Environment New York Research & Policy Center
Monolith Solar, Solarize Albany and Helderberg Community Energy joined climate protection advocates to tour the first solar farm built outside the capital region of Albany, NY. We gathered at the Johnsonville Community Solar Farm to celebrate its grand opening and learn about a new report released by Environment New York Research and Policy Center showcasing how we can double the benefits of reducing power plant pollution and see more projects like this one across New York and the Northeastern region.
Monolith Solar carried out the construction of this farm in part thanks to funding from the best regional clean air and climate program in the country, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The way RGGI creates these benefits is ingenious: it’s a system that ratchets down emissions each year and makes polluters pay to pollute. That revenue – $998 million to date—is then invested in clean energy, energy efficiency and consumer benefit programs, which has led to healthier communities and thriving economies.
Environment New York Research and Policy Center’s new report, Doubling Down on Climate Progress, shows that Governor Cuomo could increase the benefits of RGGI. This report concludes that doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would cut dangerous global warming pollution from power plants in half by 2030 and generate more than $7 billion to invest in clean energy – enough to weatherize 2.8 million homes.
Doubling Down on Climate Progress, co-authored by Frontier Group, illustrates the opportunity before the governor. It finds that doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (compared to simply keeping the program on its current trajectory) would:
Avoid up to an additional 100 million tons of pollution over a decade, the equivalent of making more than 1 million homes run entirely on solar power.
- Help New York invest almost $1.6 billion more in clean energy.*
“Right now, Governor Cuomo is our best hope for action to protect the climate,” said Melanie Perl, Campaign Organizer with Environment New York Research and Policy Center. “He should act quickly. We can’t count on the federal government, so it is up to New York to lead the region, the nation and even the world towards a clean energy future. We can all benefit from less pollution and more clean energy.”
“Thanks to funding from this great program, we saved money on our energy bills and helped cut pollution,” said Lindsey McEntire, a consultant with Monolith Solar.
“This is the kind of clean energy project we need more of here in New York”, said Mark Fobare, CEO of Monolith Solar. “We still have more work to d to get rid of air pollution. We should accelerate our efforts.”
By capping pollution and by helping citizens, businesses, hospitals, schools and local governments to deploy clean energy measures like the Johnsonville Community Farm, RGGI has helped cut emissions from power plants in half over the last decade. That has created significant benefits here in New York, including:
- Cleaner air. In its first six years, the program prevented 130 premature deaths, 2,000 asthma attacks, and 11,000 lost work days.
- Stronger economy. In its first six years, the program boosted the state economy by $712 million while creating more than 9,083 jobs.
- Energy efficiency. New York State ranks 5th among states for energy efficiency, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Energy efficiency programs implemented in 2015 in New York State saved enough energy to power all the homes in Albany County twice over.
Over the next few months, New York and other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states will be considering possible improvements to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Earlier this year, more than 500 organizations, businesses, health professionals, lawmakers, and community leaders from the Northeast called on Governor Cuomo and other regional governors to double the strength of the program and close several loopholes.
On average, power plant pollution in the region have been falling by almost 5 percent per year since 2005. In 2016, pollution went down by 4.8 percent. The coalition is calling on the governors to keep up that pace by lowering the limit on pollution by 5 percent per year through 2030 and address loopholes that undermine the program. That would double the strength of the cap, which currently requires emissions cuts of 2.5 percent per year.
Making the program stronger would build upon the impressive benefits the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has achieved since it was created in 2005. For example:
- It has helped to cut global warming pollution from power plants in New York by 49% since 2005. That is the equivalent of retiring 7.8 coal-fired power plants.
- It has generated almost $1 billion for New York to invest in clean energy, energy efficiency and consumer benefit programs. Across the whole region, those programs have locked in more than $4.6 billion in long term savings on our energy bills.
- It has given a boost to renewable energy deployment. Across the region, both wind and solar power generation have more than doubled in the last 10 years.
“Governor Cuomo should make America’s best regional climate program twice as good, to replicate the clean energy success we saw in Johnsonville today all across New York and the entire region,” concluded Melanie Perl, Campaign Organizer with Environment New York Research and Policy Center. “Together, we can deliver clean air and a healthy climate for us all.”
* This report was updated in May 2017 to strengthen its conclusions, as described in footnote 62 on page 24.