Opinion

The Divide: NYS and climate change – mixed messaging

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The Divide: NYS and climate change – mixed messaging

Are Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State serious about leading the fight against climate change, or is the state’s commitment to ending our reliance on fossil fuels nothing more than photo-op pontification? Cuomo has a stated goal of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, yet the state is still proposing and/or approving natural gas fueled power producing projects. The divide between political rhetoric on climate change and actual actions to combat global warming is immense. It’s time for NYS to stop talking and start acting. Or, as my mother used to tell us in our one bathroom, second floor flat housing six kids and two adults, “either s..t or get off the pot!”

Over the past six months, at least three fossil-fueled electricity-producing projects have been in the news: the Competitive Power Venture (CPV) Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda ; the proposed Sheridan Hollow microgrid project in Albany; and just last month, the newly proposed Lincoln Park Grid Support Center in Ulster County. All three of these plants will be using fracked natural gas as the main fuel source with diesel as the back-up fuel. At the same time these fossil-fuel reliant plants are seeking approvals to operate from various New York State departments, the NYS Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced funding of up to $1.8 million for a “Clean Heating and Cooling Community Campaign” initiative. The funds are to act as an incentive for community groups to use “air-source and ground-source heat pumps, biomass heating and solar heating through aggregated purchases.”

The Clean Heating and Cooling Community Campaign is not the only statewide energy challenge announced by NYSERDA this month. On Dec. 6, NYSERDA, in partnership with the NY Power Authority (NYPA) announced that $3.8 million is available for a “statewide geothermal energy challenge.” This program targets “state and local governmental entities, public and private schools and healthcare facilities.” The purpose of the challenge is to help finance studies to assess what buildings are best suited for the installation of geothermal pumps for heating and cooling. Geothermal technology transfers heat to (cooling) or from (heating) the ground.   

So, with these recently announced programs, one for community groups and the other for governmental entities and large institutions to use geothermal energy, why is NYPA forging ahead with its plan to turn the former ANSWERS plant in Albany’s Sheridan Hollow into a fracked-gas/diesel powered microgrid? Are Gov. Cuomo and NYPA unaware that the right hand of NYPA doesn’t know what the left hand of NYPA is doing? Or, are they not really serious about meeting Cuomo’s goals, as stated in his “Reforming the Energy Vision (REV)” strategy, to build a statewide energy system that is clean and resilient for all New Yorkers?

This apparent NYPA hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do,” is one challenge Cuomo must face if his clean energy REV strategy is to be implemented by state agencies. Other challenges facing Cuomo in his quest to be seen as a leader in the national climate change arena were reported by Marie French in a recent article in Politico.  French noted the challenges facing Cuomo include the need for new energy transmission lines, siting issues for wind and solar projects, making buildings energy efficient, and having more people use non-gasoline-powered vehicles. French also pointed out that there has been a lack of follow-through by Cuomo on pronouncements he made both in 2015 with former Vice President Al Gore at his side and last September with the governors from California and Washington as they were announcing a multi-state partnership to lead on climate change in reaction to Trump’s reversal of Obama’s clean energy policies.

If Cuomo is to be on the national political stage as the leader on climate change, than he must act boldly. He should issue executive orders: prohibiting any new power-producing facility from being permitted if fossil fuels are used in the production of energy; and requiring that state agencies and public transportation authorities use zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). In addition, Cuomo must put an end to NYPA’s two-faced persona when it comes to the microgrid project and require NYPA to issue a new request-for-proposals (RFP) for the Sheridan Hollow microgrid project. The RFP’s focus should be on geothermal, solar, wind, or any combination of the three clean energy processes for powering the microgrid plant. Next, Cuomo and the DEC need to take all legal measures necessary to stop the CVP plant from activation in early 2018, unless that plant uses clean energy technologies to create its electricity output. Finally, Cuomo, through the DEC, must deny any air quality permits for the Lincoln Park Grid Support Center if fracked natural gas and diesel remain the fuel sources for that plant’s electricity production.

In order for NYS and Cuomo to be leaders in the war on climate change, political will is a necessary ingredient. Mark Dunlea of the Green Education and Legal Fund, stressed the need for such political will in a commentary in the Times Union on Dec. 7. Dunlea noted that 15 years after Gov. Pataki announced goals to increase renewable energy, and 7 years into Cuomo’s administration, NYS is nowhere near meeting the energy usage goals set by these two governors. Dunlea wrote that New York “gets a mere 3 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal energy.” California, on the other hand, “expects to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.”

As Trump & Company deny the science of climate change while wildfires continue to burn a huge swath through California, and Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida rebuild from the damage caused by massive hurricanes this summer, strong leadership will have to come from the states. Governor Cuomo, it’s time for you to stop talking and start acting and “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” It’s time to put into action what you have promised to do to combat climate change.

Governor Cuomo, turn NYSERDA’s CEO, Alicia Barton’s statement that “New Yorkers are leading the way in adoption of new clean energy solutions…” into reality, not just fodder for a press release. The future of our planet depends on it.

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