NYC and the Renewable Portfolio Standard

When I read recently that Governor Paterson has announced $300 million for renewable energy projects through the Renewable Portfolio Standard, it didn’t surprise me that none of the specific projects he named were in New York City. It used to be that Gotham residents (through their Con Edison electricity bills) paid some of the highest surcharges and contributed about half of the total incentives funds, but only took advantage of about 15 percent of those funds to help finance renewable energy projects (according to a January 2007 report by the Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College).

That got me wondering – had anything changed in the past three years? Were more New Yorkers tapping into the state funds, or had the distribution of charges among the state’s utilities become more equalized? In looking through some of the reports on the RPS provided by the state’s Public Service Commission, I have yet to uncover those answers, but I have stumbled upon some fascinating tidbits about the state of the incentives program and how it relates to New York City.

First off – the RPS Mid Course Report from October 2009. This lengthy review of the entire RPS program to date contains a handful of references to New York City. Like the BCC report, the analysis in this PSC report focuses solely on solar (PV) systems installed in the city.

As part of the review, the PSC compared the average annual market value of a megawatt hour (MWh) of solar power in New York City versus a MWh from conventional sources. Not surprisingly, PV was far less economic, costing almost twice as much as energy from a regular power plant. There are a number of factors – high labor costs, lack of large open spaces, extensive regulatory processes – that make it difficult to justify the expense of installing clean energy sources in this city.

However, the amount of PV installed in New York City has increased substantially in the past few years. PSC estimates that there could be as much as 52 MW of PV installed by 2013. Back in 2006, NYSERDA had funded just 1.7 MW of PV in the city through its incentives programs. Not every person who installs PV takes advantage of the incentives, but that’s still a significant difference in a seven year period.

One promising development is that the state created a form of incentive that specifically targets New York City. A law enacted in August 2008 allowed for PV owners in cities with a population over 1 million to waive a certain percentage of their property taxes on the system installation. Because of the population requirement, this law pretty much only applies to the Big Apple. There’s no indication from the report how many people have taken advantage of this tax abatement.

At the end of the report, there is a list of all the Main Tier (MT) projects that received funding through the RPS. These are giant projects that sell the electricity produced to consumers, as opposed to Customer-Sited Tier (CST) projects that represent smaller energy systems for the consumer’s personal use. Not a one of the MT projects is in New York City. While MT represents only a small portion of the funds distributed, it would be nice if the city could get a piece of that. Of course, not all of the city’s electricity comes from sources within the city limits, but the more that can be produced here the better.

Stay tuned for more posts sifting through the PSC reports!

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