PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off for Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday but back to our normal schedule on Monday, Nov. 27.
Good morning and welcome to the weekly Monday edition of the New York & New Jersey Energy newsletter. We’ll take a look at the week ahead and look back on what you may have missed last week.
NJ LAWMAKERS LOOK AT 100 PERCENT — A key New Jersey Senate committee is set to take up nation-leading clean energy legislation Monday, giving Democrats a chance to flex their muscle after Republican attacks on the state’s climate change plans failed to persuade voters. The bill, S2978, would put the state on the path to get 100 percent of its electricity from zero carbon sources by 2035 — the most aggressive clean energy goal of any large state. The Senate Environment and Energy is expected to take the bill up at 10 a.m. A draft of amendments has been circulating since last week, but others are expected at some point.
The bill’s sponsor, Chair Bob Smith, had wanted to get the bill done earlier this year, but electoral politics helped push voting off into the lame duck session, which begins Monday. Gov. Phil Murphy has already set the same targets as the bill, but his executive orders lack the teeth a law would provide.
The 100 percent target isn’t as elusive as it might sound. Supporters of the bill say the state is currently on track to have 75 percent of its annual energy usage be carbon free by 2025, and 84 percent by 2035.
The challenge is staying on track as the state grows and pushes electric heating and cars, which will increase demand for power, and after two major offshore projects to generate clean energy for a million homes were canceled.
The state’s ratepayer watchdog is dubious. In a letter to members of the committee, Brian Lipman, director of the Division of Rate Counsel, cast doubt on supporters’ view of the near-term clean energy future and said they rest on “assumptions that appear unrealistic” and “physically unachievable.”
The bill’s support and opposition is fairly typical, with a few twists. Unions are said to be looking for more guarantees that the energy will result in projects inside the state, while some environmentalists have been concerned about language that allows incinerators to count as clean energy. — Ry Rivard
BUSINESS TAX FOR TRANSIT — New Jersey state Senate President Nicholas Scutari floated the idea of raising the corporate business tax to help fill a looming budget cliff for NJ Transit. The idea, tossed off in an interview with NJ Spotlight last week, could set up a showdown with Gov. Phil Murphy, who has made lowering the tax a major priority. Murphy has been unequivocal that an additional 2.5 percent tax for corporations with over $1 million in taxable income sunset by the end of the year.
Scutari has previously signaled he’d like to keep the surcharge in place to fund lawmakers’ agenda items. The tax is one of the few obvious ways to come up with the hundreds of millions of dollars that NJ Transit needs to avoid dramatic fare increases or service cuts. The agency, like others across the country, is struggling to recover following the pandemic. NJ Transit has less than a year to plug a $119 million budget hole that could force fare increases, service cuts or layoffs, with an even larger shortfall approaching $1 billion coming in 2025.
Murphy’s administration has shunted hundreds of millions of dollars from state turnpike tolls to NJ Transit, though politics is also putting downward pressure on the dependability of that revenue. Murphy nixed a toll increase that was included in a turnpike agency budget just weeks before the election. The election, which Republicans hoped to come out with more lawmakers in Trenton, was instead a setback for the party, giving Democrats a larger majority and more room to maneuver if they want to close the NJ Transit budget gap. — Ry Rivard
METRO-NORTH LABOR PEACE: One of the nation’s most contentious transit disputes appears to be over after the Transportation Workers of America said it had reached a tentative agreement with Metro-North, the commuter rail system operated by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority that connects New York City, the Hudson Valley and parts of Connecticut. The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The union had launched an ad campaign attacking the head of MTA, Janno Lieber, and its leaders had threatened a walkout and a strike. Though there was debate about how imminent such a labor action was, the strike talk was among several threatened labor actions that could have upended commutes in the Northeast.
John Samuelsen, the international president of TWU, had argued Metro-North’s 600 car inspectors, coach cleaners and mechanics were not getting the same economic package that MTA’s subway workers received and that the MTA had asked for loose language that would allow the agency to unilaterally reopen the contract. “The settlement is the existing commuter rail pattern, plus $500 recurring annually to be paid out every January,” he said. The $500 is a “tool allowance.” The unilateral language the union worried about is also not there, he said. Because the contract is retroactive to cover a four-year-old expired contract, workers may receive thousands of dollars in lump sum payments, and labor negotiators must get to work again soon as a new contract cycle begins. — Ry Rivard
The lack of gas service raised economic development concerns from local officials. It’s been in place for more than four years. Some supporters of the statewide ban on gas in most new buildings and the proposed NY HEAT measure, which would end subsidies for new gas hookups and allow for downsizing of the gas system, have pointed to the experience in Westchester County as evidence that heat pumps and other technologies are ready to provide alternatives.
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Here’s what we’ll be watching this week:
— The New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee is expected to take up a bill to make the grid 100 percent carbon-free by 2030, 10 a.m. in Trenton.
— New York DEC holds a hearing on a permit modification for the Norlite plant in Cohoes with opponents of the project and local residents holding a rally beforehand at 5:30 p.m., Cohoes Senior Citizen Center, 10 Cayuga Plaza, Cohoes.
— Food and Water Watch hosts a virtual briefing on storage of nuclear waste at the Indian Point power plant site, 4 p.m.
— The tear down of Indian Point will take years longer after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill to stop radioactive water waste from being dumped into the Hudson River.
— Carver Cos. got conditional approval for additional mining.
— The Clean Energy Hub in Albany focuses on advising consumers about how to improve the efficiency of their home.
— Plug Power expands at Slingerlands tech park.
— Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill to recognize the Montaukett Indian Nation.
— Monkeys with shackles at a New York City park, put there under Robert Moses, have been removed.
— The New York Times explores the aftermath of a climate activist’s self-immolation.
— Why Revel shut down its electric moped service.
— Will Moreau stop a biochar plant with a new board.
— Landfill odors may rise after a landfill cap failed, Ontario County officials say.
— PSEG released its sustainability report, which doesn’t shy away from ESG.
— Wind project failures are good for GE, Bloomberg reports.
NEW YORK SETS AGGRESSIVE OFFSHORE WIND RFP SCHEDULE: NYSERDA will issue its request for proposals for both offshore wind and onshore renewables on Nov. 30, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday. The authority is setting up the extra-expedited schedule for offshore wind, with bids set to be due on Jan. 25, 2024, with awards announced by the end of February.
That aligns New York’s solicitation with Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which have open solicitations due at the end of January. They plan to coordinate awards to maximize potential economies of scale. The timing also gives a leg up to well-developed proposals, perhaps giving the best chance to developers who sought higher prices and were rebuffed to re-bid their projects.
NYSERDA also laid out its policy to allow those projects — Eversource and Orsted’s Sunrise Wind, and Equinor and BP’s Empire Wind 1 and 2 and Beacon Wind — to bid into the next solicitation without canceling their contracts before submitting bids. — Marie J. French
EV CHARGING SUBSIDIES INCREASED — POLITICO’s Marie J. French: Electric customers will be paying more to subsidize the installation of charging stations across New York as the state recalibrates its electric vehicle targets. The Public Service Commission approved a $1.2 billion budget for utility subsidies of electric charging stations on Thursday, an increase of about $500 million for the program first approved in 2020. The Department of Public Service staff also acknowledged the state is not expected to meet its longtime 850,000 zero-emission vehicle goal for 2025.
New York’s ambitious climate targets enshrined in law require a large-scale adoption of electric vehicles. The availability of charging stations is seen as a major barrier to faster adoption by consumers who worry about where they’ll plug in on longer trips, so New York policymakers have been seeking to incentivize the buildout of that system.
STEAM DECARBONIZATION EFFORTS APPROVED — POLITICO’s Marie J. French: The state’s utility regulator on Thursday approved higher rates for the steam system that serves the Empire State Building, United Nations and other iconic Manhattan buildings. The Public Service Commission’s approval of the first rate plan for Con Ed’s steam system since 2014 charts a path to reduce emissions and comply with the state’s climate law. Buildings that rely on the steam — currently produced with fossil fuels — are also looking to comply with New York City’s building emissions requirements.
— Also at the meeting: The PSC got a report on utility diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and moved three transmission lines forward.
GATEWAY GROWS UP: The Biden administration formally approved the bi-state Gateway Development Commission’s ability to receive federal money. That’s good, since the commission is expected to spend billions of federal dollars building new train tunnels beneath the Hudson River to connect the two states. The recognition, made earlier this week and announced by the commission on Thursday, marks adulthood for an agency that was created by the two states to build the tunnels. A previous tunnel plan was undone years ago by Chris Christie when he was governor of New Jersey.
In the years since, the congressional delegations and governors of New York and New Jersey have worked to restart a tunnel project, which is needed to supplement an aging tunnel. “We look forward to working with the Gateway Development Commission to improve public transportation for America’s communities,” the Federal Transit Administration’s acting regional director, Michael Culotta, wrote to the commission. — Ry Rivard
AG TISH JAMES SUES PEPSI — POLITICO’s Marie J. French: New York Attorney General Tish James is testing a new legal strategy to fight plastic pollution in what could be a model to force companies to reduce single-use packaging. James announced a lawsuit against PepsiCo, the largest food and beverage company in North America, on Wednesday in Buffalo. The company is responsible for much of the plastic trash picked up by volunteers along waterways in Buffalo and has misleadingly told investors and consumers that it is working to reduce new plastic use, James said.
“No company is too big to ensure that their products do not damage our environment and public health. All New Yorkers have a basic right to clean water, yet PepsiCo’s irresponsible packaging and marketing endanger Buffalo’s water supply, environment and public health,” James said in a statement.
This is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit as states across the country struggle with how to tackle the growing amount of plastic packaging ending up in landfills. It could provide a pathway to force companies to take on more responsibility for the waste they generate and the impact that plastics have on the environment.
DEAD BEARS: Last year, New Jersey hunters killed 114 black bears due to a “clearly erroneous” emergency rule approved by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, a state appeals court found. The hunt, which Murphy had gone back and forth on allowing, was reinstated last year after the state’s fish and game council and Department of Environmental Protection said the hunt was needed to remove the “imminent peril” posed by bears. The hunt was briefly halted and then restarted by a lower court that gave the state’s decision the green light. But a year and scores of dead bears later, the state appellate court found Murphy officials had approved an emergency rule using information they’d had months earlier and there was no justification for the rushed rule.
The court’s decision has little effect, since the hunt happened and subsequent formal rulemaking is now in place to allow this year’s hunt. But the ruling could provide a warning to state agencies about the scope of their emergency powers. “They not only didn’t follow the law but ignored the rules,” said Jeff Tittel, a long-time environmental activist who opposed the emergency rule.
In a statement, the DEP said it “notes that this ruling does not affect the upcoming black bear hunt scheduled for December 2023, which will occur as scheduled in accordance with the Game Code and pursuant to the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy and related Game Code amendments adopted on a non-emergency basis and published in the October 2, 2023 New Jersey Register.” — Ry Rivard
HUDSON RIVER CLEANUP BATTLE — POLITICO’s Marie J. French: The success of the cleanup of the nation’s largest Superfund site — the Hudson River — is under review, and advocates are pressing the federal government to find that more action is needed. The Environmental Protection Agency is undertaking a third five-year review of the effectiveness of General Electric’s dredging to remove toxic PCBs the company dumped in the river. The last review deferred a decision on whether the dredging had effectively protected human health, pending additional data.
Hudson River advocates released their own review of the available sediment and fish sampling data on Tuesday.
— DEC has shared additional data with EPA that both agencies are now reviewing. “DEC will continue to work with EPA to understand and develop the further actions that can be taken to address unacceptable levels of contamination that remain in the river and we will be here until the job is done and the public and environment is fully protected,” DEC spokesperson Cecilia Walsh said in a statement.
NYPA SETS (PLACEHOLDER) RENEWABLE TARGET: The New York Power Authority is eyeing a 1 gigawatt target for new renewables, according to materials set to be reviewed by the board’s finance committee today. That figure is a placeholder for the financial plan, spokesperson Sue Craig said in a statement. “These placeholder estimates could go higher depending on state needs and resources,” she said. “As with all of NYPA’s large capital projects, those numbers will be refined as projects are finalized in scope.”
NYPA is in the process of completing a public report on the conferral process with external groups and state partners of New York’s progress to meeting its 2030 renewable target of 70 percent. But the authority is also working on its financial plan for 2024 to 2027 and the authority’s 2024 budget. The presentation notes that under expanded authority, NYPA is considering 1 GW of new renewables or $1.5 billion of project costs. The authority continues to invest heavily in its existing hydropower assets and increasing its transmission rate base. — Marie J. French
NEW LIPA BOARD: Gov. Kathy Hochul has finally made her own appointments to the Long Island Power Authority board, reshaping it at a pivotal moment as it mulls a more fully publicly operated system and plans for the energy transition. Hochul tapped former PSC Commissioner Tracey Edwards, who stepped down from the commission last month, to chair the LIPA board.
Edwards is a senior vice president and New York Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which is seeking to build a casino. She’s also a consultant, a regional director at the Long Island NAACP and a managing director at a school bus safety compliance company. Edwards also wore many hats when she was on the commission, reporting at least $250,000 in outside income while serving in the statutorily full time role and earning $170,000 in state salary in 2022 financial disclosures. She was first nominated to the PSC in 2019 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and was also previously a Verizon executive. — Marie J. French