New York Gets Energy Czar, Lots of Cleantech Goodies

Cleantech and addressing climate change had starring roles in New York Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address yesterday.

Early in his speech he said, "Cleantech is the wave of the future – we all know it" … it’s a "footrace" which New York should win.

To get there, the Governor appointed the state’s first Energy Czar, a cabinet-level position charged with overseeing the state’s energy portfolio and coordinating its cleantech agenda. Richard Kauffman will take the post, who recently served as a senior advisor to Steven Chu, Secretary of the US Department of Energy.

Unfortunately, energy may still include natural gas fracking, which the Governor will soon make a decision whether to ban. More than 1,500 people from across the state rallied against fracking during the speech. 

Among the many initiatives Cuomo announced is a $1 billion Green Bank. It would leverage public dollars with private-sector matching funds to facilitate a clean economy in the state. Public funds would partly come from NY’s Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard and/or Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The Bank would also coordinate NY’s clean energy programs. Currently, $1.4 billion is spent by various state entities on renewables and energy efficiency.

"The NY Green Bank would overcome a number of obstacles and uncertainties in the clean energy sector, including unstable federal funding and policy, uncoordinated action and disparate one-time subsidies at the state level, a lack of appropriate financial instruments, and apprehension in the investor community," states Cuomo. "The lowering of other barriers would enable clean energy markets to function more fluidly, connecting green projects with investors and capital."

Other initiatives for cleantech are:

  • Expand the NY-Sun Solar Jobs program by $150 million a year for the next 10 years, which will expand solar systems for homes and businesses, give certainty to the solar industry and create jobs.

    The program began in 2011 and the goal is to install four times the amount in 2013.

  • Charge NY will create a network of 3000 electric vehicle charging stations across the state over the next five years, along with charging infrastructure tax credits at a cost of $50 million.
  • Innovation Hot Spots: 10 tax-free, high-tech incubator zones would attract cleantech and other tech startups
  • Innovation NY Network: would make it easier for academic ideas to be commercialized through collaboration among academics, venture capitalists, business leaders, patent lawyers and other professionals and entrepreneurs
  • Innovation Venture Capital Fund: a $50 million fund would help entrepreneurs commercialize their ideas by supporting the prototyping process and the creation of marketable products. It would also provide incentives for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in NY.

Responding to the Crisis  

In terms of rebuilding after superstorm Sandy, Cuomo said, "Extreme weather is the new normal" … "Let’s start by learning from what has happened. The first thing we have to learn is to accept the fact … that climate change is real."

He emphasized the need to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the realities of climate change by expanding local, distributed renewable energy sources that reduce dependence on centralized power plants, as well as make the state’s infrastructure more resilient to storms. 

He called for NY’s utilities to accelerate investments in smart grid and microgrids and for greater incentives, such as new rate structures, for distributed generation.

Cuomo outlined a slew of proposals that will improve the state’s preparednesss and response to storms.

Lower the Regional Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cap: NY participates in the RGGI, the regional cap-and-trade program that’s successfully reduced emissions 30% since establishing a cap. Since current emissions are 91 million tons of CO2, the cap – which is at 165 million tons – should be reduced to bring them down further.

The state’s $5.7 Billion Energy Highway Blueprint will bring renewable energy from upstate to downstate NY, modernize old, dirty power plants and create the most advanced energy grid in the nation. Another $250 million was allocated in December to fund clean energy projects.

Earlier this month, Cuomo issued an executive order directing state agencies to increase energy efficiency in buildings 20% by 2020.

Ensure a Skilled Energy Workforce: address the lack of skills in the energy sector by enhancing workforce training and  expanding energy career training and placement programs.

Improve Resilience of Buildings: update the state’s Building Code for renovation and new construction to promote resilient buildings. 

Property Owner Assistance: "Recreate NY-Smart Home" will provide financial assistance to help people rebuild in ways that buffet against future storms, and "Recreate NY-Home Buyout" is a home buyout program to help people relocate rather than rebuild. 

New hospitals and nursing homes or those that want to substantially expand would have to consider the location and  infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Hardening Infrastructure: to better withstand future storms, Cuomo’s proposals include restoring natural systems and building barriers to protect NY Harbor; flood-proofing subways, bus depots and utility substations; improving wastewater treatment plants to withstand floods; and redesigning the electrical power grid.

Effective Emergency Response: create a world-class Emergency Response Network that works off uniform training and protocols; a statewide volunteer network and civilian emergency response corps, and a private sector response force that plans in advance for distributing food, water and other emergency supplies. He also called for developing a program to allow mass text messages to be sent to all wireless phones in specific geographies as one way to communicate during emergencies.

In addition to jobs and education, the governor spoke extensively about a 10-point plan to achieve equality for women, details of a much stronger gun law, decriminalizing marijuana possession, and an increase in the minimum wage.

The State of the State outlines priorities, but whether the money can be raised for implementation is another question. 

Here’s a summary of Cuomo’s agenda:

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