State budget sets NYPA on path to become major green energy producer

May 9—ALBANY — The New York Power Authority is on track to become a major publicly owned green power producer, due to legislation included in the 2024 state budget.

The Build Public Renewables Act was included in the spending plan, passed and signed into law last week. It sets NYPA on track to generate all of its electricity from clean energy by the start of 2030, and allows the authority to build new production facilities, while also empowering it to sell energy to more customers.

It's a step on the path to expanding the amount of energy produced by renewable resources in New York, and a step to bringing energy generation under public, governmental control.

Patrick Robbins, coordinator for the New York Energy Democracy Alliance, part of the Public Power Coalition, helped to advocate for the BPRA since it was first introduced four years ago.

"We are pleased that the majority of the bill made it into the budget," he said in an interview Monday.

Mr. Robbins said the BPRA will require any new projects built by NYPA to be built with equitable labor agreements, while also phasing out the NYPA-owned natural gas plants it operates to provide power at peak demand times.

"It mandates that NYPA build out enough renewable energy to meet the state's climate goals, while sunsetting its existing fleet of gas-fired peak power plants which exacerbate asthma and emit pollutants in Black and brown neighborhoods in downstate New York," he said.

Changes to the final language of the bill in the budget removed clauses that would have expanded the NYPA Board of Trustees and given the state Legislature more power over the hiring and firing of those trustees. Mr. Robbins said he would have liked to see that language remain in the bill, but is encouraged by the mandated public review process the bill establishes for any new power projects it starts to build.

NYPA is already the largest state-run public utility in the country, providing power from its hydroelectric facilities upstate and gas-fired facilities downstate to businesses, non-profits, government offices, public power systems, utilities and the wholesale energy market.

As the energy market shifted in the early 2000s, NYPA stopped building new energy production facilities, sold its nuclear power plants in Oswego County and focused on protecting its existing hydropower plants, which provide 70% of its generative capacity. The last power plants NYPA built in 2001 were the gas plants it is now being required to shut down by 2030.

Under the legislation, the power authority will be required to provide only renewable energy to its customers by 2030. Government properties that don't receive NYPA power, mostly those owned by village, town, city and county governments, will have to run on renewables by 2035. Ultimately, the state plans to have a zero-emission electrical system in place by 2040.

In a massive expansion of its potential customer base, NYPA will now be required to establish a system to sell renewable-generated power to low-and moderate-income customers directly and provide bill credits that reduce their monthly energy costs.

"With the support of Governor Hochul and continued collaboration with the state Legislature, the entire power authority team and I are inspired and ready to execute on this expanded authority to develop renewable energy projects across a large spectrum, helping the state advance its bold Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals, enabling public entities and NYPA's customers to achieve their sustainability goals, and providing support to disadvantaged communities across New York," said NYPA's acting President and CEO Justin E. Driscoll in a statement after the budget passed.

NYPA is in the process of establishing staff teams to address the new responsibilities it's been given, and officials are immediately reviewing all NYPA-owned properties for development opportunities.

"We will use every tool available to ensure that the power authority leads the effort to advance the governor's bold climate action priorities for the benefit of all New Yorkers," Mr. Driscoll said.

NYPA is required to produce a two-year strategic plan outlining strategies and providing a list of proposed renewable projects, following a period of public comment and review.

Mr. Robbins said he and his colleagues in the Public Power Coalition remain engaged on how to best develop a publicly owned renewable-focused power system, and are encouraging average citizens, community activists and local leaders to work with the coalition on that goal.

"We would be excited to work with anyone in Watertown, any civic organizations that want to have a strong hand in the implementation of this bill," he said. "I think the stakeholder process that's been established gives people more of a chance to be in the driver's seat on how NYPA does business going forward."