A Driving Force in Renewables Deployment for Over a Decade
By Dana Drugmand
Long before the current emphasis on sub-national leadership in advancing clean energy, some states had created funds dedicated to supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy development. In 2002, a new national nonprofit organization emerged to coordinate and assist these clean energy funds. That organization – the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) – works to promote clean energy technologies and markets by bringing together stakeholders and offering technical assistance, information sharing, partnership development and other services.
Now, fifteen years later, CESA remains an influential national, nonprofit member-based organization working to advance clean energy at the state level. It currently consists of 30 member organizations. The following is a brief look at some of the Northeast members.
Through innovative programs and policies, the State of New York is driving a fundamental shift in its energy system. “Our goal is to build an energy system that’s clean, reliable, and affordable,” said Janet Joseph, vice president for innovation and strategy at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The big-picture strategy behind this goal is an initiative called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). “It is a very substantial transformation of our energy policy framework and our programmatic approach in New York State,” Joseph explained.
NYSERDA has been with the Clean Energy States Alliance since the coalition’s inception. Like other original members, NYSERDA managed a clean energy fund, created through a ratepayer-supported system benefits charge – a small surcharge on customers’ electric bills that goes toward clean energy programs. This surcharge continues to fund the majority of NYSERDA’s programs.
These programs cover a wide range of services, technologies, funding mechanisms and research development. Some highlights over the years include a Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, a comprehensive solar initiative called NY Sun that aims to reach over three gigawatts of installed solar capacity in the state by 2023, and Renewable Heat NY that provides incentives for the installment of high-efficiency, low-emission wood heating systems. According to Joseph, current areas of focus include solar, offshore wind, energy storage, and community microgrids.
Joseph, who serves on the CESA board, commended the organization for its role in facilitating informational exchanges between members. “CESA provides a great opportunity to learn from other states and see what’s emerging as best practices across the country.”
Also an original CESA member, Massachusetts is another state making considerable progress in the clean energy transition. Over 100,000 Bay State residents now work in the clean energy sector. The state ranks in the top ten nationwide for installed solar capacity and is first in energy efficiency.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) is at the heart of the renewable energy boom in the Commonwealth. Funding for MassCEC comes from the Renewable Energy Trust Fund, established by the state legislature in 1997. Electric ratepayers support the fund through a system benefit charge.
Over the years, MassCEC has helped support over 1600 MW of clean energy capacity installed through various programs such as renewable heating and cooling, hydropower, Commonwealth Wind, Solarize Mass., and more. Emerging focus areas include offshore wind, energy storage, energy resilience and microgrids, and clean transportation. As MassCEC looks to continue advancing clean energy markets, it also wants to expand the markets’ reach. “We want to make sure that as we grow these markets, access to clean energy is not just for the well-off,” said Andrew Belden, renewable energy generation senior director.
Belden is also a CESA board member and said he values the collaborative nature of the organization. “Really the value for us is the network, the community of other states,” he said.
Vermont and New Hampshire
Vermont, through its Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), and New Hampshire, through its Renewable Energy Fund, are working to shift to cleaner electricity and heating sources. The New Hampshire fund was established in 2007 with enactment of renewable portfolio standard (RPS) legislation, which requires a specified share of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources. The fund offers rebates and grants for renewable thermal and electric technologies. The Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund was created in 2005 and is managed by the Vermont Public Service Department. In the past, CEDF has offered loans supporting various projects ranging from rooftop solar panels, biomass district heating, and anaerobic digesters to small hydropower and 100-kilowatt wind turbines.
Now both funds are focusing heavily on supporting renewable thermal technologies. Vermont’s CEDF currently offers rebates for advanced wood pellet boilers and solar hot water systems through its Small-Scale Renewable Energy Incentive Program. New Hampshire’s Renewable Energy Fund helped establish a first-in-the-nation rebate program for residential wood pellet heating systems, and the state has added a renewable thermal carve-out to its RPS.
Dana Drugmand is a freelance journalist and environmental advocate. She has worked with Clean Energy States Alliance as a Research Assistant and recently graduated from Vermont Law School with a Master’s degree in Environmental Law & Policy.