The nation leading wind energy targets established in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) have become significantly more attainable thanks to recent developments at the state and federal levels.
President Joe Biden last month announced a plan to expand the use of offshore wind power along the East Coast, designating an area between Long Island and New Jersey – otherwise known as New York Bight – as a priority offshore wind zone. When developers respond, this designation, combined with $3 billion in guaranteed loans for wind projects, promises to drastically reduce carbon emissions and according to an American Wind Energy Association report has the potential to create 83,000 jobs by 2030.
Another recent and significant development in the offshore wind industry was the state Public Service Commission’s (PSC) unanimous vote to permit the South Fork Wind project, being developed by Orsted and Eversource, to connect to New York’s power grid. In a separate action, the PSC declared a public policy need and through the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) kicked off a proceeding to find transmission solutions to bring the energy created by investments in the offshore wind industry onto the grid.
These are crucial steps necessary to bring New York’s first offshore wind farm online. When complete, it will generate enough clean energy to power more than 70,000 homes. These actions also underscore a fact too often overlooked in the renewables debate: Without adequate transmission investments and upgrades, the state’s climate change goals will be difficult to achieve.
Currently, New York has more than two dozen wind farms accounting for about 2,000 megawatts of utility-scale wind capacity. These facilities produce roughly 3 percent of the state’s overall energy generation. The bulk of that is produced in remote areas upstate. But as the NYISO has noted in its “Tale of Two Grids” illustration, these wind facilities are dependent on congested transmission lines that at times force them to operate at reduced capacity. That means not all of the wind energy capable of being produced actually reaches consumers.
To understand future system needs, the NYISO modeled the CLCPA’s 70 by 30 scenario and found that in multiple areas – particularly upstate – generation from future renewable energy projects could not be fully realized absent increased transmission capability.
Fortunately, New York is investing billions of dollars to improve energy efficiency and transmission as part of its overall climate change plan. The PSC recently approved two transmission projects, with a total investment of $1.4 billion, to enable the integration of more renewable power into the grid and advance its flow to high-demand downstate markets.
But these efforts can only do so much. It will take the successful realization of New York’s offshore wind plans to generate enough renewable energy to meet both downstate demands and the CLCPA goals.
The sense of urgency is real and the NYISO has urged the PSC to “move quickly” in supporting a meshed transmission network to support offshore wind development, noting it would “maximize the use of limited available transmission cable routing options.” NYISO planning experts believe a coordinated, meshed network – as opposed to one-off interconnections – would also improve reliability as multiple renewable sources come online.
Elected officials, policymakers and developers are thinking outside the box in order to assure the CLCPA’s success. That approach must be broadened to include the transmission system –New York’s clean energy future depends on it.
John R. Durso is President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO