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Lawmakers urge conversion of State Capitol to all-renewable energy

The NYS Capitol Building in Albany
NYS Senate
The NYS Capitol Building in Albany

Some New York state lawmakers who represent the districts around the State Capitol say the multi-building complex should set an example for the rest of the state and switch to all-renewable energy to power lights and heating.

The state Capitol and the surrounding buildings, including a 44-story office tower, are predominately powered by a plant with a checkered history.

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy represents Albany in the chamber. She supports a bill that would require the Capitol complex, where over 12,000 people worked before the COVID-19 pandemic, to be powered by wind, solar or geothermal power.

“If we don’t show by example, it’s very hard for us to expect more from others in the private sector,” Fahy said.

Fahy says it’s also a matter of environmental justice, and the move could “right the wrongs” of the past.

The plant, known as the ANSWERS plant, which stands for Albany New York Solid Waste Energy Recovery System, stands just blocks from the State Capitol in one of Albany’s poorest neighborhoods.

Originally a coal-burning, then an oil-burning plant, it was fueled by garbage incineration in the 1980s and 1990s. Nearby residents reported increased incidents of diseases like asthma and cancer. Frequent ash emissions once blackened the snow at the nearby governor’s mansion.

In 2017, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a plan to include as a power source gas extracted through hydrofracking, a process that is banned in New York state. But that plan was later put on hold, after neighbors objected. The power for the Capitol complex now comes from a blend of energy sources that include natural gas and solar.

But more action is needed, say those who support the bill to switch to all-renewable energy.

The measure’s sponsor, Assemblyman John McDonald, who also represents portions of Albany, says the specific renewable power source could be determined by the state agencies that oversee the upkeep of the Capitol complex.

“We’re not boxing it into one particular renewable energy,” said McDonald. “We leave that to those who know to come about with that solution.”

McDonald could not put a price tag on a transition to renewable fuels. But he and local lawmakers who attended the news conference say it’s hypocritical for the state to pursue the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050, and still power the Capitol on fossil fuels.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.