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NYSERDA Selects Acting CEO For Permanent Role

NYSERDA CEO Doreen Harris

The Board of Directors at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA has appointed its acting CEO to the role on a permanent basis. Doreen Harris – who has spent more than a decade with NYSERDA – has been leading the agency since June 2020 following the departure of Alicia Barton.

Harris is also co-chair of the New York State Climate Action Council, tasked with meeting the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Harris spoke with WAMC’s Jim Levulis.

Harris: It was a real honor and a privilege to be appointed president and CEO of NYSERDA. You know, I firmly believe that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change. And no institution is better poised to meet that challenge head on than NYSERDA. And as you mentioned, I am a veteran of NYSERDA. I am now the first president of NYSERDA in fact, who has previously held staff roles across the Authority. And certainly during that time, and now specifically, in the past 10 months or so as acting president and CEO, I have come to know and directly experience the true value and globally significant impact that NYSERDA has had and will have into the future.

Levulis: And with you having that staff experience, how do you think that will add to your leadership abilities?

Harris: Well, certainly I have direct experience with many, many aspects of NYSERDA’s work but now under the framework of Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, we are placing New York on a path to economy-wide carbon neutrality. And we at NYSERDA are the state's primary clean energy agency. So we are really key to implementing our state's ambitious agenda. So it's exciting to assume this role at this time. You know, we must do everything we can to not only drive climate progress, but also progress that works for all New Yorkers.

Levulis: And to that point, you are also co-chair of the New York State Climate Action Council, which is tasked with setting up the plan to meet New York’s greenhouse gas reduction goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as you mentioned, now, that includes an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. How specifically will NYSERDA to be a part of that plan?

Harris: Yes, the coming years will certainly be looked back on as a momentous time for our clean energy transition and climate leadership. So in the coming years, it is true, there are major planning and scoping efforts that will play out before the Climate Action Council, which I co-chair with DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] Commissioner Basil Seggos. Ultimately, we've made tremendous progress this year, and now are heading toward the process of developing a scoping plan that will lay out exactly that path to carbon neutrality. I think what we can expect to see generally though, is billions of dollars of investments committed, an unprecedented scale up in construction of clean energy infrastructure. And also the need to really develop a cleaner and more affordable and more resilient energy system, along with the technological innovations needed to drive this change. So we're at a very important point, very momentous for the state as to not only the achievement of our goals, but the benefits that will come with it.

Levulis: And what is the status or the timeline of that scoping plan to meet the Act’s goals?

Harris: So the Climate Act actually became effective on January 1 2020. We've been hard at work to ensure its success, certainly over the past year, even despite the challenges imposed by the COVID crisis. So right now, we have formed a 22-member Climate Action Council. We have active development and execution of seven sector specific advisory panels. And those groups are meeting regularly to develop recommendations that will be proposed very shortly to the Climate Action Council. And then that will integrate within a scoping plan, which is due on January 1, 2022.

Levulis: And I wanted to chat with you some more about your experience specifically with offshore wind. There's been a lot of talk about the Capital Region becoming a hub for wind energy development. There are plans for construction of wind towers at the Port of Albany and then obviously, General Electric maintains a large presence in the region and they're a player in the wind industry. Now, you've worked on New York's offshore wind efforts. What's your sense of the Capital Region becoming such a hub?

Harris: Yes, I've worked in the offshore wind space, basically, since its beginning here in New York State, and I couldn't think of a better opportunity for us in the Capital Region to benefit from a major clean energy investment. You know, New York has done more on clean energy in recent years than any other state. And the past year is no different. Just this January, there was an incredible announcement with respect to renewable energy procurements by Governor Cuomo, including over 4,000 megawatts of land-based and offshore wind procurements. But importantly, for the Capital Region, associated massive port and manufacturing investments, and NYSERDA is integrated within all of this. This is a high watermark, certainly for any state, but ultimately, the fact that we're doing it with a real emphasis on infrastructure, workers and jobs, you know, tying these efforts directly to the clean energy economy is quite notable for a state and for the Capital Region as well.

Levulis: And then when it comes to utilizing renewable energy source such as wind and solar transmission remains an issue, right? I mean, getting the power that's produced to where it is needed. There's either the need to build new lines or update existing ones. How is NYSERDA and New York as a whole approaching that issue?

Harris: Yes, you're absolutely right. Transmission is a necessary precursor for the delivery of any energy, but in our case, clean energy to our load centers. And we as a state are making related investments in transmission infrastructure, with multiple projects moving forward, as we speak. You know, we at NYSERDA, of course, are facilitating the clean energy. Transmission is related and is really a product of a broader state ecosystem, including other agencies, the utilities and beyond.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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