Major New York Energy Provider Signals Pivot to Renewables

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One of New York City’s largest power suppliers is ditching its plan to refurbish a fossil fuel “peaker” plant in Brooklyn and is proposing to build 350 megawatts of carbon-free battery storage in its place. It’s a bold pivot for an industry that has been reluctant to take the state’s climate law seriously, surprising even some environmentalists who have been fighting the peaker plant plan—and other fossil fuel projects in the state—for years. Today’s Climate breaks down what could be a watershed moment for the state’s fight against climate change.

Eastern Generation, which generates nearly 18 percent of New York City’s electricity and is an affiliate company of ArcLight Capital, announced last week that it was withdrawing its proposal to convert an aging oil-and-gas-fired power plant into a brand new gas-fired one. The company also announced it would retire two of the plant’s oil-fired units as soon as November of next year, six months ahead of schedule, citing the state’s climate law for the changes in its plans. The company said that it is “well positioned to assist in the transition to a carbon free future.”

So-called “peaker” plants only operate during times of high demand, such as particularly hot or cold days. In New York, environmental justice groups have targeted such facilities, saying they play an outsized role in polluting low-income neighborhoods and communities of color and contribute to climate change.

But the reneged plan isn’t an isolated victory for environmental activists, who have long hoped that New York’s climate law would prevent the spread of new fossil fuel infrastructure across the state. In fact, Eastern Generation’s announcement may mark the first time a company has withdrawn a proposal in anticipation that it would conflict with New York’s climate mandates, which include transitioning the state’s power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Already, the law has had a swift and cascading effect on New York’s energy development. In 2020, state regulators denied a key permit to a major gas pipeline, citing in part the climate law. And in October, regulators denied permits for two proposed natural gas power plants in the state, again citing the law. Paired with a new state constitutional right to a “healthful environment,” some law experts say it’s a clear signal to developers that New York may no longer be accepting new fossil fuel projects.

Just last week, New York City lawmakers passed a bill that bans natural gas hookups in new building construction, making it one of the biggest cities in the world to take such a position.

Still, Eastern Generation’s choice to willingly withdraw its own proposal surprised some activists, who hailed the news as a decisive moment in the state’s efforts to curb planet-warming gases. “The winds are at the face of the fossil fuel cartel,” Anthony Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s clear, you’re going to have a hell of a hard time going against the mandate of (New York’s climate law). It’s not goals, they have a mandate now.”

Such state-level actions may become increasingly important to curtail the country’s quickly growing greenhouse gas emissions, ever since West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said on Sunday that he wouldn’t vote for President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which contained some $555 billion in federal funding for clean energy and climate initiatives.

“No matter what happens with the federal government, our local governments are going to move and carry the ball,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told The Washington Post last month.

This is the final edition of Today’s Climate for 2021. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox after the holidays.

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