Wind to fuel a clean break

Originally published in Newsday

Fighting climate change is a daunting task. And New York State is going big — really big — in ratcheting up for the battle.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday signed the nation’s most aggressive and far-reaching climate change legislation. And to help reach the goals it set, Cuomo also announced the country’s biggest offshore wind procurement. It was a 1-2 punch that not only made the state the leader in the war on climate change, it also underscored the shameful lack of leadership on the issue at the federal level where the president and several other officials have expressed skepticism or outright denial of climate change.

On Long Island, we know better. We’ve seen its effects up close. So there was plenty to cheer in Thursday’s actions, beginning with the smart approach taken by Cuomo and his guest, former vice president and noted environmentalist Al Gore, in making clear that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy like offshore wind is a big regional win in terms of economic development, job creation and infrastructure investment.

The two wind awards — an 880-megawatt project called Sunrise Wind to be sited 30 miles southeast of Montauk, and the 816-megawatt Empire Wind proposal 14 miles south of Queens and Nassau County — will power more than 1 million homes in the region, create 1,600 jobs, many on Long Island, and produce more than $3 billion in economic activity. Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College will develop a curriculum for job training, and other SUNY schools will be invited to participate. Plans by Orsted and Eversource Energy, the companies behind Sunrise Wind, to locate an operations and maintenance hub in Port Jefferson to support Sunrise Wind and other Northeast projects and to develop port facilities there are exciting.

Empire Wind’s power will come ashore in Brooklyn and feed New York City; Sunrise’s route to plug into substations in Holbrook is uncertain. Given difficulties projects on the East End and elsewhere have had getting permits for transmission lines to come ashore, there might be storms to navigate. But it’s clear that with Sunrise and Empire investing billions of dollars, similar big investments looming in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and costs of delivering wind power coming down, the present and future are converging and momentum is on the move.

The combined output of nearly 1,700 megawatts is only a down-payment toward the 9,000-megawatt goal outlined in the climate change law. A smooth development process now will augur well for what’s to come.

The historic law — sponsored by two Long Islanders, Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemb. Steve Englebright — lays out a series of ambitious goals including a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, driven primarily by an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and a 100 percent carbon-free electrical grid by 2040. Reaching them will be difficult but doable. At the announcement, Cuomo joked that he plans to be in office in 2050 to see it through but he would be 92; the reality is that other leaders, here and in Washington, will need to make the same strong political commitment to get this done.

This isn’t a fight we can afford to lose.