On Long Island, a Smarter, More Resilient Power System

The Clean Power Plan, recently finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to clean up the nation's electricity sector. This unprecedented regulation will reduce carbon dioxide emissions 32% from 2005 levels by 2030, while also providing states with flexibility in how to achieve this goal. One constant across states, however, will be increased use of renewable energy--primarily solar and wind.

In many states, renewable energy has already entered the mainstream. A new solar array was installed every 2.5 minutes last year. And rates of adoption are only increasing. Now, with the Clean Power Plan moving forward, all states have a greater impetus to drive innovative use of renewable energy to cut carbon emissions.

One New York town offers a model for the rest of the country.

Like many coastal towns, East Hampton, located on the southern shores of Long Island, sees its population swell in summertime. This seasonal increase pushes the electric grid to the max--as more air conditioners, laptops, and other devices demand power.

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Just as highway lanes become congested during rush hour, power lines also fill up. This is the case on Long Island during summer when demand for power is at its highest.

Normally, a utility would address this issue by building another power plant, new power lines--or both. But PSEG Long Island, the local utility, is taking a novel approach that will not only reduce emissions but also its customers' bills. In partnership with the Clean Coalition and other stakeholders, PSEG Long Island is pursuing an innovative, renewables-based solution rather than a new oil-based power plant.

Known as the Long Island Community Microgrid Project, this effort will rely on local solar and energy storage to meet the area's growing electricity needs. Through this approach, renewable energy will provide nearly 50% of the local electricity consumed and set the stage for the utility to avoid investing hundreds of millions of its customers' dollars into new generation and transmission.

Relying on local solar generation also offers the benefit of increased energy security. Long Island, along with much of the Northeast coastline, was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, which left more than eight million Americans without power. The Long Island Community Microgrid Project is designed to provide long-term back-up power to critical facilities, including two water pumping and filtration plants and a fire station. That means that the lights will stay on in the event that another widespread blackout occurs--from natural disaster, technical malfunction, or terrorist attack.

The Long Island Community Microgrid Project is one result of a coordinated, statewide effort to transform the power system. New York needs to invest $30 billion over the next decade just to maintain its current power system, which is both energy and capital inefficient. Currently, New York has some of the most expensive electricity in the country, due, in part, to an overbuilt system. New Yorkers use just 60% of the electricity their power system is capable of generating, on average, because many power plants operate only a small number of hours each year when demand for electricity is highest.

A flurry of activity is underway, however, to modernize New York's grid. The Reforming the Energy Vision proceeding is redefining the relationship between utilities and its customers; the NY Green Bank is driving clean energy investments; and the NY Prize Community Microgrid Competition is demonstrating innovative uses of new technologies. The Long Island Community Microgrid Project was one of the first projects to receive funding through the NY Prize.

Central to all of New York's efforts is making the power system cleaner, more affordable, and more resilient--worthy goals for every state. On Long Island this means embracing new technologies like solar and storage. As other states work to comply with the Clean Power Plan, they could learn from New York's leadership.