Made in NY? How can we foster voluntary corporate renewable energy buying in New York?

Made in NY? How can we foster voluntary corporate renewable energy buying in New York?

By Anne Reynolds

With the backdrop of United Nations VIPs clogging the streets of Manhattan, ACE NY hosted a breakfast panel discussion on corporate purchasing of renewable energy for Climate Week NYC to a standing-room only crowd. Richard Kauffman, New York’s Chair of Energy and Finance, set the context for the discussion, citing strong progress on renewables procurement by New York, including the draft RFP for offshore wind and reiterating NY’s intention to get this RFP finalized and released by the end of the year. (Exciting!). He also acknowledged the significant workload in getting renewable energy projects through the review and permitting process known as Article 10 and recognized the need to balance proper review with an efficient and timely process. Hopefully, New York will have more progress to report on Article 10 in the coming months.

Mr. Kauffman then outlined a “trial balloon” to get the conversation rolling: If the major barrier to getting renewables bought in NY vs. other states was a higher price for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), what if the state played a role in bringing down the price for voluntary purchases by a competitive auction and a public contribution to help make up the difference? An interesting idea.

Kara Allen of NYSERDA was a gracious moderator and began by asking our panelists to outline the benefits of voluntary renewable energy purchasing.  In response, Harry Singh of Goldman & Sachs cited their corporate sustainability goals, the interest in a possible hedge of energy prices, and the desire to have the procurement be related to their own load, i.e. near their footprint. While Goldman explored a deal in New York, it ultimately went with a wind project in Pennsylvania, mostly due to costs. For Cornell University, panelist Sarah Zemanick also cited sustainability goals, but also mentioned student and faculty demand for clean energy and the desire for a living laboratory – i.e. opportunities for research or education.  In the case of Cornell, there is also an interest in distributed projects that can be located on or near campus and offset their current campus-based fossil fuel electricity generation.

Emily Williams of Edison Energy explained the variety of ways that entities can buy green power – through either traditional or virtual power purchase agreements, or through the purchase of RECs, and echoed a rising interest in procurement that is related to a company’s footprint and energy demand, not merely RECs from far away in Texas or the Midwest. On the other hand, voluntary buyers are also interested in impact, i.e. is their purchase truly offsetting or displacing carbon emissions? Is it a new wind or solar project that would not otherwise get built?

On the topic of impact, Lyndsay Smith from Geronimo Energy opined that if buyers factor in local lease payments to landowners, in-state job creation, or local tax benefits that does steer projects closer to home and may encourage more local buying. Geronimo has a significant portfolio of operating and under construction renewable energy projects across the U.S., as well as a solar development portfolio in New York.

As New York continues its journey towards 50% renewable energy – and hopefully beyond – fostering the voluntary market is one of many strategies that can help. We discussed all sorts of factors related to universities and corporations buying renewable energy -- costs, length of contracts, community support, how to measure the real impact of projects – and this is a discussion that needs to continue. Thank you sincerely to our panelists and participants.

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