Why New York Must Pass the Build Public Renewables Act

There is a troubling disconnect between New York’s binding clean energy targets and its lack of authority to actually build the projects. But there’s a solution moving the needle, and it’s called the Build Public Renewables Act. 

There is growing support among New York’s energy leaders; including the state Senate and much of the state’s congressional delegation, for the bill, which requires New York’s public power authority (NYPA) to build clean energy projects that power state buildings and deliver low-cost power to low income New Yorkers. The bill would also reform NYPA’s governance structure and require the authority to retire its fossil plants. 

The Build Public Renewables Act recently passed the NY State Senate for a second time in many years, and sits at the top of the 300-organization-strong NY Renews coalition’s list of priorities. The BPRA presents a powerful opportunity to support the clean energy industry by shouldering burdens of grid hosting capacity and interconnection challenges, paving the way for clean energy companies to help New York meet our goals more efficiently and with a social equity lens. 

New York State’s decarbonization and climate justice law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), stands as a nation-leading framework for a just transition to a 100% clean powered state. While the law has kicked off a vast planning effort, and has catalyzed local wins against fossil fuel power plants, the state still faces one awkward paradox: the CLCPA mandates clean energy as an outcome, but the state’s own power authority is currently limited in how it can ensure success. Currently, the methodology of the state’s Public Service Commission and Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is limited to coaxing outcomes from private industry, largely on the investor-owned utilities’ terms. Moreover, the CLCPA’s requirements that public funds will be spent equitably has remained an elusive one, and soaring energy costs have left tens of thousands of New Yorkers unable to afford their bills.   Legislators and advocates are rightly concerned with the lack of certainty that the state will be able to meet climate mandates via the private ranks, or properly serve all the state’s residents under the CLCPA equity framework. 

Meanwhile, the clean energy industry has been hampered by challenges with grid hosting capacity and the interconnection process. Despite copious available capital and willing builders, the industry is faced with broad swaths of unusable land due to lack of lines to feed power back onto the grid. These challenges have the state stuck in the starting gate on the large projects it needs to solve our carbon problem. 

BPRA’s mandate for NYPA to build projects can also provide a critical boon to the solar industry – the ability to absorb transmission upgrade costs. NYPA projects can also bankroll extensive upgrades to the local grid where pre-existing hosting capacity is lacking. In such instances when the site was otherwise unavailable, NYPA isn’t placed in direct competition with the private sector. The newly upgraded local grid infrastructure could then become available for subsequent private projects. 

With bold new ways to connect clean energy projects, fast and furious development by both the industry and the state could easily go hand in hand to 2050 and beyond. Private industry and the public sector can do what they do best, and the state can leverage funding and tax benefits available under the IRA to serve working-class New Yorkers where the market can’t.

Vote Solar has conducted extensive modeling of NY’s most cost-efficient energy future based on the Climate Act. In all cases we modeled, solar energy alone makes up roughly half of New York’s power mix by 2050, with over 80 gigawatts of solar online. This is roughly an order of magnitude more solar than is currently installed. Plenty of space for one more entity to play an expanded role. There’s enough building opportunity that both a marketplace and the public sector can deliver on climate, to their own and our collective satisfaction. The MTA hasn’t put General Motors out of business, and NYPA won’t interfere with the burgeoning private development complex. NYPA can, however, be a conduit for the will of working New Yorkers and for new funding and tax benefits made possible by the IRA. It’s also important to note that CLCPA decarbonization numbers for the electric sector are minimums, and exceeding these goals via state participation will only expand benefits to residents.

An even more recent study from economic analysts Brandon Pierpoint and Matthew Eckel further makes the case for BPRA’s necessity and feasibility. This economic analysis provides a dollar-by-dollar logistical roadmap for NYPA to fill in our renewables gaps, especially thanks to incentives and support in the federal IRA bill. The report also details the enormous impact that BPRA would have on New York’s workforce, both in terms of ensuring a just transition for fossil fuel workers and setting up strong protections for  the new clean energy workforce. 

Justice groups are rightly pushing for BPRA to be the public backbone to meet mandates on time, and to ensure working people meaningfully benefit from our clean energy transition. 

NY clean energy advocates need to win both on energy democracy and business efficiency. BPRA represents a major improvement in social equity and government accountability that can’t be won any other way, and can pave the way for the industry in the process.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT Sign up for updates from Vote Solar on solar progress and energy justice across the U.S.