The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise, and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, oil embargoes made the United States acutely aware that the world’s petroleum supplies were finite. NYSERDA’s earliest efforts focused solely on research and development of renewable energy technologies with the goal of reducing New York State’s petroleum consumption. NYSERDA was created as a public benefit corporation in 1975 under Article 8, Title 9 [PDF] and Title 9A [PDF] of the State Public Authorities Law through the reconstitution of the New York State Atomic and Space Development Authority. In the 1980s, lines disappeared at gas stations but concerns about energy’s impact on the environment would continue. Separate from NYSERDA during that time, the New York State Energy Office handled energy policy analysis and energy efficiency audits. Funding was derived primarily from federal grants and monies distributed via the Petroleum Overcharge Restitution Fund.
When the Energy Office was closed in 1995, NYSERDA took on critical energy efficiency, energy assessments, energy planning, and policy analysis functions. The national recession in the 1990s emphasized the need to help New York State residents and businesses increase energy efficiency in order to save money. Simultaneous global events highlighted the need for energy security and less reliance on foreign sources of oil, and signaled a renewed need for increased focus on protecting the environment.
Transitioning to Ratepayer Support
NYSERDA’s funding structure changed in 1996 when the New York State Public Service Commission approved the ratepayer-supported System Benefits Charge (SBC) Program and designated NYSERDA as the program’s administrator. The SBC is collected by investor-owned utilities from gas and electric customers in the State, and funds the majority of NYSERDA’s programs. The Public Service Commission also established in 1998 the nationally recognized, long-running New York Energy $mart Program to continue public benefit research and development, energy services, and environmental programs that may not have otherwise happened as New York State moved to a competitive electric utility industry.
In the new millennium, NYSERDA became involved in green buildings while new kinds of energy crises made headlines. In 2000 and 2001, California’s electricity crisis, rolling blackouts, and energy market manipulations in 2000 and 2001 highlighted how dependent the nation was on the electric grid. The 2002 New York State Energy Plan then noted possible consequences of New York State’s heavy dependence on fossil fuel, which is largely imported from abroad or out-of-state. In response, NYSERDA took steps toward a proactive approach for New York State’s energy future.
As renewable energy was becoming popular in other parts of the country, New York State wanted to make it attractive to the State’s residents and businesses. Between 2004 and 2008, the Public Service Commission approved two new programs related to funding renewable energy and energy efficiency as NYSERDA pursued a market-driven approach to doing business including creating effective partnerships among private industry, government, and academia that benefit all New Yorkers. In 2004, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was established with the goal of increasing the proportion of renewable energy used by New Yorkers. In 2008, the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) was created with a specific directive: reduce electricity usage in New York.
New York State also took pioneering steps in 2008 to address greenhouse gas emissions related to energy. New York became a charter member of a cooperative effort by nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is the first mandatory, market-based effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Proceeds from auction and trading of carbon dioxide allowances help fund some of NYSERDA’s programs.
As the national economy began a downturn in 2008, New Yorkers struggled too. NYSERDA worked toward sustainability goals, supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Centers Program and focusing on the 4 E’s: energy, environment, economy, and education.
Establishing a Clean Energy Economy
By 2010, NYSERDA programs focused on reducing energy use, increasing energy efficiency, creating jobs, creating public-private partnerships to stimulate entrepreneurial spirit, and preparing tomorrow’s workforce to excel in the clean energy economy. To reinforce this focus, the Public Service Commission approved funding for the Technology and Market Development Program in 2011. This program’s mission includes testing, developing, and introducing new technologies, strategies, and practices that build the market infrastructure across New York State to reliably deliver clean energy to New Yorkers. The need for energy independence and grid resiliency was underscored as New Yorkers witnessed first-hand the devastating aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee.
Vision for the Future
NY Green Bank, a state-sponsored, specialized financial entity and a division of NYSERDA, opened for business in 2014 to increase private investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, which have had difficulty accessing financing. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo had announced in his 2013 State of the State address, the development of a green bank in New York aimed at facilitating more reliable, more efficient energy, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
During the same year, Governor Cuomo also launched New York’s signature energy policy, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV).
The 2015 State Energy Plan was released as a roadmap for REV. The plan included a goal of cutting greenhouse gas levels by 40% over 1990 levels by 2030 while increasing the State’s energy efficiency, clean energy, and energy innovation programs and further encouraging private investment.
Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service in 2015 to design and enact the Clean Energy Standard, which mandates that 50% of all electricity consumed in New York State’s electricity be sourced from renewable energy sources by 2030. In 2016, Public Service Commission approved the Clean Energy Fund (CEF) for NYSERDA. Using rate-payer funds, the CEF supports clean energy market development and innovation, the Clean Energy Standard, and REV.
With these initiatives, New York’s role as a leader in shaping the future of clean energy remains firmly in place. NYSERDA works with State, industry, and citizen stakeholders to scale up the clean energy sector and develop a clean, resilient, and affordable energy system that can withstand severe weather events as well as meet the growing demands of a more technological society. Using a more market-based, decentralized approach, NYSERDA professionals continue to find innovative ways to decrease energy costs, create opportunities for economic growth, and preserve the environment for current and future generations of New Yorkers.