Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address delivered ambitious promises from gun control to storm cleanup. But his proposals on energy have gotten many people talking.
In his address, Cuomo vowed to make New York state the leader in the clean tech economy, creating a $1 billion green bank to leverage public dollars with a private sector match. He also announced $150 million in annual funding to increase solar panel installations in homes and businesses.
Cuomo also named Richard Kauffman as the state’s energy czar (see sidebar). Kauffman previously served as senior advisor to Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, the governor also announced plans to tackle climate change in the state, including lowering the cap on greenhouse gas emissions. New York is one of nine states in the Northeast to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI), which sets a cap on carbon dioxide throughout the region, with the goal of reducing emissions by 10 percent. New York accounts for 40 percent of the region’s emissions.
Cuomo said his energy proposals draw from the work of four commissions he formed after Sandy hit: NYS Respond, NYS Ready, NYS 2100 and the Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response.
Jackson Morris, director of strategic engagement for Pace University’s Energy and Climate Center has been working with the governor’s office on the energy platform and praised Cuomo’s ambitious plans.
“It was encouraging to see government committed to climate change,” Morris said. “The commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a huge step forward, not only for New York, but for the eight states that are part of REGGI. It’s huge victory in New York.”
Morris also praised Cuomo for his commitment to solar energy and for trying to increase electric vehicles in New York. Cuomo proposed installing 2,500 charging stations throughout the state.
“He recognizes that it’s imperative that we reduce our dependence on oil,” Morris said. “It’s a huge step forward.”
While many State of the State addresses include bold proposals that will never see the light of day, Morris said that Cuomo’s record speaks for itself.
“If it was any other governor, I would be less excited,” Morris said. “He does not commit unless he has thought through about implementation. He had a big initiative to reduce energy consumption in state buildings and he did that. I am very confident that this governor will work to make all of these ambitious proposals a reality, based on his track record.”
The Alliance for Clean Energy New York Inc. (ACE NY) also had praise for Cuomo’s energy platform.
“We were quite pleased with what he had to say,” Valerie Strauss, interim executive director for ACE NY. “We need to address climate change, we agree with that. I don’t think his clean energy proposals are hard to do or overreaching.”
Strauss said that under Cuomo, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has become a nationwide leader in energy research, with other states following its lead.
“The programs are replicated everywhere,” Strauss said. “We’ve made major inroads. Clean energy will be important to combat climate change and development opportunities in the state. Clean energy and a green economy take a lot of investments but the payoffs can be quite large.”
Reaction from business groups has been mixed. John Ravitz, executive vice president of The Business Council of Westchester, said that keeping energy costs competitive and relicensing Indian Point should be a priority.
“We need to lower energy costs to spur the economy and benefit consumers,” Ravitz said.
Ravitz said he was disappointed that there was no talk of mandate relief in the State of State, and he was curious as to how Albany would pay for its energy platform.
“You can’t play the ‘spend and pretend’ game,” Ravitz said. “We need to make sure that if we propose any big ticket items that we have the money to pay for it. Mandate relief has to be put on everyone’s radar screens.”
The Business Council of New York State Inc. issued a statement fearing that some of Cuomo’s energy proposals would cost businesses or become a barrier for businesses that want to come to New York.
Darren Suarez, director of government affairs for the state Business Council, said that while the council supports Cuomo’s interest in having reliable, affordable and locally generated energy sources, he is concerned by the potential costs of what the governor proposed.
“Some of these policies could have an adverse effect on New York’s electric consumers,” Suarez said. “Some of these proposals will cost businesses additional resources and we will see an increase in consumer costs. The expansion of the solar program will result in increased utility costs.”
Suarez fears that manufacturers will leave the state and go elsewhere if they can’t meet the cap on greenhouse gases.
Morris disagrees and believes that New York’s energy policies will make the state more competitive, citing economic models that have shown there are over $2 billion in macroeconomic benefits from capped emission programs.
“That’s reinvested in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Morris said. “Critics said REGGI would cause blackouts and increase electricity costs, but electricity costs have dropped. We are very excited to implement this agenda; this puts New York on the national state for climate policy. It’s going to be a busy year.”