A reactor vessel head at the Indian Point 2 power plant, which is shut down for refueling, was found to be leaking acidic coolant last week. Left uncorrected this could lead to serious corrosion in the vessel head.
Last month, more than 100 members of the Seneca Nation of Indians attended a public meeting in Pennsylvania to oppose a fracking wastewater treatment facility planned for the Allegheny River.
These days, it’s our most common refrain at NYER staff meetings: in the era of Trump, state and local-level climate policies are more important than ever.
That’s not to say that federal rules and regulations are irrelevant, or that the damage of having a climate denier in the Oval Office will not be “yuuuge“—they’re not, and it will—but for the next four years, the battle for climate progress will be spearheaded by mayors, governors, state legislators, and activists across our country.
“States have always led the way in regards to creating significant U.S action on climate change,” Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, told Grist. “The Trump victory will make state climate change efforts even more important.”
New York Leads The Way
New York is well-positioned to be an East Coast climate change leader—and actually has been for quite some time.
Twelve years ago, New York was one of seven Northeast States to sign onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI establishes a regional cap on the amount of CO2 pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances.
This pioneering program has been extremely successful. Since its launch it has:
- Helped cut carbon pollution from power plants by more than 37 percent;
- Saved consumers $618 million on energy bills;
- Generated $2.9 billion in regional economic growth; and,
- Produced $5.7 billion in public health benefits.
“With this proposal, New York will lower the emissions cap even further and set the precedent for recognizing and taking action against climate change to support the future of communities across the globe,” said Governor Cuomo.
Cuomo has also launched Reforming the Energy Vision, a comprehensive strategy that focuses on clean energy development while also spurring innovation, bringing new investments into the State, and improving consumer choice.
REV includes a slew of tangible, on-the-ground projects, such as:
- 10-year, $5.3 billion Clean Energy Fund
- NY-Sun initiative
- BuildSmart NY
- 10-year, $5.3 billion Clean Energy Fund
New York is also building the country’s largest offshore wind farm, a project just approved last month that will power 50,000 homes with clean, resilient energy.
Cities and local municipalities are also contributing to New York’s climate leadership. Under Mayor de Blasio, New York City has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. To reach this goal, the city must eliminate 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions: nine million metric tons from power production, seven million metric tons from personal and commercial vehicles, two million metric tons from the disposal of solid waste, and the remaining 25 million metric tons from energy used in buildings.
According to the city’s progress report released in 2016, there has been progress.
- Nearly 1,000 projects have signed up for energy efficiency investments through the Retrofit Accelerator.
- Solar capacity has tripled since 2013: city is now at almost 75 MW.
- 19 of New York City’s iconic hotels have joined the NYC Carbon Challenge program.
Is this enough to keep New York City on track to meet reduction targets by 2050? It’s not yet clear, but it’s a step in the right direction.
So, next time you’re feeling down about our current climate situation, repeat our mantra: local climate policy is more important than ever. And then call your representatives and remind them, too.
While the incoming Trump administration says that it will promote investment in fossil fuels, New York State is planning to head the other way and lead the nation in wind power generation.
In his 2017 State of the State address this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed that New York build 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 — including a 90 megawatt project off Montauk, Long Island and an 800 MW project off the Rockaway Peninsula.
The Governor’s office said that the state’s plan is the “largest commitment [to off-shore wind] in U.S. history.” If all 2.4 gigawatts of wind power are developed, an estimated 1.25 million New York households would no longer rely on fossil fuels as their source of electricity.
Cuomo described wind as an “untapped resource” for New York.
“New York’s unparalleled commitment to offshore wind power will create new, high-paying jobs, reduce our carbon footprint, establish a new, reliable source of energy for millions of New Yorkers, and solidify New York’s status as a national clean energy leader,” the Governor said.
New York State Moves Ahead With Transition To Renewable Energy
Ramping up wind power will be critical to New York’s objective that 50 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030.
Looking further ahead, Governor Cuomo said he has directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Energy Research and Development Authority to “determine the most rapid, cost-effective, and responsible pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide.”
The State Assembly has already passed a bill which would commit New York State to the use of 100 percent renewables by 2050. Environmental advocates are urging the Governor to support the bill.
Long Island To Become Wind Power Hub
By the end of 2017, the state says it will complete an “Offshore Wind Master Plan” for the Long Island coast, which has “some of the most favorable conditions for offshore wind in the United States.”
Cuomo said the state is determined to ensure that all of New York’s off-shore wind projects are both cost-effective and environmentally responsible, and developed in “close collaboration” with local communities. The Governor’s office specifically mentioned its intent to work with fishermen and others in the maritime industries who could be negatively impacted by off-shore wind arrays.
The Governor also promised that the arrays will not be visible from the coast as new turbine foundation technology enables construction in deeper water.
As a first step, Cuomo called on the Long Island Power Authority to approve a 90 MW offshore wind project 30 miles southeast of Montauk. The project has the potential to be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm, and is located in an area that can host up to 1,000 MW of offshore wind power.
According to the Governor’s office, the Montauk wind farm is the “most innovative and least cost way to meet the growing power needs of the South Fork and to provide cleaner energy for Long Island.” Contract negotiations are reportedly close to final, and LIPA will vote on the project at its January meeting.
Governor Cuomo also called on state agencies to ensure that a 79,000 acre site, 17 miles south of the Rockaway Peninsula, is developed to generate approximately 800 megawatts of wind power.
Last month, the international energy company Statoil Wind US LLC bid $42.5 million and won a federal auction for a 25-year lease to develop a wind farm on the Rockaway site.
Using Clean Energy To Grow the Economy
While it is unclear whether the incoming Trump administration will honor this country’s existing carbon reduction commitments, New York State plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and achieve the internationally-recognized target of an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The state plans to do this by overhauling New York’s energy system (our sources of power, along with the way in which energy is delivered to consumers).
The state sees the transformation of the local energy sector as an economic development tool. According to the Governor’s office, New York has already deployed $5 billion to stimulate investment in clean technologies like solar, wind and energy efficiency.
Over 105,000 low-income households across New York have permanently cut their power bills with energy efficiency assistance from the state. Those savings can then be used by families for other goods and services, and reinvested in the local economy.
The state is also anticipating ongoing job gains in manufacturing, engineering and other sectors related to clean energy, and points to the solar industry as an example of potential growth.
Since the start of 2012, New York has seen a 750 percent increase in megawatts of installed solar. New York’s solar industry is now the fourth largest in the nation and currently employs more than 8,250 workers, an increase of more than 3,000 jobs since 2013.
Can New York lead the country in linking job growth with fighting climate change? And can it do so in the face of federal ambivalence, or worse? Andrew Cuomo is betting yes.
New York State is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its enforcement of smog standards in nine other states, ranging from Illinois to North Carolina.
The suit alleges that air pollution from “upwind” states blows into “downwind” states like New York, contributing to dangerous ozone standard violations.
Elevated levels of smog can cause a host of significant health effects, including coughing, throat irritation, lung tissue damage, and the aggravation of existing medical conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and emphysema.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont have signed onto the lawsuit with New York.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement:
“States upwind of New York that don’t take adequate responsibility for their pollution shift the cost and public health burdens of this pollution onto New Yorkers. Our coalition has waited almost three years for EPA to decide on whether it will use its legal authority to require upwind states to stem their contribution to the smog pollution. As we have waited, the health of millions of New Yorkers has continued to be threatened. Today, we are suing to force long-overdue action by EPA on this important petition.”
Eleven northeastern states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont—and the District of Columbia are currently part of an “Ozone Transport Region,” a designation that requires them to implement smog-reduction policies.
The lawsuit seeks to add Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina to the Ozone Transport Region.
New York actually submitted a petition asking EPA to add the nine states in December 2013. The Clean Air Act requires action on such a petition within 18 months, but the Agency has yet to issue a decision. As a consequence, New York filed the lawsuit, demanding EPA provide for public notice and comment on the states’ petition and to approve or disapprove the petition, after considering public comment.
A spokesperson has said the EPA will review the petition and respond.
In the midst of political turbulence, the feds are continuing to plan for what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the country — right in our backyard.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is hosting a public meeting in Manhattan Wednesday night to discuss progress on the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project, which has been working its way through a multi-year review process.
Almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines could eventually be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula as part of the project. The wind farm could yield as much as 700 MW of energy—enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes.
BOEM is holding a public meeting this Wednesday evening (6/29), from 5 to 8pm, at the TKP New York Conference Center, located at 109 West 39th Street. (The meeting is in the Empire A Room.)
In the last two weeks, BOEM has held public meetings in four states (Long Branch, NJ; Hempstead and Westhampton Beach, NY; Narragansett, RI; and New Bedford, MA) in order to update the public on how the wind farm is progressing and offer additional opportunities for comment.
You can also weigh in on the project in writing — read about the public review process below.
Part Of The State’s Plan To Fight Climate Change
The Long Island – New York City wind project is intended to help New York State reach its goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.
The project was launched as a collaborative effort between Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority and the New York Power Authority.
Auctioning Off Development Rights
BOEM is preparing to host a competitive auction where bidders will vie for the lease to develop wind energy in 81,130 acres of federal waters off the New York coast. The agency is also hosting a public seminar this afternoon to describe the auction format and explain the rules to participants.
Wind power is steadily becoming more commercially viable. Other potential wind farm developers have expressed interest in the site off the Rockaways, according to Tracey Moriarty, a BOEM spokeswoman.
Developers of the Long Island – New York City project could construct as many as 194 wind turbines off the coast. The wind farm is moving through a four-step review process.
1.) Environmental & Visual Review
BOEM has conducted a preliminary environmental review of the potential impacts of a wind farm in the proposed ocean site.
Read more here about how to submit a comment on BOEM’s environmental review — the deadline is July 6th.
What sorts of impacts could such a project have? Local wildlife habitats could be disrupted, as could commercial fishing areas.
Another possible impact is visual. BOEM has been studying the impact on views from the coastline of a hypothetical array of 100+ wind turbines measuring 577.4 feet (176 meters) from water level to blade tip, which are configured in a grid pattern with roughly 5,000 feet between turbines. The turbines are assumed to be painted pale gray per Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.
The agency has generated photographs and videos to simulate views of this hypothetical wind farm under various weather conditions and times of day and night. The simulations were generated from a series of “key” observation points.
Public feedback regarding how the wind farm could impact the viewshed for coastal areas of New York and New Jersey will be used by BOEM as it finalizes the exact area of the ocean to be developed.
A lease to develop the wind farm in federal waters will be issued to the winner of a competitive auction process.
The 60-day public comment period on the proposed sale of leasing rights ends on August 5, 2016. Read more here about how to submit a comment and see feedback on the project from other government agencies.
3.) Final Site Assessment
A site assessment plan will be developed, which involves the collection of more information (e.g., wind speed data, biological data) about the area proposed for development.
4.) Operations Plan & Final Review
The wind farm’s developer will submit a construction and operations plan. BOEM must then carry out a full environmental review of the project.
Radioactive material has leaked into the groundwater below Indian Point nuclear power plant, prompting federal and state investigations, as well as condemnation from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Indian Point is located in Westchester County, approximately 25 miles north of New York City.
According to a statement from Cuomo on February 6th, three monitoring wells at the nuclear facility detected the radioactive material tritium in groundwater. In one of those wells, radioactivity had increased almost 65,000%, which Cuomo referred to as “alarming levels.”
Cuomo also criticized the plant’s owner, the Entergy Corporation, and ordered full investigations at the state level:
This latest failure at Indian Point is unacceptable and I have directed Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to fully investigate this incident and employ all available measures, including working with Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to determine the extent of the release, its likely duration, cause and potential impacts to the environment and public health.
Entergy has stressed that there are no health or safety consequences to the public, saying on Saturday that:
While elevated tritium in the ground onsite is not in accordance with our standards, there is no health or safety consequence to the public, and releases are more than a thousand times below federal permissible limits. The tritium did not affect any source of drinking water onsite or offsite.
Jerry Nappi, a spokesperson for Entergy, told media outlets that the radioactive water “likely reached the ground at Indian Point during recent work activities.”
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, repeated claims that groundwater contamination at the plant did not pose a threat to public health or to employees. However, The New York Times reports that the agency would “review the recent tritium leakage incident” and study Entergy’s response.
A Familiar Alarm
The problems at Indian Point nuclear facility have a familiar refrain. The aging plant continues to experience challenges like flooding and fires, and in 2015, Indian Point experienced more accidents and temporary shutdowns than it had in almost six years.
This fact has not been lost on Governor Cuomo, who has repeatedly called for a permanent shutdown. In his statement on Saturday, Cuomo said:
This is not the first such release of radioactive water at Indian Point, nor is this the first time that Indian Point has experienced significant failure in its operation and maintenance. This failure continues to demonstrate that Indian Point cannot continue to operate in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment.
And yet, Indian Point remains a complicated but key component of New York’s energy supply. By Entergy’s own estimates, the plant provides about 25% of the electricity supplied to New York City and Westchester County and generates $1.6 billion for the state economy.
Developers have officially broken ground on Hallets Point, a $1.5 billion project in Astoria, Queens. When complete, it will be one of the only New York City residential complexes to function independently of the city’s power grid.
The 2.5-million-square-foot development will feature seven planned residential towers, with a total of 2,400 units. Two buildings will house 483 affordable apartments, and according to qns.com, “residents in the neighboring Astoria Houses will have a rental preference for 50 percent of all affordable housing units.”
The development is also slated to include a range of impressive sustainability features beyond its own electrical grid. Hallets Point is a project of the Durst Organization, the developers behind One Bryant Park, the country’s first LEED platinum office building.
Queens Goes Green
Imagine a hot, steamy summer night in New York City—then imagine an electrical brown-out as millions of residents flip on their window air conditioner units after coming home from work. Residents of Hallets Point won’t have to suffer through that sweltering scene, thanks to the project’s innovative on-site cogeneration plants.
According to Jody Durst, president of the Durst Organization, the only connection to any utility at Hallets Point will be gas from Con Edison to fuel the power plants.
Those three “co-generating” plants will use that natural gas, whose delivery is not reliant on the electrical grid, to create up to 6.8 megawatts of electricity. The byproduct will be used to heat apartments, heat water and chill water for air conditioning in the summer months.
The facility could be “as much as 80 percent efficient,” which means that only 20 percent of the energy used to create electricity would be lost. Compare that to conventional buildings which achieve roughly 35% efficiency.
Hallets Point will include other sustainability features as well, such as:
Blackwater reclamation system: will recycle wastewater onsite, using it to to flush toilets and irrigate the complex’s green space. Between the five buildings, the development will eventually process more than 130,000 gallons of water each day, effectively preventing millions of gallons of wastewater from being dumped in the East River.
Elevated shoreline: will prevent erosion and help safeguard the peninsula from rising sea levels. The development will be built in compliance with FEMA and HUD flood plain codes.
Green space: will include more than 100,000 square feet of public access space, extending the Queens East River and North Shore Greenway through the peninsula.
Ferry landing: in conjunction with the city’s current plan to expand ferry access, there will be a Hallets Point landing providing residents with rapid transit to numerous locations throughout Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
The first building of the massive project is slated to open in 2018.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor de Blasio hailed the project as an important milestone for Queens and for New York:
“This has to be a city for everyone, and that’s what we’re doing every day as we build a new generation of affordable housing for families in need. We’re thrilled to get shovels in the ground and bring a long-awaited addition to this community to fruition. This is a project that delivers for the nearby Astoria Houses and strengthens this community with a new school, open space and a supermarket. I congratulate our fellow Queens officials, the local residents and the development team that worked so hard to make this day possible.”
While one North Carolina town is banning a solar farm for fear it will “suck up all the energy from the sun,” a rural upstate New York town is pledging to go 100% renewable in just four years.
Nassau, New York, a town of 5,000 people just outside of Albany, voted last week to disconnect from the electrical grid by 2020. The town plans to use a combination of solar, wind, and methane-capture from a landfill to generate its energy.
A Good First Step
The transition was spurred, at least in part, by a frustration with deteriorating electrical infrastructure and a lack of timely service from area power companies.
“I’ve had to declare five states of emergency since I’ve been in office, which is truly ridiculous,” Nassau Town Supervisor David Fleming told TWC News.
But town officials also see an opportunity to save the town money, and invest in other projects instead. “We are talking about $2,000 a month,” Highway Superintendent Frederick D. McCagg said. “I could transfer that money for blacktop or maintenance or a truck.”
If all goes as planned, within the next four years, all six of the town buildings will be disconnected from the grid, and the rest of the town is developing a plan to get its power from renewable sources, too.
“It’s not the be-all to end-all for what we should be doing as a state and a nation, but it’s a good first step,” Fleming told Capital New York. “From a practical perspective, it’s possible,” he added. “We have a lot of ‘people resources’ in our community.”
A Small Piece of a Bigger Puzzle
On its own, Nassau’s new energy initiative may not seem particularly impressive—the tiny town covers just 50 square miles. But it’s not alone in its effort.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged for the city to go 100 percent renewable before 2050, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a goal of having 50 percent of the state’s power come from solar, wind, hydroelectric or other renewable sources in just 15 years.
In fact, the state has a program that can help other municipalities like Nassau make a similar transition. Through its Reforming Energy Vision initiative, the Cuomo administration is actively working to help municipalities move towards greater reliance on renewables.
REV is a comprehensive energy strategy to help consumers make better and more informed energy choices, enable the development of new energy products and services, protect the environment and create new jobs and economic opportunity throughout New York State.
The REV initiative “promote[s] more efficient use of energy, deeper penetration of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, wider deployment of ‘distributed’ energy resources, such as micro grids, roof-top solar and other on-site power supplies, and storage.”
Speaking about the town of Nassau, state spokesman Jon Sorenson said, “This is exactly the kind of thing REV is hoping to encourage. Smaller, cleaner power systems are less costly and cleaner alternatives to the bigger power stations that have made up the power grid.”
Now, if only we could share that message with our fellow citizens in North Carolina…
As climate talks continue in Paris, New York and eight other mid-Atlantic states earned over $115 million this week from the sale of carbon allowances- $7 million more than projected. This week’s carbon auction, the third of four such auctions this fiscal year, was organized by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a “wildly successful” nine-state carbon trading program.
New York State’s share of the proceeds from the auction was $44.3 million. The funds will go toward energy efficiency and clean energy programs.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, is designed to both cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions emitted by participating states. Since the program’s inception, thirty RGGI auctions have collectively delivered $895 million for clean power, energy efficiency, technology innovation and green workforce development projects across New York. Projects have been initiated in every county, say advocates.
Paying to Emit Carbon Pollution
RGGI includes New York State, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is the “first mandatory, market-based CO2 emissions reduction program in the United States.”
New Jersey was a participant in RGGI but Governor Chris Christie pulled the state out of the program in 2011.
Power plants in RGGI states must pay to emit carbon pollution. They participate in “auctions” in which they purchase “carbon allowances.” The price for these allowances is guided by a cap on how much carbon all RGGI states can collectively emit.
The idea is to keep lowering the cap in order to raise the allowance price- thus incentivizing power plants to switch to less polluting sources of energy. RGGI’s price on carbon allowances (currently $7.50 per allowance) has increased 256 percent in two years.
RGGI has implemented a new carbon emissions cap of 91 million short tons for participating states. That cap is supposed to decline 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020.
Does RGGI Work?
Supporters say RGGI is a national model for reducing carbon emissions and accelerating the use of renewable sources of energy.
Climate pollutant emissions from power plants across the region have dropped by more than 40 percent since RGGI was initiated in 2005, a coalition of 26 environmental and clean energy groups wrote in a February 10th letter to Governor Cuomo.
The program has raised almost $2 billion from auction proceeds across the nine participating states since 2008. RGGI has “defied critics by proving that reducing climate-altering pollution in a way that raises funds for clean energy is a true win-win,” says Albany watchdog group Environmental Advocates.
New York, as the largest state in the coalition, and the one with the most pollution emitted, received a little more than one-third of all RGGI proceeds in 2014. The funds are managed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
RGGI’s success has proved dangerous. In this year’s state budget, Governor Cuomo reportedly “raided” as much as $41 million (more than one-fourth of 2014’s proceeds) from RGGI, despite significant opposition. Twenty-three million of what was taken this year was to go directly to the state’s general fund to help offset “various energy related tax credits.”
Buildings = Carbon Pollution
A major portion of RGGI funds have been directed toward making the state’s residential building stock more energy efficient. New York’s buildings -residential, commercial and industrial- are the state’s second leading emitter of greenhouse gases, surpassed only by the transportation sector.
In New York City, buildings are the number one source of carbon pollution.
RGGI has paid for over 30,000 free or reduced-cost energy audits for New York State homeowners. It also helps to fund low-cost energy efficiency retrofits for single and multi-family buildings.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
As RGGI’s financial success continues, Governor Cuomo has moved to codify the goal that 50 percent of New York’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030.
The state is also calling attention to the fact that Congress passed two joint resolutions this week seeking to overturn the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which restricts carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The resolutions now head to the White House.
“The people of New York expect more out of the Republican members of the New York Congressional Delegation who voted to disapprove of the Clean Power Plan,” said Basil Seggos, acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The science has spoken and action to address climate change has bipartisan support,” Seggos continued. “It’s time for policy makers to act and protect our citizens from our uncertain climate future.”