New York unveils bold solar, energy storage plans


Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York is known for being able to grab headlines with his often audacious goal-setting announcements on any number of subjects, especially green energy leadership – and he did it again yesterday during his annual State of the State address.

In the speech, Cuomo re-committed the state to eliminating all coal from the state’s power plants by 2020, invest $200 million from the New York Green Bank in energy-storage research and provide 10,000 low-income New Yorkers with access to community solar through a new state-funded program.

The decision to eliminate coal is perhaps the most arresting element of the plan (even though he originally proposed the coal-elimination project in 2016), but for those who follow the energy segment closely, the more interesting piece is Cuomo’s pledge to lead a regional initiative to reduce emissions from gas peaker plants.

Gas “peaker plants” are widely seen as an important resource to balance the intermittency of renewable energy deployment, including in highly credible reports on integrating very high portions of renewable energy. The plants are designed to support traditional power plants during periods of high demand, or “peaks”. However, at the end of the day these are fossil fuel-fired plants and emit CO2, and in some cases they can be replaced by battery storage.

In California, for example, plans for one of its utilities to build a peaker plant were roundly rejected by the Public Utilities Commission, and a new law requires utilities to include non-peaker-plant support in their long-term plans. Yesterday’s announcement indicates Cuomo watched that development closely and is following the Golden State’s lead.

Cuomo said he will direct the state’s Department of Energy Conservation to expand its current rules on carbon reduction goals to group peaker plans together so they are covered by the regional agreement that limits carbon emissions for projects totaling more than 25 MW.

In his speech Cuomo argued that this is important because peaker plants are generally much smaller than traditional power plants and are sometimes smaller than the 25 MW of capacity currently covered by carbon-reduction rules.

The governor also pledged to create a Zero Cost Solar For All Program to give 10,000 low-income New Yorkers access to solar through community solar programs. Cuomo said the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will deploy its purchasing power to get community solar subscriptions these electricity consumers.

Community solar programs, pioneered in states like Colorado and Minnesota (and becoming an enormous driver of the solar industry in the latter), allows electric customers that don’t own their own roofs to use solar energy to power their residences. Last year, the state expanding its existing community solar program and says the benefits of the program reached $260 million.

The new program would build on the foundation of the previous one.

Finally, Cuomo announced a plan to fund energy storage research in the state with $200 million from the New York Green Bank. The governor says the investment could employ 30,000 residents in this rapidly growing adjunct to the renewable energy business. He also announced an initiative to deploy 1.5 GW of energy storage by 2025.

The governor claims the commitment is the largest per capita of any state. The investment follows passage of legislation in Albany in December that established an energy storage mandate that will be met by 2030.

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