Albany makes progress on 3 strong green bills this week

The New York State Senate leadership tested its balky majority by taking up several environmental and clean energy bills this week.  Look up the word “frail” in the dictionary and that will define their current state – a tight 32-30 advantage just shrunk after the reigning Ds expelled one of its majority for an assault conviction. Anyway, since 32 votes are needed to pass legislation, and the D’s are down to 31 (tell your kids -- 3th grade math always comes in handy), let’s just say the head count on these bills was tenuous, but two have already managed to prevail – passing through the Senate and heading to the Assembly. The vote on the third bill was postponed for a week or so – but there’s still hope.

Here’s a breakdown of each…

These 2 bills passed the Senate yesterday:

  • Green Jobs, New York style - Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) has introduced a bill that follows up the passage of last year’s successful Green Jobs-Green NY law. Here’s the premise -- New York State Energy Resources and Development Authority created a Retrofit Investment Fund for energy efficiency rennovations to 1 million New York homes. The fund pays homeowners’ and building owners’ contracting costs for the green improvements as a loan. The owners/borrowers repay their loan with the money they save on energy bills, as they save. Parker’s proposed legislation would create an online recovery mechanism that would allow the owner to repay the investment as a small monthly charge on their utility bill over time. Most homeowners are reliable utility customers – that reliability is crucial because it gives the fund and its lenders confidence, especially in these tough economic times, that the initial investment will be recovered. This could be a model for future green-financing programs in NY and the country.
  • Net metering – Sen. George Maziarz (R-Niagara) has a bill on the agenda that will tweak his net metering law passed two sessions ago, providing bigger rewards for people and companies that generate renewable energy and feed it into the power grid for public use.  Under a net metering plan, an owner of a renewable energy facility, commercial or residential, receives a retail credit from their electric utility for all or a portion of the electricity they generate from renewable sources. Maziarz's changes keep a cap on the amount of energy non-residential users can get credit for at 2 megawatts (this is so large commercial users can't exploit the system). And it removes a limit on the amount of credit users can get during peak load time (this is when  utilities generate their mazimum power output) – so they get credit for generating renewable power any time of day.  The bill also puts the New York State Public Service Commission in charge of resolving complaints that have come in from some residential customers that their utilities had capped the amount of power considered for the retail credit at an arbitrarily low level.

As is often the case, though, the test is more political than policy-driven – Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), the newly minted conference leader, is trusting that his experiment in bi-partisanship (there’s not been a lot of convivial playing in the sandbox up here lately) will yield results. But whatever the motive – this policy better rewards people who are paving the way by generating clean energy.

The vote on this one is on hold:

  • Cleaning up dirty diesel home heating oil in New York: Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) has been working a bill that would reduce the sulfur content of all heating oil within New York State’s non-attainment area. Home heating oil (diesel fuel) in combustion, is the second largest source of sulfur dioxide emissions in NYS. Yet, it’s much dirtier than the stuff in our trucks and buses. New York households (2.6 million strong) have more oil-heated homes than anywhere in the country and many New York communities have some of the highest asthma levels in the nation. Senate staff project a reduction of 80% in particulate matter (aka soot pollution, which contributes to increased asthma, cancer, heart and lung disease and premature death) and near-elimination of sulfur emissions if home heating oil is reduced from 2% sulfur to .5%. And cleaner heating oil, means cheaper costs in the long run due to increased boiler efficiency, less maintenance, and less fuel use. There is substantial environmental, labor, business and public health support for the bill – but Hess Oil is feverishly fighting the legislation (shouldn’t these guys be concentrating on getting Mark Sanchez a tight end who can catch a screen pass?). This bill won't get past the gate this week -- but is likely to be voted on in the coming week or so.  The major sticking point is the start-up year for the conversions to take place: next year, 2012 or 2013.

 These bills all add up to important environmental and economic strides for the state and NRDC will continue fighting for them.