Business Column

How renewable energy can power the future of New York state

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If businesses expand into renewable energy, New York will be a clean energy leader.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would leave the Paris climate agreement, and the subsequent outrage from politicians, thought leaders and civilians, it might be easy to assume climate change would stay in the front seat and dominate conversations about politics.

The denouncement of Trump was short-lived, though, as other newsworthy events took priority in the media and discussions shifted to other political topics. But climate change isn’t stopping for anyone, and the harsh reality is that it won’t slow down unless we start prioritizing it.

Under the Trump administration, the future of federal support for renewable energy is uncertain. It’s now up to individual states to enact policies that support renewable energy businesses, and it’s up to those businesses to take action against climate change without being forced to by law.

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Luckily, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is recognizing renewable energy’s potential. In response to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, Cuomo announced the Clean Climate Careers Initiative, which aims to accelerate the growth of renewable energy across the state. The goal of the initiative is to create 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020 and make the state more attractive to renewable energy businesses.

Aside from making a positive environmental impact, renewable energy can have significant economic benefits. New York’s economy could use this initiative to jumpstart its recovery. For the last 30 to 40 years, manufacturing jobs have been slowly trickling out of the state, contributing to the economic downturn in upstate New York.

The state has already begun to establish organizations and partnerships essential to incubating renewable energy ventures. Efforts really took off in 2015, when Cuomo released the detailed Energy Plan, which outlines the state’s roadmap to a clean energy economy. The plan is an actionable manifestation of the governor’s Reforming the Energy Vision, a strategic framework for promoting clean energy development throughout the state.

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Simply working to achieve these goals will yield much-needed economic gains for the state. Reaching full efficiency potential would generate a net benefit of $30 billion over a 20-year period, according to a study from the New York State Energy and Research Authority.

But to make this happen, New York can’t work alone, said Paul DeMichele, a representative from the New York Power Authority.

“Collaboration between the public and private sector is critical to the success of New York’s renewable energy initiatives,” DeMichele said in an email. “Secondly, private sector development of renewable energy facilities will continue to increase as New York advances towards the 50 percent by 2030 Clean Energy Standard goal.”

The state has limited resources dedicated to renewable energy initiatives, so leaders must decide carefully which projects to pursue. New York already has several major hydroelectric facilities that provide the majority of its current renewable energy, but there’s room to focus on solar and wind power.

New York still has a long way to go to achieve its full solar power potential. After adding another 293 megawatts of solar power in 2016, the state has a solar capacity of 1000 MW just waiting to be used, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

 

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

The amount of energy generated by solar power is also expected to grow to about 3,000 MW over the next five years, per the association’s website. Cuomo has pledged to invest $1 billion into solar energy over the next 10 years, and there has been about $3.25 billion invested in total as of 2016.

The state has also launched the NY-Sun Initiative which aims to create a sustainable and affordable solar industry by supporting residential and commercial solar projects.

Surprisingly, solar energy generates less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity, meaning there is plenty of room for growth and job creation in the solar industry. Elon Musk’s SolarCity has committed to creating 5,000 jobs across the state, according to WIVB 4. Many of those jobs may come from a massive solar panel gigafactory in Buffalo that is expected to begin operations by the end of December. There are about 8,000 solar jobs in New York state, but that number will continue to grow as the state continues to build partnerships with companies like SolarCity.

Wind power has a bigger presence in New York than solar power. In 2016, wind power accounted for about 12 percent of renewable energy generated, according to a report from the New York Independent System Operator, a not-for-profit corporation that operates the state’s bulk electricity grid.

There are also projects in the works that could provide another 4,800 MW of wind power. Long Island will soon be home to the country’s largest offshore wind power project backed by substantial private investments.

The Long Island Power Authority has partnered with Deepwater Wind LLC to make it happen. Deepwater will be investing nearly $1 billion in the project through loan and equity financing, according to The New York Times. If successful, this partnership could pave the road for future large scale projects and incentivize other companies to follow.

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

Establishing a regulatory framework that encourages businesses to expand into renewable energy is key in turning New York into a clean energy leader.

“Once renewable generation reaches cost parity with fossil fuel based generation, the private sector will continue developing renewable resources without state incentives,” DeMichele said.

If New York wants to achieve its energy vision, it must continue to tap into resources in the private sector. Private companies are the main drivers of innovative technology and business models that will bring renewable energy’s potential to life. Without them, Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision will remain just that — a vision.

Daniel Strauss is a junior finance major and public communications minor. His column appears biweekly. He can be reached at dstrauss@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @_thestrauss_.

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