A 50-Percent-By-2025 Renewable Energy Standard Can Help Gov. Cuomo Realize His "Opportunity Agenda"


In the wake of Governor Cuomo's courageous decision last month to ban fracking in New York State, the state is poised to become even more of a leader in clean energy, if it puts in place the right policies. Governor Cuomo's State of the State address Wednesday didn't address clean energy, but there are some great clean energy proposals in the policy book that accompanied the speech, called the "2015 Opportunity Agenda."

In it, the governor fleshes out many of the plans that can continue to make New York a clean-energy leader. There's much for advocates to cheer--a Five Cities Energy Plan that will help large municipalities save as much as $400 million a year, all while cutting their carbon emissions by 20 percent; an international competition to bring clean energy businesses to the Southern Tier; a $5 billion commitment to the state's Clean Energy Fund; expanded battery R&D at Brookhaven National Laboratory; and, a community solar program that will allow renters and others who can't install solar on their roofs to reap the benefits of clean energy from the sun.

New York's ample renewable energy resources, including sunlight harvested here at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, can help the state lead the nation in renewable energy and energy innovation, if the state adopts a 50-percent-by-2025 renewable energy standard. (photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory)

One crucial piece is still missing, though: a call for a 50 percent renewable energy standard, which, by 2025, would mean that half our electricity would come from clean energy sources such as solar power and on- and offshore wind power. And it is doable because it would build on New York State's ample hydropower resources, as well as on the large amounts of wind and solar power that have already been installed in New York state. Such a standard would make our electric grid more resilient during times of stress (think: scorching summer afternoons); give our kids cleaner air to breathe; create thousands of new jobs; and, further prove New York's leadership in the effort to spur energy innovation and fight climate change. (Already, California's governor, Jerry Brown, has promised his state will get 50 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030. Should California vanquish New York? Let's beat him to the punch!)

In his first term, Governor Cuomo helped New York maintain its status as a clean energy leader, developing and supporting such programs as the NY-Sun Initiative that will help install 3,000 megawatts of solar in New York by 2023; the $1 billion New York Green Bank, a public-private lending institution designed to break down financial barriers for clean energy; and, the Reforming the Energy Vision plan to redesign New York's electric system so that it's better tuned in to today's realities.

As announced in the State of the State book, the governor plans to build on that legacy, with programs that include:

• A $5 billion Clean Energy Fund to spur clean-energy investments throughout the state over the next 10 years. While the fund will underwrite existing programs such as NY-Sun and the Green Bank, it will also "pay particular attention to expanding opportunities...in segments of the market that may be underserved...such as low- to moderate income communities."

• Shared Solar: Here in New York, with our high concentration of renters and multi-family buildings, rooftop solar is often inaccessible to tenants and others who want it. Shared solar allows people and businesses who can't build solar onsite to subscribe to local solar arrays that offer all the benefits of solar, without the roof.

• Five of the Empire State's largest cities--Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers--will cut their energy use by 20 percent by 2020, through the Five Cities Energy Plans. The program, administered by the state's New York Power Authority, will not only save these cities as much as $400 million a year on energy, and cut their carbon pollution accordingly, it will also serve as a model for local governments across the country.

• Expanded battery storage research: New and improved battery energy storage is crucial to scaling up renewable energy and enhancing resilience during times of stress on the electric grid. Under the governor's plan, Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island will receive $65 million to help commercial developers expand the battery research and development that's critical to a clean-energy future.

• First-Of-Its-Kind Southern Tier Clean Energy Business Competition: In a win-win effort to bring clean-tech entrepreneurs to places like Binghamton, Elmira, Jamestown and Corning, the state will sponsor a $20 million challenge and offer "funding, technical assistance, and other services to help [entrepreneurs] turn their proposals into real opportunities."

That's an impressive collection of initiatives. And it could be made all the more compelling by the addition of a 50 percent by 2025 renewable energy standard. Such a standard would help New York fulfill its existing commitment to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. And it would offer the necessary market certainty that clean-energy developers and related businesses need to bring their businesses to New York state and grow them here. That same kind of certainty, provided by the NY-Sun Initiative, has helped lure large solar developer Solar City to the Buffalo area, where the company is building a manufacturing facility that will employ at least 3,000. (Solar City plans a separate research and development program in the Empire State, too.)

New York has great clean-energy resources that are ripe for the picking: strong winds (both onshore and off); more sunshine than world-solar-leader Germany; and low-hanging fruit galore when it comes to energy efficiency. Creating a 50 x '25 renewable energy standard can not only help the state meet its clean energy goals, but its social ones, with new, good-paying jobs, rural development, and economic growth that can help lift up poor.

On Wednesday, the governor spoke eloquently of increasing opportunity for all New Yorkers--his opportunity agenda. "The farmer in the Southern Tier who is struggling to make ends meet--that farmer is our brother," he said yesterday. "The child who lives in poverty in Rochester today is our child." A 50 x '25 renewable energy standard can help make that opportunity agenda more than a plan. Clean energy will help make the governor's agenda a reality.