Can New York beat California in the clean energy race?

Rory Christian

This post was adapted from an op-ed piece published in Morning Consult.

New York doesn’t have California’s sunshine or Texas’ wind. But it has a vision and willpower that is quickly turning the Empire State into a leader for clean energy solutions.

In the year and a half since the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Cuomo has appointed strong leadership and devoted large-scale investment to develop a resilient energy infrastructure that can withstand the extreme weather events brought on by climate change.

And the state is now digging into a major evaluation of how energy is produced, distributed, and priced – while ramping up funding for renewable energy.

Governor pledges $1 billion for solar energy 

On April 24, during what could have been a routine proceeding for the state’s utilities board, Gov. Cuomo made a highly unusual announcement: the Public Service Commission will re-evaluate the entire regulatory framework that governs how New York residents receive and pay for electricity.

Over the next few years, Environmental Defense Fund will work closely with the Governor’s office, the Public Service Commission, and utilities like Consolidated Edison to identify solutions that maintain reliable and affordable power while allowing more customer control and greater grid efficiency.

New York’s decision to rethink its electricity market might have been enough news for one day, but Gov. Cuomo accompanied it with a promise to invest $1 billion in solar energy.

This move was aimed at making New York’s solar industry sustainable and free of subsidies, while creating a “more resilient and flexible power grid, lower[ing] the state’s carbon footprint, and promot[ing] a cleaner and healthier environment for all New Yorkers.”

The investment will go to the NY-Sun Initiative, which provides long-term funding to existing businesses in the solar energy market and attracts new investments to New York from global solar companies. New York ranks 10th in solar investments today, but this could change if the governor has his way. 

The president of the New York State Solar Energy Industries Association, Shaun Chapman, lauded the investment as the “greatest market opportunity for solar anywhere in the United States without exception.”

New Green Bank targets private investors

New York is also taking the lead in market-based approaches to clean energy development. Last year, the state launched the country’s second Green Bank – the first is in Connecticut – to spur private investment in clean energy.

The bank, which started with $210 million and will eventually be capitalized at $1 billion, could unlock an estimated $78 billion in financing from the private sector.

State prepares for extreme weather

Increasing resilience against climate change is also very much on New York’s agenda.

The state plans to introduce new laws that require utility companies to undertake impact studies to assess their vulnerability to climate change-related risks. The new laws will ask utilities to document how they intend to address the increasing likelihood of extreme weather events, such as severe storms and prolonged heat waves.

New York hasn’t quite caught up with California when it comes to clean energy policy, but it is building a well-deserved reputation for bold, innovative thinking. In the years ahead EDF will be working hard to help put these exciting ideas into practice.

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