Looking Forward This Earth Day

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The MTA and its three operating agencies help avoid 17 million metric tons in CO2 emissions annually by providing transit service for 40 percent of the entire nation’s transit users throughout its vast network, per its 2019 analysis. This sheer amount of transit-avoided carbon is a feat in itself worth celebrating this Earth Day, and reaffirms how powerful mass-transit’s impact is in protecting the planet. As our region and transit system begin recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic, this accomplishment must be sustained and built upon to ensure continued reductions in CO2 emissions.

Over the past several years, the MTA has been hard at work identifying and implementing several climate related initiatives to include energy efficiency measures – such as the goal to electrify its bus fleet by 2040, and its Solar Program.

Electrifying the MTA bus fleet is underway, but remains a gargantuan undertaking as the transportation agency works to reach its 2040 zero-emission bus goals. The MTA currently has 25 battery electric buses in operation, with initial plans to expand the fleet to 500 all-electric buses as a part of its 2020-2024 Capital Plan. Those plans, however, were put on pause with the rest of the MTA’s Capital Plan as scarce dollars were diverted to pay for operating the system as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An infusion of $12 billion in federal stimulus funding is now allowing a delayed Capital Plan to begin moving ahead. Most recently, 45 all-electric buses were purchased for deployment in five depots across the city. As deployment continues, the NYC Transit Department of Buses must work through infrastructure challenges in its aging depots and yards, and enter into partnerships with various stakeholders to plan for such a substantial change in the bus system. Collaborating with all levels of government, and with utility companies, community boards and planning design commissions will be necessary in order to implement an efficient, aesthetically sound and resilient charging network which functions year-round no matter the weather – be it a power-disrupting storm or the harsh New York winter.

The MTA’s efforts to reap the benefits of solar power are also ongoing. On Earth Day 2019, the MTA issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for solar development at seven MTA properties. In it, the agency outlined its plans to expand its solar development and generate enough electricity to power 18,000 New York households, noting that the MTA’s overall vacant space spans “…more than 100 bus depots, train yards, repair shops, and commuter lots across all MTA agencies – totaling more than 10 million square feet of industrial roof space – which would be suitable for solar development.” The project would establish a new source of income and would be relatively costless because the MTA would be leasing idle space to companies for solar installation. Energy generated from these solar projects would be offloaded to the grid, producing 100 megawatts of electricity and contributing to the growth of New York as a renewable energy hub. The hope was to begin negotiations that fall, but the plan has yet to come into fruition. Smaller solar projects at bus depots, warehouses, and other facilities are in place.

As our region and nation aim to Build Back Better, investments at all levels will be looked at through a lens of sustainability and preserving resources for future generations. Lifting the MTA Solar Program off the ground and successfully integrating electric buses into the MTA’s fleet are both long-term and ongoing projects with broad reach that will have lasting effects on New York’s clean energy use and generation. Neither project is an easy fix or implementation, but both will ultimately bring large-scale change and help the MTA solidify a more sustainable and resilient future for transportation in the region.

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