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State of the State: Cuomo unveils 'green energy' plan, addresses environmental racism

Thomas O'Neil-White

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a plan to turn New York State away from its current reliance on fossil fuels into a more energy-efficient state and create thousands of new jobs.

Cuomo, in the third of a series of four State of the State speeches, said $26 billion will be spent in public-private partnerships on 100 projects, including solar energy farms in Saratoga, Cortland, Livingston and Lewis counties, and the building of two major offshore wind farms, with 90 turbines each, off Long Island. One will be 20 miles off Jones Beach; the other will be 60 miles off the coast at Montauk. The two will produce a combined 2,500 megawatts of power. 

“Don’t worry, neither will be visible from the shore,” the governor added.

In addition, the Port of Albany will become a center for manufacturing the wind towers to be used at the offshore sites, and existing facilities in Brooklyn will be beefed up. 

To move all of that power around, Cuomo said he’s opening a competitive bidding process for three projects involving hundreds of miles of new or strengthened transmission lines. They include two along the entire length of eastern New York that would bring Canadian hydropower through the North Country, the Capital Region and the Hudson Valley to New York City, where the demand for energy is greatest.  A third would run the length of the Hudson Valley, and 26 miles would be added in Western New York to distribute power more efficiently from the hydropower dam in Niagara Falls.  

“All of these projects will break the congestion and open the grid,” Cuomo said.  

It’s the second time in his decade as governor that Cuomo has proposed major green energy projects. His first attempt -- a solar panel factory at Lackawanna's former Bethlehem Steel Plant site, known as the Buffalo Billion -- did not work out as planned.

A state comptroller’s report in August found that the project is yet to produce the hundreds of jobs initially promised, and that the state entity in charge, Empire State Development, did not properly manage the enterprise. Scandals related to the Buffalo Billion resulted in prison sentences for several involved, including the governor’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco; the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Alain Kaloyeros; and Buffalo-area developer Louis Ciminelli.

Cuomo said the state's green energy program will create a total of 12,400 megawatts of green energy, enough to power 6 million homes, directly create more than 50,000 jobs and spur $29 billion in private investment.

The governor said the plan includes a racial equity component to address decades of environmental racism in Black and Brown communities. This type of racism, he said, contributes to health disparities which have been compounded by the pandemic.

“The same has been true for environmental injustice. Communities of color have borne the brunt of dirty power plants and harmful emission,” Cuomo said. “This has led to higher rates of asthma and other adverse health effects, many of these effects actually were the causes of the increased death rates from COVID. Our green economy must also work for people of color.”

Cuomo said his green energy plan will also meet the goals of the state’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise Inclusion Measures. All told, Cuomo anticipates the green energy economy to directly create 50,000 jobs and trigger $29 billion in private investment.

Environmental groups praised the new green initiatives. In a statement, NYPIRG’s Liz Moran said the governor is right that global warming poses an “existential threat,” and she urged Cuomo to go further and eliminate tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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