Cuomo Tells Students and The World: New York Must Lead On Clean Energy

New York can lead the nation in the clean energy transition that will help fight climate change. That was the case New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made at New York University on Friday afternoon, while speaking to a packed room of NYU students at a Know Tomorrow event that I attended. This was one of more than 50 such events at campuses across the country on Friday in which students demanded action on climate change. Introducing the governor were NYU student leaders, who deserve kudos for putting together a great day of climate action, and Waterkeeper Alliance president Marc Yaggi.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the challenges involved creating a clean energy transition, at a Know Tomorrow climate event at New York University on October 2nd.

In a rare environmental address, the governor connected the dots between climate change and the extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee that hit New Yorkers so hard during the three-month period between August 2011 and October 2012. The governor's talk also focused on New York's role in addressing climate change and the need to overcome the opposition of the fossil fuel industry. "We think in New York it is our role to take on the tough challenges," the governor said.

Part of New York's job, he said, is to show Americans this clean energy transition can work. For example, he pointed to the state's NY-Sun Initiative, slated to incentivize 3,000 megawatts of solar power in the Empire State by 2024. It's helping bring more than 1,500 new jobs to the city of Buffalo, as NY-Sun enables thousands of schools, businesses, and homeowners to reduce their electricity bills by switching to pollution-free electricity. And the governor announced another effort to prove scalability: a new, student-led competition that will have campuses vie against each other to dramatically cut carbon at their institutions and in the wider world.

The governor also cited New York's leadership of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: this nine-state alliance has sharply reduced carbon pollution from power plants and now serves as a model for regional carbon-cutting programs under the EPA's Clean Power Plan. New York has launched the Reforming the Energy Vision plan to make our electric system cleaner, more reliable and resilient, and more affordable. This effort has focused national attention on how to revolutionize utility regulation and bring market forces to bear to scale up clean energy. And there are other big plans in the offing: New York's new State Energy Plan includes the goals to achieve the following by 2030: cutting energy consumption in buildings by 23 percent; getting 50 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind; and cutting New York's carbon emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels, on track to an 80-percent emissions cut by 2050.

The governor also recognized New York's top-flight clean energy brain trust. In the room were Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman, New York's Chairman of Energy and Finance Richard Kauffman, NYSERDA President and CEO John Rhodes, and Senior Energy Advisor Greg Hale, as well as State Senator Brad Hoylman. The governor also introduced Basil Seggos, who has just been nominated as New York's next Commissioner of Environmental Conservation. Seggos will bring deep environmental values and commitment to this important position, garnered through years of work to protect the environment in government, NGO positions (including at NRDC), in the private sector and the military.

Looking forward, there is more hard work to do and much more to be accomplished on climate and clean energy in New York. In particular, New York needs to adopt transparent, visible and enforceable renewable energy goals for large-scale renewables like on- and offshore wind power and utility-scale solar.

The governor's continued attention and focus on these issues will be critical as New York moves forward on clean energy and climate.