of other sources and a number of other constituencies in order to help make the best policy decisions for New York going forward. We are sharing this information, we are sharing this analysis with the state, with regulators. And we look forward to continuing working with them and continuing the dialogue to find the right solutions for New York.