In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made renewable energy a focus of his annual State of the State address in which he pledged an aggressive government agenda to rebuild the nation’s third-largest economy for the post-coronavirus era. According to Cuomo, the state’s Green Economic Recovery Program, proposes to use $29 billion in public and private investment to create 50,000 jobs and 12,400 megawatts of clean electricity (enough to power six million of New York’s 7.5 million homes). The program will play a central role in the economic recovery.
Calling green energy “a new economic engine which is future-oriented, is essential to our survival, and that has the potential to benefit generations to come,” the governor promised a “true transformation” for New York’s energy system. “Piecemeal, episodic, or incidental efforts will fail,” he warned.
In 2021, Cuomo announced public-private partnerships that will spur the development of 23 new solar farms and one hydroelectric plant, which will join 68 large-scale clean generation facilities contracted by the state over the last five years, as well as a 20-megawatt battery storage facility now under construction by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) in Chateaugay. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) solicits new projects from the private sector by offering procurement contracts for renewable energy credits (RECs) to bidders who, in turn, submit proposals in accordance with NYSERDA criteria to construct carbon-free generation facilities to produce them. NYSERDA eventually resells the RECs to regulated utilities like Con Edison, which purchase them under state mandate.
The latest and biggest winner in this process is the Norwegian state-owned enterprise Equinor, which secured a significant offshore wind contract in 2019. They responded in 2020 to NYSERDA’s request for proposals with a plan for an additional 2.5 gigawatts of capacity on two sites in federal waters near Long Island. The subsequent agreement, revealed during Cuomo’s address, represents “the largest procurement of renewable energy by a state in U.S. history.” turbines. The British oil giant, British Petroleum (BP) will own a 50 percent stake in the pair of wind farms, which together will feature more than 180 turbines.
To facilitate the manufacturing of these turbines, as well as their staging, operations, and maintenance, New York State will reconfigure and modernize five of its ports. These are the Port of Coeymans, Port Jefferson, the Port of Montauk Harbor, and with the help of Equinor, the Port of Albany and the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Private investment will cover 75% of the $644 billion cost, producing a unique wind-focused arsenal of maritime infrastructure lining the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and New York Harbor, as well as 2,600 jobs.
Cuomo hopes to fill these positions with graduates from the new Offshore Wind Training Institute at SUNY Stony Brook and Farmingdale State College, which he expects to open this summer. An additional program, the Climate Justice Corps, will fund 150 yearlong fellowships in the green energy industry for “residents of disadvantaged communities.”
The fourth pillar of New York’s clean energy agenda – alongside generation, manufacturing, and job training – is transmission. Two-hundred and fifty miles of a “green energy superhighway” will begin construction this year to bring clean upstate power to downstate consumers. Due to a congested grid, they currently rely on New York City’s dirty, gas-fired “peaker plants” on high-demand, hot summer days.
This year will also mark the groundbreaking of the long-planned Champlain Hudson Power Express, a high-voltage link between Quebec and Queens. This is proceeding despite criticism from environmental groups and industry competitors. They charge that rerouting Canada’s existing hydropower to a new export market will undercut homegrown renewables without reducing global emissions.
A host of smaller state-led initiatives – such as low-interest loans for energy efficiency retrofits within the Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s portfolio of affordable housing. The installation of 2,500 fast chargers for electric vehicles over the next two years, and the provision of NYPA advisory services to municipalities looking to develop community solar – round out New York’s green energy program. But its public transportation agenda – which includes eight extra tracks at Penn Station, a Second Avenue Subway extension, two additional railway tunnels beneath the Hudson, a revamped Port Authority Bus Terminal, and in the more immediate term, 100 electric buses for the MTA and other transit agencies – will also play an important role in reducing the state’s carbon emissions.
Transportation investments account for $190 billion of the $306 billion multiyear infrastructure plan touted in Cuomo’s executive budget, released a week after his State of the State address. The plan – whose eye-popping total incorporates a $100 billion suite of projects initiated in 2016, another infrastructural injection of $150 billion in 2018, the implementation of the MTA’s four-year capital plan in 2020, and $31 billion of new public works – requires a $17.6 billion capital disbursement in Fiscal Year 2022, which begins in April.
In 2019, New York State won praise from environmental activists when its legislature approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, mandating 70% renewable power by 2030 and a zero-carbon electricity sector by 2040. For many of the same advocates, Cuomo’s unprecedented bet on offshore wind and the establishment of other green energy programs highlighted in his State of the State address have signaled a commitment to upholding these goals.
“As New York looks to rebuild, nothing holds more potential to get our economy humming again than clean energy. The governor’s roadmap for the year ahead reflects this understanding – and demonstrates a commitment to powering our future with cleaner, healthier and more equitable solutions,” Rich Schrader, the New York Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, enthused.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has served since 2011 as the governor of New York, and he plans to run for a third re-election in 2022.
Brett Yates is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. He lives in Mendon, Vermont.