New York state has set one of the most ambitious renewable energy (RE) goals in the US. Enshrined into law through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) (July 2019), New York aims to become carbon neutral and achieve a zero-carbon emission electricity sector by 2040, including 70 per cent RE generation by 2030. This requires expeditious development of associated transmission networks. Recognising this, in April 2020, the state enacted the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Protection Act (the Act) to streamline and expedite siting regimes of RE projects and related transmission facilities.

The Act requires the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) to establish new transmission planning processes that will ensure timely and cost-effective construction of new, expanded and upgraded transmission infrastructure. It recognises such projects needed to meet CLCPA goals as priority transmission projects (PTPs), which are to be identified by the NYPSC and developed by the New York Power Authority (NYPA).

On October 15, 2020, the NYPSC adopted the criteria for identifying PTPs and designated NYPA’s USD1 billion Northern New York (NNY) transmission project as the first high priority project for meeting the state’s RE goals. In effect, the NYPSC order bypassed New York Independent System Operator’s (NYISO) public policy transmission planning process, referring the project straight to NYPA for development and construction in accordance with the Act.

In its latest order, NYPSC has approved two key criteria for transmission projects to qualify as PTP:

  • The transmission investment’s potential for unbottling existing RE generation, and projects that are in the NYISO interconnection process, for delivery to the state’s load centres, thereby reducing the amount of new generation that must be constructed to meet the CLCPA targets.
  • Whether an early in-service date for the transmission investment would:

(a) increase the likelihood of meeting CLCPA targets;

(b) enhance the value of recent, ongoing or anticipated transmission investments, and help the state realise benefits from such investments because it can be placed in-service sooner than the NYISO process.

Previously, the NYPA petition of July 2020 proposed eight criteria for identifying and designating a PTP along with the proposal to designate a set of transmission investments in NNY as PTP. The NYPSC order modified and combined some of the proposed criteria and rejected others to finalise the above conditions. A key factor in expediting the project’s approval and bypassing the NYISO planning cycle is its presumed earlier in-service date, which would result in benefits that otherwise would have been lost forever.

The NYPSC also evaluated and approved the first PTP as per the new rules—NYPA’s NNY project, which is expected to complete a critical link in the upstate grid and unbottle at least 950 to 1,050 MW of renewable energy. The project includes the following components:

  • Phase 2 completion of NYPA’s Smart Path Moses-Adirondack rebuild [86 miles (138 km)]
  • Rebuild and upgrade of National Grid’s Adirondack to Porter 230 kV transmission lines (1 and 2) to 345 kV [55 miles (89 km)]
  • Rebuild and upgrade of NYPA’s Moses to Willis 230 kV transmission lines (1 and 2) to 345 kV [37 miles (60 km)]
  • Rebuild and upgrade of NYPA’s Willis to Patnode 230 kV circuit [8.75 miles (14 km)]
  • Rebuild and upgrade of NYPA’s Willis to Ryan 230 kV circuit [6.5 miles (10 km)]
  • Rebuild and expansion of existing substations at Moses, Adirondack, Chases Lake, Porter and Willis from 230 kV to 345 kV
  • Other substation improvements: rebuild and expansion of several substations along the impacted transmission corridor

In addition to unbottling existing RE in the region, NYPA estimates the NNY project will lead to significant production cost savings (USD99 million per year), emissions reductions (over 1.16 million tons of CO2 emissions avoided annually and an annual reduction of 160 tons of NOx emissions from downstate emissions sources), and decreases in congestion (USD447 million annually).

In another development, on October 15, 2020, the NYPSC also approved an expansion of the Clean Energy Standard (CES) to refocus New York’s existing regulatory and procurement structure for achieving the CLCPA goals. It gives the state the authority to issue a request for proposal for the RE generation sources needed to implement the plan.

The key features of the expanded CES approved by the PSC include the following:

  • Implements key provisions in the CLCPA related to securing 70 per cent RE by 2030, including defining RE technology eligibility and the amount of RE needed to meet New York’s goal, identifies annual procurement targets for the Tier 1 large-scale renewable energy programme (new resources with commercial operation dates after January 1, 2015) adopted under the CES, and recommends changes to the existing Tier 1 procurement processes.
  • Sets targets for offshore wind to meet the requirement of securing 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035.
  • Creates a new methodology for extending Tier 1 renewable energy eligibility to RE facilities that undergo repowering.
  • Creates a competitive five-year Tier 2 programme (resources with commercial operation dates prior to January 1, 2015) under the CES to preserve existing renewable baseline generation to support the 70 x 30 goal (70 per cent electricity from clean energy sources by 2030).
  • Creates a new Tier 4 large-scale renewable programme to specifically value environmental attributes associated with RE delivered into New York city (Zone J) that will be in addition to annual Tier 1 procurement targets.
  • Creates tangible approaches to ensure that the state’s RE programmes provide substantial benefits for disadvantaged communities including those that bear burdens of environmental pollution and impacts of climate change, and builds upon its workforce development policies to promote good jobs.

Notwithstanding the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the clean energy industry, attaining the CLCPA goals is expected to provide a significant economic boost throughout the renewable energy supply chain as well as the economy of New York state. Recent developments indicate that policymakers and regulators are serious and taking the necessary steps to achieve the state’s ambitious clean energy targets.