Facing ‘reckless’ Trump, the Empire State strikes back

Sea legs: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announce state funding for Long Island-based coastal-water initatives Friday on Shinnecock Bay.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Despite President Donald Trump’s best efforts, the entirety of the trillion-dollar clean-energy industry won’t be leaving America for more forward-thinking lands – not if Gov. Andrew Cuomo and friends have their way.

Still lamenting “the White House’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris accord” – an international global-warming agreement targeting worldwide greenhouse gas reductions, negotiated by 195 countries through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Cuomo on Friday announced the Clean Climate Careers initiative, a multifaceted, $1.8 billion strategy to grow New York’s emerging clean-energy economy and prepare a significant workforce for long-term careers associated with the rapidly growing industry.

President Donald Trump: King coal.

In partnership with the ILR School’s Worker Institute at Cornell University, the initiative will focus on accelerating energy-efficiency and renewable-energy growth across New York – making the Empire State “a magnet for new energy technologies,” according to the governor’s office, even as the Trump Administration ignores the global warming crisis and the innovative economy rising against it.

The Clean Climate Careers effort could be responsible for the creation of 40,000 good-paying jobs by 2020, Cuomo said – a slightly better pace than, say, the roughly 70 jobs expected to be created when the Acosta Coal Mine opens June 8 in western Pennsylvania.

Though he didn’t name the Acosta mine specifically, Trump referenced the impending “opening of a brand-new mine” Thursday during his Rose Garden announcement about the Paris Agreement, delivered to an appreciative, handpicked audience of administration staffers and fossil-fuel supporters.

Seventy-plus jobs in an industry scientifically proven to contribute to global warming won’t cut it, according to Cuomo, who vowed Friday that New York would “lead the nation in advancing a clean-energy future,” even as “the federal government abdicates its responsibility to address climate change.”

“The Clean Climate Careers initiative is a groundbreaking investment, representing the largest state clean-energy procurement in U.S. history,” the governor noted. “With this $1.8 billion initiative, New York continues to tackle the challenges of climate change and create the high-quality, good-paying careers of tomorrow.”

During the first phase of the initiative, Albany will invest up to $1.5 billion in “major renewable energy projects,” the governor’s office said, including a “significant expansion” of energy-efficiency and solar-power technologies at public buildings.

The New York Power Authority is already planning the installation of more than 125 megawatts of solar capacity on schools and other public buildings by 2020, targeting a 300 percent increase in distributed solar projects at public facilities statewide.

The $1.5 billion in investments are projected to create some 2.5 million megawatt-hours of “clean” electricity per year – enough to power roughly 350,000 homes – and represent a major forward step in Cuomo’s ambitious Clean Energy Standard program, which aims to have 50 percent of statewide electricity generated by renewable sources by 2030.

The state investments will also create “thousands of well-paying jobs for middle-class New Yorkers, while providing funding to train our workforce for lifetime careers in building efficiency, renewable energy and other low-carbon sectors,” according to the governor’s announcement.

Phase 1 will also include the creation of an “Environmental Justice & Just Transition Working Group,” designed to promote programs and policies that help underserved communities – and communities navigating the retirement of carbon-intensive energy plants – prepare for greener destinies.

Another Clean Climate Careers effort will see NYPA double its annual investments in energy-efficiency deployments – focused particularly on solar-power initiatives – from $150 million to $300 million. The $300 million will include a combination of low-cost financing offers and “additional private-sector capital,” according to the governor’s office, which noted a new partnership between the power authority and a commercial bank consortium that “enables municipalities to access low-cost capital … to finance energy-efficiency and solar projects.”

Noting “now is the time for renewable energy,” NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones said the power authority’s financial support would ensure that New York’s energy mix remains “viable and affordable.”

Gil Quiniones: Renewable energy now.

“Through this sweeping investment in clean and green energy projects and jobs, we are aggressively moving closer toward Gov. Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard and pushing forward as a national leader,” Quiniones said in a statement. “We are spearheading transformative change throughout the industry.”

Cuomo is also committing $15 million in state funds to support educators and trainers that partner with the clean-energy industry and unions to offer training and apprenticeship opportunities that prepare a workforce for the clean-energy economy.

Lara Skinner, associate director of The Worker Institute at Cornell, noted a “historic breakthrough” in the global effort to combat climate change.

“This campaign positions working people and unions as an engine to tackle the climate crisis and … elevates New York State’s commitment to lead the nation in transitioning to an equitable clean-energy economy,” Skinner said Friday.

But the biggest chunk of the package is reserved for the “record-breaking solicitations” of up to $1.5 billion in clean-energy projects, with Albany issuing a Request for Proposals from qualified developers looking to help provide those 2.5 megawatt-hours of clean electricity. The governor’s office is predicting the RFP process will result in as many as 60 “large-scale renewable-energy projects” by 2022.

“The extent of the state’s new commitment for renewable resources is several orders of magnitude greater than anything we’ve seen before,” noted state Energy and Finance Chairman Richard Kauffman. “New York is following through on [Cuomo’s] commitment to combat climate change and spur the transition to a clean-energy economy that creates good-paying jobs.

“We are building a cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers.”

Announcement of the Clean Climate Careers initiative comes less than 24 hours after Cuomo signed an executive order committing New York to uphold the standards set forth in the Paris Agreement. It also follows the formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, which Cuomo announced Thursday along with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee.

The alliance is focused on convening U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement and taking “aggressive action” on climate change, according to Cuomo’s office.

The Clean Climate Careers announcement also comes on the same day Cuomo visited Shinnecock Bay in Suffolk County to announce that more than $2 million in state funding would bolster efforts regularly funded by the federal Sea Grant program. Trump’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2018 would defund nationwide Sea Grant programs, which cover an array of cutting-edge research efforts designed to safeguard coastal waters and improve ocean health.