A Renewable Energy Future for Long Island

by Lisa Dix, Senior New York Representative , Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign

Three years ago we faced a situation where the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) proposed to repower three outdated and unnecessary gas plants and build a massive new 900 megawatt gas plant. No More.

In late April, after much public and political pressure, LIPA and the utility PSEG-Long Island released their long awaited draft “Integrated Resource Plan” (IRP) outlining current and future energy needs for Long Island. The proposed plan outlines a bold path forward for LIPA’s transformation to a 21st century utility.

Top highlights of the IRP are as follows:

  • Add 800 megawatts of renewable energy to Long Island’s electricity mix, including offshore wind and solar, which will provide enough power for 350,000 homes by 2030.
  • Expand energy efficiency and rooftop solar investments and cut electricity load by 950 megawatts.
  • No new gas plants, gas repowering, and no additional fossil fuel generators. Electricity from new or repowered gas plants would cost more than current renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is now cost competitive and future costs are expected to decline further.
  • Instead of investing in large fossil fuel gas plants, renewable energy technologies will be augmented by battery storage, smart-grid controls and energy demand management and distributed energy sources.
  • LIPA’s new Energy Guide envisions dramatic growth of renewable energy from 2017 through 2030, in line with New York State mandates to meet 50% of the State’s electricity from renewable energy sources.

The IRP paves the way for New York State to deliver on its target of 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

The three year IRP study concluded that sinking more ratepayer funds into outdated fossil fuel power plants and building new pas plants is unnecessary given the enormous $5 billion cost or to meet future reliability needs. The report firmly concluded that LIPA does not need to add new fossil generation to meet load growth through at least 2035.

Instead, the IRP found that the most cost effective new investments are renewable and efficiency. The growth of renewable energy from 2017 through 2030 will serve to better balance and diversify Long Island’s energy supply and will stabilize and reduce costs for bill payers.

This is a major game changer.
The Beyond Coal Campaign in collaboration with the Atlantic Chapter and the Long Island Group launched our mighty offshore wind and renewable energy campaign back in 2012, “Let’s Turn, Not Burn.” When we started, LIPA had less than 3% of renewable energy in its portfolio. The Sierra Club and others put immense public and political pressure on LIPA to quit stalling on renewable energy and efficiency and ramped up a campaign to urge LIPA to continue to select renewable energy in all of its new generation proposals year after year. With our partners we created the offshore wind coalition, which began with 6 organizations in 2012 and grew that to over40 by the end of 2016. We never let up the pressure from rally after rally, public pressure at the LIPA Board meetings, the epic Wind 100 run, coalition letters, tens of thousands of petitions, earned and paid media efforts, offshore wind conferences, and huge press events with elected officials and partners. We won an interim milestone during the LIPA reorganization legislation that put a specific target on LIPA to procure at least 400 new megawatts of renewable energy by 2018. This target ensured that more solar was brought online to meet the interim target, which helped eliminate the need for new fossil generation and paved the way for offshore wind.

In the end we won the advancement of New York’s first, and nation’s largest, offshore wind project off the east end of Long Island — a project that was combined with battery storage and demand response. This proposal beat out building new gas/oil peaking plants on the east end of Long Island on the economics. With our partners we secured 100% renewable energy commitments from Hampton towns. And, we won a commitment from the state of New York to build at least 2.4 gigawatts (2400 megawatts) of offshore wind by 2030. Our advocacy paid off by securing an amazing reversal on the part of LIPA – we in the end stopped the repowering of three outdated and unnecessary gas plants and the building of a new 900 megawatt combined cycle plant!

If LIPA succeeds in all the renewable and efficiency goals outlined in its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the utility will be on track to be fully decarbonized by 2030 and perhaps an exporter of offshore wind. There will be hearings in June on the IRP on Long Island, which we are gearing up to pack the house!

It certainly took a village to achieve what we did. Huge thank you goes out to the New York Beyond Coal team, the Atlantic Chapter and Long Island Group, countless Sierra Club volunteers and volunteer leaders, our amazing offshore wind coalition partners with an extra special shout out to Renewable Energy Long Island, Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, All Our Energy, NRDC, and the National Wildlife Federation.

For further information see the Sierra Club statement and NRDC Blog: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/jackson-morris/new-analysis-clean-energy-can-meet-long-island-power-needs

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