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New York’s NIMBY Suburbs Are on a Winning Streak. Will They Destroy Renewable Energy Too?

New York has zero time to address its climate needs. Will legislators finally stop listening to the suburbs?

9:25 AM EDT on June 20, 2023

A wind turbine, with New York Harbor in the background.

(Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)

Aside from short stretches filled with apocalyptic smoke, New York has been enjoying a delightfully temperate spring. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is either currently on fire or boiling. We're seeing unprecedented atmospheric deviations, as climate change redefines what we consider to be "normal" weather. The time to decarbonize the economy was well before yesterday, but today works as well. 

Which is good—because the New York State Assembly is back in session today, to finish up some urgent business before taking the rest of the year off. (None of that urgent business includes anything related to the state's housing crisis, just for the record.) Last week, New York's nonprofit energy operator warned that some of the state's dirtiest fossil fuel plants will probably have to remain online longer than anticipated. Why? Permitting holdups and supply chain slowdowns, which have held up much-needed power lines that would bring renewable energy from upstate and Canada into New York City. 

It's fine for New York to cut it close between building up renewables and guaranteeing reliability—the closer we cut, the less fossil fuels the state will burn, and the more urgent the need to quickly build renewables becomes. What probably can't happen is the state just dragging its feet on the building of renewables, idly blowing past its climate commitments while allowing fossil fuels to burn, which is why this week in Albany might end up being extremely important. 

A bill called the Planned Offshore Wind Transmission Act has already passed the State Senate, and awaits passage in the Assembly. The bill would allow the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the state's energy authority, to play a larger role in the construction of wind energy projects, and bypass approvals needed from every township or locality that a power line might need to pass through. 

Right now, New York's carbon-neutral future relies on a massive build out of offshore wind, with several projects already going through the permitting process. As Hell Gate reported this April, New York could still hit its 2030 climate goals, but that would mean building infrastructure at an unprecedented pace, and not delaying projects even further.

But NIMBYism has reared its ugly head once again. 

The town of Long Beach on Long Island has brought up "concerns" around the legislation, regarding the laying of a power line under a beach. The bill, in addition to giving important powers to NYSERDA, would specifically target that project, expressly giving the state permission to continue building the much-needed project without Long Beach tying it up forever. (Long Beach would still have to give permission for needed park alienation, however.) Without passage, environmental advocates and unions warn the state's climate plan will fall even further behind schedule

So will the Assembly act on a vital piece of climate legislation before it's already too late? If the housing battle is any indication, we wouldn't bet on it. 

Links that don't require parkland alienation or endless environmental review: 

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