Good Clean Energy News From Albany

East New York Affordable Housing.JPG

This week, there’s good, clean-energy news from Albany. And though it seemed for a while that our state’s leadership on clean energy might be threatened, New York is back on track.

Here’s the first piece of good news. In the state budget process that ended on Tuesday, Governor Cuomo successfully fought off attempts by leaders of both the State Assembly and the State Senate to divert as much as $220 million of clean energy funding into the state’s general coffers.

Think about that: legislators nearly raided $220 million in funding specifically earmarked for investment in innovative energy efficiency programs; in solar panels for schools and factories; in new, clean-energy businesses and other efforts to save consumers money on energy, create new jobs here in New York, and cut carbon pollution from all sectors.

New York's Governor Cuomo fought off state legislators' attempts to divert as much as $220 million from earmarked clean energy funding into the state's general fund. Earmarked clean energy funds have helped incentivize energy efficiency measures and renewable energy installations, like those at this Brooklyn affordable housing complex. 

The money that the legislature sought to divert to the general budget is administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and would have represented more than a 25 percent cut in its budget.

That would have been a bad move for New Yorkers. For every dollar invested, NYSERDA’s energy efficiency programs save $3 on energy bills. Its programs have created thousands of new jobs and have trained thousands of workers. Its funds incentivize renewable energy installations here in New York—more than 7,000 to date—generating enough clean energy to power more than 550,000 homes. Equally important, these programs cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost 4.4 million tons annually—the equivalent of taking more than 881,000 cars off of New York’s roads.

As the budget talks came down to the wire over the weekend, Governor Cuomo held firm, opposing misguided efforts to divert the money, barring a door that, once opened, gets evermore difficult to close. (Just across the Hudson, New Jersey’s history of looting clean energy funds provides a cautionary tale.)

Add to all that great news an excellent outcome for Tesla, the upstart electric car company. Its newest model, the Tesla S, has gotten the highest-ever rating from Consumer Reports (99 out of 100) and one of the highest ever from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (NHTSA is the federal government’s vehicle safety office.)

Perhaps for those reasons, and, importantly, because it sells its cars directly to consumers, around the country, car dealers are feeling threatened by Tesla. In states such as Ohio, New Jersey and Texas, the company’s sales model has faced legislative and court challenges. Here in New York, a lot of car dealers were gunning to shut Tesla’s five existing stores down. But New York brokered a deal that will allow them to stay open. (Any new storefronts must be operated by dealers.) “Today’s agreement reaffirms New York’s long-standing commitment to the dealer franchise system,” the governor said last week, “while making sure New York remains a leader in spurring innovative businesses and encouraging zero emissions vehicles sales.”

Finally, another credit to the Empire State: About a month ago, we saw the first auction of carbon pollution allowances under the new pollution cap that’s part of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. When RGGI was first designed by a bipartisan group of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors to cut carbon emissions, save consumers money on energy, create jobs and spur economic growth, the program overestimated carbon pollution levels coming from the region’s power plants. So while RGGI was already a model for the nation when it began operating in 2009, it was less effective than it could have been, because the pollution cap was too high. After Hurricane Sandy, New York called for a significant lowering of the amount of carbon pollution allowed. This support for new standards was crucial to their creation, because our power plants emit almost 40 percent of the power-plant carbon in the region; the other RGGI governors couldn’t have gone ahead without us. Now, the new standards are not only lowering pollution levels but spurring additional energy savings and renewable energy that benefit us all.

So while we New Yorkers are sometimes used to bad news from Albany, recent dispatches from the capitol prove the Empire State’s refreshing leadership on clean energy still stands.