Cuomo's post-COVID economy envisions renewable energy expansion

Michael Gormley for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday announced plans for an expansion of renewable energy development and manufacturing that will depend heavily on Long Island to train a massive future workforce and be home to more offshore wind farms.

Cuomo called for New York to embark on a post-COVID economy that would generate more wind, solar and geothermal energy; install hundreds of miles of transmission lines from upstate and Long Island Sound generation sites to New York City; and train at least 2,500 workers at a $20 million Offshore Wind Training Institute at Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College.

In all, Cuomo said his plan will power 6 million homes with clean energy to replace fossil fuels, create 50,000 jobs and combat climate change and pollution. Although some of the projects are already underway and others have been approved, Cuomo emphasized the need to build the facilities this year to quickly seize opportunities for a "post-COVID world."

"Our planet is in crisis. By every metric it is clear," Cuomo said in his third installment of the State of the State address. He cited wild fires in California, superstorms, flooding and other extreme weather disasters in recent years.

"Nature is telling us, ‘Do something or I will,’" Cuomo said.

Cuomo's plan includes two new offshore wind farms more than 20 miles off the Long Island shore, which he said will create 5,200 jobs. Cuomo said the wind farms won’t be visible from shore.

He also said the four companies have committed to manufacture wind turbine components at the Port of Montauk Harbor, the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, the Port of Albany and another site in southern Albany County. Cuomo said 2,600 short- and long-term jobs would be created.

Cuomo said the new transmission lines will end bottlenecks created by gaps that have cost New York ratepayers $1 billion in "congestion costs."

The plan also includes a 250-mile "green energy superhighway" to parts of the state heavily dependent on fossil fuels and contracts with companies to build 23 solar farms and hydroelectric facility, creating 3,400 jobs upstate.

Many environmentalists liked what they heard.

Cuomo’s speech "laid out in stark terms the immense challenges New York faces due to a warming climate and was clear-eyed about the extent of change needed to overcome those challenges," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of NY. He said he hopes additional measures will include encouraging the use of more electric-powered vehicles and improving energy efficiency in buildings.

Cuomo also would make sure many jobs will go to Black, brown and low-income communities who have for decades had fossil fuel plants built in their neighborhoods, leaving a legacy of health problems.

"I think everyone is committed to those goals and we need bold initiatives to get there," said Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) in an interview.

"This news ensures that Long Island will be a key part of New York's new green economy," he said, noting Cuomo’s plan would provide jobs to his district. "For too long, many of my constituents have had to live with a local power plant’s pollution, and for the first time, there is now a commitment to those same individuals that they will benefit from a revenue-generating, green energy source that can help power not only their homes, but their local economies, too."

"I think it will have strong support in the Assembly," said Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). He said Cuomo’s plan includes many of the Legislature’s initiatives. "It will be transformational."

Cuomo didn’t say how the state, facing what he says is a $15 billion deficit, will pay for his plans. He said much of the funding will be from private industry. He will detail the finances for his plans in a budget address later this month.

Elizabeth Moran, environmental policy director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the state should pay for the initiatives in part by ending tax subsidies to fossil fuel companies.

"The governor is right that global warming poses an existential threat and New York must lead in shaping a new green energy economy," Moran said.