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Using Regulatory Agencies to Implement Environmental Sustainability Programs for the New York State Energy System

New York state has made progress during the past 10 years in using regulatory agencies to make the state’s energy system more environmentally friendly. Specifically, New York state has developed three programs to improve the environment. Among these include a renewable energy portfolio standard to ensure that green energy sources are expanded in the state. The second item relates to a regional greenhouse gas initiative (RGGI) to limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. The third item is a broad program to build energy efficiency into the natural gas utility systems operating in New York state. This article briefly discusses the implementation of these three important programs.

New York state has a long history of being concerned with energy issues since the 1970s energy crisis in the United States. During March 1980 the state issued its first New York State Energy Master Plan, a project on which I worked. Under this plan, state agencies began to take a serious look at issues such as energy conservation and development of renewable energy resources. Numerous initiatives were developed in the 1980s such as programs for utilities to purchase inefficient appliances from customers to help cut energy demand. Other programs were developed in the 1980s to allow utilities increased profits if they demonstrated progress in developing energy conservation efforts. During the early 1990s, the utilities in New York state were required to participate in an environmental cap and trade system which issued permits to limit the amount of sulfur dioxide being emitted into the environment. This program was mandated by the 1990 amendments to the federal government’s Clean Air Act. The problem with these initiatives was that they were small in size and did not represent a comprehensive program of environmental sustainability.

The New York state renewal energy portfolio standard was developed to ensure that approximately 25 percent of the energy resources in the state come from green energy sources. The sources include items such as wind, sun, water, landfill gas programs and other items. The program was implemented by the New York State Public Service Commission in 2004 (Case 03-E-0188) and included substantial public hearings and other regulatory activities that obtained viewpoints from approximately 150 interest groups. The program also includes a state public authority called the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). NYSERDA provides technical assistance and funding to groups that are interested in developing green energy facilities. This assistance flows down to local governments and private citizens interested in developing energy-efficient facilities. A successful example of this program is the Colonie, NY landfill energy facility near Albany, NY, which generates electricity from renewable landfill methane gas. NYSERDA provided funding and technical assistance to make the four megawatt-generating facility a success.

The second major environmental sustainability program developed in New York state is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This program was developed in 2005 and is administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Several other states from the northeast participate in the plan and it is designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. Permits to emit carbon dioxide must be purchased and the effect of the program is that there have been reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, emissions from power plants in the region have been reduced by about 40 percent since 2005. The environmental agency also claims that substantial economic benefits amounting of to about $1.6 billion have been developed from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative program.

The third major energy related environmental sustainability program developed by the State of New York is a broad energy conservation program administered by the New York State Public Service Commission (Case 07-M-0548). Additional entities such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and numerous utilities participate in the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard initiative that began in 2007. After a substantial rulemaking process involving numerous stakeholders, energy efficiency targets were produced in 2009. Since that time, natural gas companies in the state have been required to implement energy conservation programs. In 2013 the major utilities are implementing enhanced energy conservation efforts, and metrics have been instituted to measure the progress of the environmental program. For instance, in an April 2013 progress report the New York State Electric & Gas Company measured the amount of conservation savings in 26 separate programs in areas such as residential construction, lighting savings, programs for low-income users and agricultural entities.

In summary, there is clear evidence from the state of New York that environmental sustainability programs can be implemented by regulatory agencies. Furthermore, these large- scale programs produce environmental benefits. The use of a cap and trade system to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, a program to develop renewable energy resources and a program to save energy with widespread energy conservation are part of the effort to improve the environment in New York state.


Author: Kevin M. Bronner, Ph.D. is an ASPA member and a Public Service Professor at the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany.


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