Dozens of community and environmental advocates are calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to preserve climate and clean energy funding, despite COVID-19 related financial woes. This comes during Climate Week, during which the governor has unveiled a number of projects and initiatives.
Monday’s letter from more than 50 organizations urges the Democratic governor to preserve funding for clean energy programs out of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA). The funding is not part of the annual state budget process. Conor Bambrick is climate policy director with Environmental Advocates New York, one of the groups that signed the letter.
“We’re really trying to be proactive here. We’ve seen, over the years, a pattern of funds, particularly from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – this is our program in the state that charges power plants for the carbon pollution that they emit in the air — we have a seen a pattern of those funds being diverted into the state’s general fund. And we believe now, with the new climate law on the books, there is a requirement that at least 35 percent of those funds be invested in the communities that are really being hit hardest by air pollution and, coincidently, the COVID-19 crisis,” Bambrick says. “And we believe that if these funds are continued to be diverted and used for other purposes, it’s going to be really challenging to meet that mandate, and communities are going to lose out from much-needed funding.”
That new climate law he mentions is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Bambrick says that since the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s inception in 2008, about 17 percent of all funds raised have been transferred to the state’s general fund. State Division of Budget spokeman Freeman Klopott responded to the groups’ call to preserve the funding. In a statement, he says, “This is a new request and we will review it, along with others, in the context of the State’s $62 billion, four-year revenue loss due entirely to the pandemic. That said, New York State is already leading the nation with investments in renewable energy, including releasing in July the largest off-shore wind solicitation in U.S. history as we continue to further the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.” Bambrick says the governor has been leading on clean energy issues.
“Renewable siting, offshore wind, the electrification of our transportation sector, energy assistance for low-income households — these are all very bold commitments that the governor has been leading on, and we want to make sure that the resources are there to back up those commitments,” Bambrick says. “And we believe that investing in the clean energy economy is going to be key to our recovery, our economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”
Cuomo kicked off Climate Week announcing on Monday the state’s first completed project that pairs community solar with energy storage. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was on hand at the site of the project — Yorktown, in Westchester County, where Matt Slater is supervisor.
“And we’re just thrilled that the first of its kind in New York state is right here in the Town of Yorktown, and it echoes a lot of the things that we’re trying to accomplish here in the community,” Slater says. “We’re trying to become a Climate Smart Community, certified Climate Smart Community. We just recently passed milestone legislation that provides a framework for solar and energy storage systems, as we just turned on with the lieutenant governor here in town.”
The project will reduce costs for some 150 households as well as provide power to 12 Tesla electric vehicle charging stations. It supports the governor’s goal of installing 6,000 megawatts of solar by 2025 and 3,000 megawatts of energy storage by 2030, as called for in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act enacted last year.
“We’ve partnered with Sustainable Westchester, and we’re going to be kicking off a similar initiative through our community, throughout, our community, that we’re hoping to kick off in the next week or so that’s going to offer for many residents a similar discount in their energy costs by opting into a community solar project,” says Slater.
Plus, he is looking at putting solar energy on town property. Slater mentioned aspiring to Climate Smart Community status. On Thursday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced 13 new certified Climate Smart Communities, communities that have taken certain steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build local climate resilience and inspire community engagement. Ten are in the Hudson Valley —Beacon; Croton-on-Hudson; Dobbs Ferry; Dover; Hastings-on-Hudson; Mount Kisco; Pound Ridge; Sleepy Hollow; Woodstock; and Yonkers. And on Tuesday, Cuomo announced the unveiling of New York's first electric vehicle fast-charging hub in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Completed as part of the State's EVolve NY program - a New York Power Authority initiative to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles by providing convenient charging options - the four new Direct Current Fast Chargers are at Tops Friendly Markets in LaGrangeville in Dutchess County.