In State of State Address, Gov. Cuomo Can Build on Strong Clean Energy & Climate Policies


2015 was a banner year for clean energy in New York and we look forward to even more action on climate and clean energy in 2016, starting with Governor Cuomo's annual State of the State address this week.

Promoting pollution-free offshore wind power during his upcoming State of the State address on Wednesday is just one of the ways New York's Governor Cuomo can help meet the challenge that climate change represents. (photo: LH Wong via Flickr)

In recent years, the governor has cemented New York's reputation as an clean energy trailblazer by:

• committing to a clean energy standard of 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030,

• banning fracking,

• establishing a strong solar power program,

• supporting electric vehicles,

• forging groundbreaking state-local partnerships to build municipal clean energy capacity,

• committing to a regional strategy to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector,

• and, among his other accomplishments, just last week, pledging $300 million for the state's Environmental Protection Fund, which supports programs like land conservation, waterfront revitalization, drinking-water protection, and recycling.

Given Governor Cuomo's strong track record on climate, we expect the State of the State address to demonstrate his continued leadership on that issue and for clean energy solutions--particularly, renewable energy--to be a major theme in the speech. Still, to meet the climate challenge, on clean energy and climate there is much more that New York can and should do.

Here are the clean energy actions we hope the governor will take up in his speech and that New York will put into action in the coming year.

Moving Further Forward With Renewable Energy

In December, the governor took the critical step of directing the state's Public Service Commission, which regulates the state's utilities, to design and implement a mandatory "50 percent by 2030" renewable electricity program, called the Clean Energy Standard. Among the large electricity-consuming states, only California has a target this high. In the State of the State, the governor will likely highlight this impressive new program. And, to meet the June deadline he established for it, in 2016, the Public Service Commission will need to move quickly forward to design and implement the program.

We'll also be watching to see if, as part of the Clean Energy Standard, the governor includes a plan to take advantage of New York's considerable offshore wind power potential. Late last year, the governor vetoed a marine liquefied natural gas facility that a developer wanted to build in a stretch of water south of Long Beach where an offshore wind project had already been proposed, citing that conflict as part of his veto message. We believe there should be an explicit offshore wind component and hope for an approach modeled after the successful NY-Sun solar initiative. That initiative is projected to increase solar power tenfold in New York over the next 10 years while further reducing the fast-falling cost of solar.

In fact, without our tremendous offshore wind power resource, New York will likely be unable to reach our 50 x '30 renewables goal. By creating such a plan to incentivize offshore wind power, though, New York can jumpstart a new industry that can create tens of thousands of new jobs, all while cutting energy supply costs and generating clean power during the peak periods when our overstressed electric grid needs it the most. That would be a win for all New Yorkers.

Making the State's Energy Efficiency and Climate Goals Official: Last year, Governor Cuomo put forward important, additional clean energy goals for 2030 in the State Energy Plan. Included were a 40 percent reduction in New York greenhouse gas emissions and a 23 percent reduction in energy demand from buildings that could result from scaling up energy efficiency. This year, we need to codify and implement these goals, in order to create the regulatory certainty that will help businesses, utilities, and public officials fully invest in the state's low-carbon economy.

Moreover, when it comes to energy efficiency in particular, there's much more New York can do. Once a leader in the field, New York has fallen far behind states like Massachusetts, California, and Vermont. Indeed, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy now ranks our state at a mere number 9 among 50.

Energy efficiency is always the cheapest, quickest, cleanest energy solution and New York's energy efficiency potential is huge. So we need to retake leadership on this issue. That's why the Public Service Commission should affirm an annual energy savings level of 2 percent. That level will enable our state to meet its climate commitments, while creating new jobs, and saving consumers significant money on energy. Without this clear signal from the state, our utilities and clean energy companies won't invest in and deliver those environmental and economic benefits.

Continuing to Lead on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: RGGI is a pioneering, nine-state program that has substantially cut state and regional carbon emissions from power plants, while creating thousands of new jobs, improving our health, and saving consumers billions of dollars on energy. RGGI does all this by setting a cap on allowable carbon pollution, auctioning off pollution permits, and then using the proceeds to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy. New York has the region's most power plants and highest energy usage. So the proposals and plans it puts forward are central to RGGI's direction.

As the RGGI states begin to set new emissions targets for the period between 2020 and 2030, it's crucial that New York champion an emissions cap that continues to decline by at least 2.5 percent annually. This downward trajectory will bolster the virtuous cycle of pollution reductions, job creation, and energy savings. At the same time, it will ensure that states that might trade carbon reductions under the EPA's Clean Power Plan will get what they bargained for--new reductions that help bring the country and the world closer to a low-carbon future. A clear commitment from Governor Cuomo stating that New York intends to push for a stronger RGGI program--one that cuts carbon from power plants further and faster than the EPA requires under the Clean Power Plan--would be a major driver of progress, not just regionally but nationally as well.

Scaling Up Energy Efficiency in Affordable Apartment Buildings: New York's affordable housing stock is an untapped mine of energy efficiency potential. Moreover, low-income New Yorkers spend considerably more of their incomes on energy. In fact, New York households with incomes 50 percent below the poverty level spend a full 31 percent of their money on household energy. And even those who with incomes at 150 to 185 percent of the poverty level spend 8 percent. By supporting electricity savings in affordable apartment buildings and complexes of 1.5 percent annually over the next five years, and natural gas savings of 1 percent annually, New York can both improve the health and economic well-being of low-income residents while meeting state energy efficiency and climate targets.

Promoting Cleaner Cars and Trucks: Automotive transportation is responsible for more than one-third of New York's greenhouse gas pollution. To meet the state's important climate goals, New York needs to continue to invest in electric vehicles. We need more charging infrastructure, better incentives, and changes in utility regulations to remove barriers to EV purchasing and charging.

In addition, New York can lead by following up on its recently announced plans to develop regional solutions for cutting emissions from the high-polluting transportation sector. And, of course, we want to make sure that dirty tar sands fuels aren't allowed into New York.

Continuing to Help Local Governments Become Clean Energy Leaders: The governments of New York's cities, towns, villages, and counties are important resources in their communities. By continuing and building on the nascent Five Cities Energy Plans program, designed to help Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers cut their energy use and boost their renewable energy capacity, and the New York State Community Partnership, which will use centralized clean energy tools and resources to help communities throughout New York, the state can not only meet its climate and energy goals but also spur economic development and community revitalization.

And in 2016, NRDC will continue to fight to defend New York communities from the risks and health impacts of fossil fuel production and infrastructure.

Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York has strengthened its national reputation as a climate and clean energy leader. This year, by announcing new initiatives in his State of the State address, and by building on existing ones throughout the year, the governor can buttress that reputation further. With the right policies and legislation, state leaders can better New Yorkers' lives and our economy while protecting our kids' health and our climate. Our strong clean energy and climate goals need to continue to become ever stronger, all in keeping with the state's motto--"Excelsior"--ever upward.