Atlantic Chapter

Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.

State energy plan leaves out renewables, ignores climate goals

by Robert Ciesielski

The State of New York has issued its proposed “Energy Plan.” It is rather amorphous in its goals, outlining the current energy picture in New York, but is only a little clearer as to direction. 

For instance, while Governor Cuomo has stated that renewable energy is a priority, the only priorities mentioned in the plan are affordability, private sector financing, a resilient and flexible power grid, more consumer control over energy use, and “aligning energy innovation with market demand,” failing to mention renewable energy.  The plan envisions an infrastructure of large, centralized electric power plants and fuel distribution systems that “will continue to play a vital role in providing the reliability we expect and deserve.”

The Chapter sees the continued investments in fossil fuels as incompatible with achieving New York’s climate change goals.  We, along with the national Sierra Club, see the rapid development of renewable energy—coupled with intensive efforts to further energy conservation and efficiency—as the means of extricating ourselves from a climate change disaster, or at least mitigating its consequences. 

Chapter members have urged the state to formulate an Energy Plan that immediately begins moving New York away from dirty fossil fuels such as coal, oil, methane gas, and nuclear power, towards the clean renewable energy solutions of the future. In recent public hearings across the state, Sierrans have included the following points:

  • The Energy Plan must include mandates for enforceable interim steps and targets that will meet the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.
  • New York must turn away from dirty and dangerous energy and double down now on our investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The Energy Plan must commit to extending the state’s renewable energy target to ensure that 50% of New York’s electric energy comes from renewable energy sources by 2025.
  • Let’s “turn not burn.”  The Energy Plan must follow up on Governor Cuomo’s landmark commitment to solar (New York Sun) and make a similar commitment to scaling up investments in clean, renewable wind power, both Upstate and off our shores. The plan must commit New York to doubling land-based wind capacity and investing in offshore wind this year. Specifically, the state can purchase offshore wind energy to power Long Island from a project under development east of Montauk Point, and move forward with a project proposed by the New York Power Authority off the Rockaways.
  • New York cannot frack and burn to a clean energy future.  To truly combat climate disruption, the Energy Plan must commit to retiring dirty, outdated and uneconomical coal and oil plants and move beyond gas to replace aging and highly polluting generation. Converting dirty and polluting coal and oil plants to gas will do little if anything to reduce the state’s carbon footprint.
  • New York must move away from further increased investments in gas infrastructure and protect our families from fracking. Increasing the state’s reliance on natural gas commits us to significant investments in unsustainable gas infrastructure that will lock in reliance on fossil fuels for decades to come, burden rate-payers with volatile prices, crowd out opportunities for increased renewable resources, and open New York up to the devastating practice of hydraulic fracturing, which is severely degrading nearby states.
  • New York must commit to decommissioning its nuclear power plants and abandon any plans to increase energy generating capacity from nuclear sources. The U.S. Department of Energy has yet to solve the problem of disposal for the highly radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants.  Also, the ongoing toxic releases from these plants, both planned and accidental, pose catastrophic risks to human and environmental health.
  • New York should electrify its vehicle fleet so that reductions in the carbon intensity of the power sector translate into climate benefits from the transportation sector.
  • In order to conserve energy, building codes should be updated to address retrofitting older buildings with energy efficient doors, windows, and insulation. Electric transmission lines must be upgraded because at least 25% of produced energy is wasted in the transmission process. New transmission cables should ensure hook-up capacity for produced renewable energy and its use by grid customers. The plan should emphasize a long-term view of energy conservation at the source of production, with the aim of reducing energy usage. Our consumer-based society must look at sustainable economic development including all sectors, such as transportation, agriculture, etc. Peak load energy usage can be reduced by implementing demand response programs, along with increased solar panel distribution.
  • A feed-in-tariff should be adopted with the goal of rapidly developing solar, wind and geothermal renewable energy. Long-term 20-year energy contracts between renewable energy producers and utilities provide financial stability that (1) encourages the construction of renewable facilities, and (2) encourages private investors to fund renewable energy projects. Contract rates are based upon the cost of constructing the energy production unit, together with a fair 5-10% profit for the renewable energy provider.  In some instances the contract rates are set by a bidding process. The feed-in-tariff has been used worldwide to rapidly develop renewable energy, manufacturing and installation jobs, and investments.
  • The state should develop structures to aid the growth of micro-grids or regional grids, as opposed to solely large-scale utilities.  The smaller grids are important means of developing local, sustainable renewable energy, reducing energy loss during transmission, and promoting regional energy security.  Micro-grids can be developed through feed-in-tariffs or appropriate net-metering laws which permit co-ops and community renewable energy developments.
  • The plan itself, at points, indicates that the use of methane gas will rise from its current 36% of the state’s energy supply through 2035 due to its low cost. Guesstimates ignore studies such as one by PGM (the independent system operator for parts of 13 states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey) which finds that if 30% of its energy production was supplied by wind power, annual production costs would be reduced by $9 billion and the wholesale cost of its electricity reduced by $21 billion. Carbon emissions would be reduced by more than 29%, and there would be no reliability problems in supply. 
  • Additionally, the social, health and environmental costs of fossil fuel production and its use should be considered by the state as part of the cost of the continued use of coal, oil, fracked gas, and nuclear energy.

What you can do:

Sierra Club members will have commented on the draft Energy Plan at at least six public hearings by time you read this. Public comments are still being accepted until May 30.

Send a personalized message to Governor Cuomo by clicking here.  

Bob Ciesielski, a member of the Niagara Group, chairs the Chapter Energy Committee.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014
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