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Comptroller: New York Really, Really Needs To Hustle To Hit Climate Goals

As the world burns, New York is in real danger of missing its once-heralded climate compact.

The Ravenswood Generating Station in Queens. (Scott Heins / Hell Gate)

When New York committed to hitting its ambitious climate goals in 2019 as part of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), 2030 seemed a comfortable distance away. With some hard work and using emerging technologies, New York would be able to get to 70 percent renewable energy if given a decade, and 100 percent renewable by 2040.

But time has a funny way of ceaselessly moving forward, even if large-scale clean energy projects don't. 

That's generally the theme of a report from the state's comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, released today, which spells out just how much New York needs to get done in the next *checks watch* seventy-six months, as we barrel into an unfathomable era of climate catastrophe. 

Extremely long project timelines mean that even if the state were to complete all projects in the pipeline (which has not been the case, at all—11.3 percent of renewable energy projects between 2005-2023 have been canceled, according to the report), getting all of those contracted projects operational by 2030 would require an unprecedented speed-up by the state bureaucracy and private contractors.

"Since 2015, only approximately .294 gigawatts, or 3.1 percent, of the total renewable electricity generation capacity under contract awards have become operational," the report found, meaning that just contracting a project doesn't guarantee it's actually going to be online any time soon. 

So what's the holdup? Permitting, financing, and just regular "please pay us more money" lobbying by energy companies. 

You have to be this tall to take the "save the planet" ride.

DiNapoli's report has some good news, as New York has sped up its permitting processes in recent years, thanks to reforms tucked into the state budget that cut down on needless studies and possible barriers put up by local opposition. But New York still has the longest wait times in the country to get approval to plug a project into the state's grid: over three years. Texas, which is blowing other state's out of the water on renewables, has a wait that's just half that time. 

On the financing front, a lot of the clean energy transition (and the infrastructure to implement it) will still come from the wallets of ratepayers, meaning that even as New York's energy gets cleaner, it will become more expensive (and we're already paying A LOT for our dirty energy). 

"Researchers have found that mechanisms that rely on charges per unit of electricity used tend to put a greater economic burden on lower income households than wealthier households," DiNapoli's report states. 

DiNapoli still believes that if everything goes just right New York could hit its 2030 climate goal.

"If the projects currently under contract…are able to move through the interconnection and construction process and needed transmission and distribution infrastructure is completed in a timely way, the CLCPA’s goal of generating 70 percent of the State’s electricity with renewable technologies appears to be in reach," the report states. 

Wait for it…. 

"But this is a big 'if,'" the report concludes. "While the State’s recently adopted reform of the siting law for renewable electricity facilities appears to have reduced the time required to permit facilities, it may need to be further expedited in a manner that continues to be protective of the environment and community concerns."

What does that further expediting look like? DiNapoli doesn't say. 

But it probably doesn't look like energy companies slamming the brakes on New York's huge bet on wind power until they can extract more money from ratepayers

Maybe it looks like New York State just doing the damn thing itself and building state-owned, large-scale renewables on an expedited timeline without the need to shakedown ratepayers at the very last minute, holding New York's climate goals hostage in the process. DiNapoli doesn't touch anything that sweeping in his report. Still, his message is very clear: We don't have a second to waste.

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