Will New York produce enough renewable energy in time to meet its deadlines?

capped landfill on New Scotland’s Upper Flatrock Road

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
One town’s trash … A capped landfill on New Scotland’s Upper Flatrock Road may be the site of solar array. 

NEW SCOTLAND — With the signing into law of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last month, New York out-California’ed the Golden State by approving a “historic” and “landmark” piece of legislation that has been hailed not only as the most “aggressive,” “progressive,” and “ambitious” climate plan in the country but also the world

The new law requires the state to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 85 percent by 2050. No small feat considering that, according to the most recent available data, New York State between 1990 and 2016 had reduced carbon emissions by just 13.5 percent. 

And, if that weren’t enough, the state’s Clean Energy Standard says that, by 2030, seventy percent of New York’s electricity has to come from renewable energy sources. By 2040, the new law says, the state’s electricity sector is to be “100-percent carbon-free.” 

With its Clean Energy Standard, New York joins California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington, as states that, by statute, will have 100 percent of electricity generation from carbon-free sources by the middle of the century. 

New York State currently gets around 60 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources; about one-third comes from nuclear power and about 30 percent comes from renewables, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Carbon-emitting natural-gas-powered plants generate about 40 percent of the state’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Getting to an 85-percent cut in carbon emissions could mean fundamentally changing the way many New Yorkers live their lives. The state’s transportation sector, for example, accounted for 37 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2016, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. That was followed by “on-site” combustion — heating —  in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, which made up 30 percent of the state’s carbon emissions. 

All told, according to NYSERDA, fossil-fuel combustion accounted for 81-percent of total greenhouse-gas emissions in New York State in 2016.   

In the coming week, The Enterprise will look at one possibility for trapping greenhouse-gas emissions that, according to a professor of agricultural science at Cornell University, if it were added to 10 percent of global cropland, could trap all of the greenhouse gas emitted by humanity on an annual basis.

This week, The Enterprise examines at how the state, its utilities, and municipalities are looking to wean themselves off of fossil fuels. New Scotland, for example, is taking advantage of incentives to turn dump lands into solar arrays.



In 2018, renewable energy sources accounted for about 28 percent of all the electricity generated in New York State, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. And the majority — about 81 percent —  of that 28 percent was from hydropower. 

Electricity from wind power accounted for about 3.2 percent of all the power generated in the state in 2018, while energy generated from solar sources accounted for about 1.4 percent.  

The state’s push to have 70 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2030 looks especially ambitious considering the nuclear-powered Indian Point Energy Center — which generates 12 percent of all the electricity in the state — is scheduled for complete closure by April 2021; that means the current 60 percent of electricity in the state coming from carbon-free sources, will soon be closer to half.

To get to the 70-percent threshold, the state has instituted certain mandates and coupled them with huge investments in renewable-energy projects. 

In April 2018, a report from NYSERDA and the New York State Department of Public Service, established energy-efficiency targets for the state’s investor-owned utilities, which would require the utilities to “reduce energy consumption” in the state by the “equivalent to fueling and powering 1.8 million New York homes by 2025,” which would account for about 5 percent of what was forecast to be state’s total primary energy use in 2025.

Additionally, the April 2018 report said, the reduction in energy consumption would “deliver nearly one-third of the [greenhouse gas] reductions needed to meet the State’s climate goal…”

 In December 2018, the New York Public Service Commission issued an order based on the April 2018 report. In addition, the PSC set an energy — or battery —  storage goal of 1,500 megawatts of electricity by 2025, which is enough to power 1.2 million average-sized homes; by 2030, the PSC set an energy-storage goal of 3,000 megawatts.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act says that 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind are to be installed by 2035; currently, zero megawatts of offshore wind have been installed off of the state’s coast. There are, however, about 2,000 megawatts of wind power located in upstate New York. 

During the signing of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that, at nearly 1,700 megawatts, the state had executed the country’s largest offshore wind agreement as well as the largest renewable energy procurement by a single state in the nation’s history. The two wind projects, which are to be built off the coast of Long Island, according to NYSERDA, “will produce enough electricity to power more than one million New York homes.”

The new law also calls for 6,000 megawatts of solar to be installed in the state by 2025. As of the end of July, according to NYSERDA, about 30 percent of the state’s solar-install goal had already been met. In addition, there were another 1,077-megawatts worth of projects in the works. In Albany County since 2000, there have been 3,795 commercial, industrial, and residential solar installations, accounting for about 78 megawatts of power. 

According to NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Standard Annual Progress Report: 2017 Compliance Year, which was issued in February of this year, in 2017, the statewide electric load was 153,163,000 megawatts; about 72 percent, or 110,080,000 megawatts, was generated from non-renewable sources.

By 2030, the state’s clean energy standard says that statewide electric load can be no more than 140,992,000 megawatts; 70 percent, or 98,694,400 megawatts, are to be generated from renewable sources. 

Currently, however, between existing sources and projects in the works, only 53,967,000 megawatts of renewable energy can be accounted for, which means between now and 2030, another 44,727,000 megawatts of renewable energy will have to come online. 

“Decarbonizing power generation” will not be enough for New York State to meet its greenhouse-gas emission goals, according to an analysis of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act by McKinsey and Company.


New Scotland’s solar

In July 2017, amid an influx of inquiries into large-scale solar development, rural-turning-suburban town of New Scotland passed a local law governing solar energy with the primary goal of preserving farmland and open space. In December 2018, New Scotland’s Planning Board approved the town’s first large-scale solar farm

When complete, the 1.875-megawatt ground-mounted solar system at 331 New Scotland South Road will generate enough energy to power about 350 homes for one year, according to the site’s developer.

At its August meeting, the New Scotland Town Board approved a request from Solomon Energy, a Connecticut-based energy advisory firm, to allow the company to solicit on behalf of the town proposals to install solar arrays on two town-owned landfills

In 2018, NYSERDA published a new solar guidebook to help municipalities develop projects on underused properties like landfills and brownfields. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation also adopted new rules that made it easier to install solar arrays on the underused properties. Additionally, revisions were made to the financial incentives provided for developing projects in landfills and brownfields.

The first New Scotland site is located at 237 Upper Flatrock Road and is the home of the town’s transfer station. The property is about 62 acres of which approximately 30 acres would be available for development. The second site is a 9.7-acre capped landfill located near the intersection of Upper Flatrock Road and Delaware Avenue; the entire property is available to be developed.

What makes Solomon Energy’s proposal so attractive to New Scotland is that all of the development responsibility is placed on the company, but the ultimate say over the project’s fate remains with the town, which would receive a monthly rent check from the solar developer should the project get to that point. 

“The Town is attempting to utilize the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority NY-Sun Incentive Program which provides financial incentives for the installation of new grid-connected solar photovoltaic systems,” Solomon’s proposal states

The NY-Sun public-private partnership program was started in 2012 to help increase the state’s capacity of renewable solar energy. In 2014, Governor Cuomo announced a billion-dollar investment in the program that, according to NYSERDA, “would spur development of a market-driven, sustainable, subsidy-free solar industry” while also launching “the statewide NY-Sun Incentive Program to help reach these goals.”

Through March 31, according to NYSERDA, the NY-Sun program has funded the installation of 844 megawatts of solar with another 992 megawatts of projects in the works. Between pending and expended funds, the program has burned through close to three-quarters of its initial billion-dollar investment. 

NYSERDA says that NY-Sun-funded solar projects across the state, as of March 31, generate almost a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year, which reduces carbon emissions by half-a-million metric tons.

Landfill-located solar farms acquired the sobriquet “brightfields” in 1999, when the United States Department of Energy launched a new initiative aimed at repurposing contaminated sites around the country for the production of pollution-free solar energy. 

“This novel concept,” according to the Department of Energy, “addresse[d] three of the nation’s greatest challenges: climate change, urban revitalization, and toxic waste cleanup.” 

The number of operational landfills in the United States has dropped by about 78 percent over roughly the past three decades, according to the most recently available data from the Environmental Protection Agency, from about 7,900 in 1988 to about 1,740 in 2015. During the same period, the number of active landfills in New York State went from 227 in 1988 to 27 today.

All of these closed-down landfills — “plus portions of active landfills with closed cells” — mean millions and millions of acres are available for solar development, about 15 million, in fact, according to the EPA.

“Solar’s abundance and potential throughout the United States is staggering,” according to the Department of Energy, if solar panels were installed on “just 0.6 percent of the nation’s total land area” — about 210,000 square miles or 13.4 million square acres — “[that] could supply enough electricity to power the entire United States.”

Landfills are well-suited for solar development, according to the EPA, because they are often:

— Located near critical infrastructure like roads and transmission lines;

— Located near large population bases, which are areas with high energy demands

— Built on flat surfaces, which are optimal for siting solar photovoltaic structures;

— Offered at lower land costs; and

— Able to accommodate utility-scale projects.

To date, the EPA has identified 289 contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites across the country that contain a total of 311 renewable energy installations,  which have a cumulative electricity-generating capacity of 1,561 megawatts. In addition, the EPA is tracking another 90 renewable-energy projects that are in various stages of planning, approval, or construction.

With 25 installations, New York State has the third-most renewable energy projects in the country; Massachusetts is first with 108 and New Jersey is second with 40 renewable energy installations. 

“The state of New York is finding ways to help encourage the development of renewable energy on brownfield and landfill sites,” the EPA notes. Through the NY-Sun program, the state has supported renewable energy installations on contaminated sites and landfills in Troy, Hoosick Falls, and Saratoga Springs.

The solar array at the Clifton Park landfill in Clifton Park, for example, is a town-owned facility where nine of the landfill’s 25 acres are covered in solar panels, which generate about 1 megawatt of power that is directed back into the electrical grid. Through a power-purchase agreement with the site’s solar developer, over a 25-year period, the town will reduce its own carbon footprint by about 90 percent and see up to $2.5 million in savings.

Although it’s not a contaminated site or a landfill, a 22-acre solar site on Becker Road near Altamont came online in May, which will allow the Guilderland Central School District, through a power purchase agreement with the site’s developer, Forefront Power, to offset 58 percent of the district’s annual energy consumption, while reducing operating expenses by $4.5 million over the next two decades. 

About its potential landfill solar project, New Scotland Supervisor Douglas LaGrange told The Enterprise that the town’s “main concern is a lease agreement.” Solomon Energy’s request for proposal does, however, ask that bidders include an “off-taker statement,” or power-purchase agreement but it appears to be boilerplate language.

Right now, New Scotland wants to take advantage of its two municipally-owned landfills because, LaGrange said, the town felt there was an “excellent opportunity” with the incentives offered by the NY-Sun program as well as the financial incentives provided for developing projects in landfills and brownfields. 

If a solar project were approved by New Scotland, the generous incentives currently being offered to solar developers by New York State could soon be passed on to the town in the form of increased compensation, the town board was told at its meeting in April by Michael Hamor who was speaking on behalf of Solomon Energy.

The town is looking for income from the solar farm, LaGrange said, because it is already pursuing savings for residents through other avenues, specifically, the town’s decision to enter into a Community Choice Aggregation administration agreement with the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, a not-for-profit development corporation, which could lead to a drop in residents’ electric bills.

LaGrange also pointed to another cost-saving project that has been in the works for some time, swapping out of the town’s current street lights for high-efficiency light-emitting-diode street lights.

“We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire; we’re trying to find every opportunity we can,” LaGrange said. ​

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