Alliance for Balanced Growth Tackles New York’s Evolving Green Energy Future

Alliance for Balanced Growth Tackles New York’s Evolving Green Energy Future
From left, Robert Sanchez, President & CEO of Orange & Rockland and Christopher Capone, President & CEO of Central Hudson

The Alliance for Balanced Growth at its recent second quarter session entitled “Construction Development in the New Clean Energy Economy” tackled the complex and sometimes confusing seismic shift of New York State’s energy grid from fossil fuels to renewable green energy sources—solar, wind, biomass, water and geothermal. Participating panelists at the program held at The Country Club at Otterkill in Campbell Hall for the most part agreed that the state’s ambitious climate action goals are attainable, but perhaps not on the timeline state and environmental advocates are hoping for.

The ABG and The Orange County Partnership assembled two panels of utility executives, energy developers and attorneys to discuss the progress made in converting New York State’s energy industry to green technologies, the cost of those efforts and the likelihood that the state’s climate goals can be achieved over the next few years and following decades.

The cataclysmic changes in the energy sector stem from the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act), which was signed into law on July 18, 2019. New York State’s Climate Act is among the most ambitious climate laws in the nation and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels.

The two panel discussions were moderated by Melissa Cobuzzi, President and CEO of M&R Energy Resources. Cobuzzi, who also serves as Chairperson of The Orange County Partnership, posed probing questions to both panels on the state of the major utilities in the region, their needs to meet the state’s climate goals and the costs to undertake those initiatives.

The first panel covered the current state of the utilities, grid challenges and long-term approaches to compliance and featured: Christopher Capone, President & CEO of Central Hudson Gas & Electric; and Robert Sanchez, President & CEO Orange & Rockland Utilities, Inc.

The second panel discussion delved into possible solutions, funding, and implementation of clean energy practices. That panel featured Jay Goodman, partner of the Albany-based law firm Couch White LLP; Alexander Betke, an attorney with Brown Weinraub of Coxackie, NY; Rebecca Filbey, Program Manager, Utility Affairs & Strategic Partnerships for the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Peter Muzsi, head of marketing of Core Development Group of Mahwah, NJ, a designer and developer of clean energy projects.

Moderator Cobuzzi highlighted some of the other significant New York State clean energy goals that are on the horizon, including the grid being sourced by 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% zero-free emissions electricity by 2040. She noted that consumer demand will increase as the state shifts from natural gas to electric and from gas to EV. She told the record-ABG gathering that the transformation of New York State’s energy grid is a major topic that will impact business and economic development for years to come.

O&R’s Sanchez said that the utility is trying out a host of new technologies, including batteries, onshore and offshore wind, etc. “I kind of view this as an exciting time for the industry,” Sanchez said, adding that in coming years the existing system will have to be at least doubled.

“Frankly speaking we are not going to be able to do that on our own,” Sanchez said. “We are going to need a lot of support from the developers out there. There will be a lot of working going on.”

Later in the program, Sanchez said in terms of the state’s climate goals, “There are a lot of discussions about new and renewable coming on board, and we are extremely supportive of that, but we are also supportive of what I would say are very responsible steps being taken, meaning that as you bring in new, do not release what is existing until you know you can run the system.”

Sanchez’s words rang true as the New York Independent System Operator released a report two days after the ABG session that concluded there could be a deficit in reliability margins for the New York City area beginning in summer 2025. The deficit is as large as 446 MW and the ISO is recommending keeping some fossil fuel “peaker” plants in operation past their expected closures in order to meet the energy demand.

While he said the entire utility industry supports the state’s efforts in respect to its Climate Plan, the transformation must be done in a “responsible” way that ensures reliability and affordability in the future and prevents issues California and Texas faced with their respective energy grids.

Central Hudson’s Capone, who was named President & CEO in February 2023, was also upbeat but pragmatic about achieving the state’s climate goals by the mandated timelines.

While supportive of the Climate Plan, Capone said that some of its goals are “aspirational, not just ambitious” and will take a collective effort to achieve.

Both Sanchez and Caputo noted that the utility industry is facing some headwinds as it makes the transition, including supply chain issues and a shortage of skilled labor in all facets of their companies.

Both Central Hudson and Orange & Rockland will be seeking state and federal funding assistance to help in the effort to transform their operations.

“As we are building today, we need to be thinking about what we are building to,” Sanchez said. He noted that the recent torrential rain storms and the damage they inflicted on sections of the region should serve as a reminder of what needs to be done to prepare for the future. “The skill set we need today is going to change tomorrow and as we are building today, we can’t be building for 2023, we need to be building for what we are going to expect to see in 2050,” he said.

The second panel seemed to mostly agree that it may be possible to achieve the state’s goals, although NYSERDA’s Filbey said confidently “We will get there.”

The panel also delved into current state and federal funding for green energy development and the need to continue to provide incentives to promote such developments going forward.

Sponsors of the program were: Colliers Engineering & Design; Core Development Corp., Lakeland Bank and M and R Energy Resources Corp.

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