A greenlight for Cuomo’s green energy fund

With its sights set on global warming and superstorm threats, the New York Public Service Commission on Thursday approved Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $5 billion Clean Energy Fund.

The fund, to be administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority over the next decade, is meant to “accelerate the growth of New York’s clean energy economy, address climate change, strengthen resiliency in the face of extreme weather and lower energy bills for New Yorkers, starting this year,” according to a statement from Cuomo’s office.

In addition to pouring $5 billion of state money into the cause, the fund is designed to “attract and leverage” outside investment in Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard, an aggressive call to meet 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs through renewable resources by 2030, among other clean-energy initiatives. Cuomo introduced his 50 percent-renewable plan in his Jan. 13 State of the State address.

“This unparalleled $5 billion investment will leverage more than $29 billion in private-sector funding and open the door to new clean-energy opportunities for years to come,” the governor said in the statement.

Cuomo’s office predicted $39 billion in “overall customer savings” over the Clean Energy Fund’s 10-year life, mostly through innovative private-public partnerships that prioritize solar, wind and efficiency technologies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Technologies already in place throughout the state’s “robust clean-tech sector” should deliver “an immediate reduction of $91 million from 2016 electric and gas costs compared to 2015,” according to the governor’s office.

The Clean Energy Fund will be split into four portfolios, one each for marketing, solar initiatives, R&D and the NY Green Bank, a $1 billion drive to mobilize private-sector investment in clean tech.

Through the $2.7 billion Market Development portfolio, NYSERDA will “stimulate consumer demand for clean-energy alternatives,” according to the governor’s office. The marketing portfolio will also help develop supply chains to meet the growing demand, with at least $234.5 million invested in initiatives benefitting low- to moderate-income New Yorkers.

The $961 million NY-Sun portfolio will support the state’s solar industry, which according to Cuomo’s office includes 538 companies employing more than 7,000 people. The $782 million NY Green Bank portfolio will “increase confidence in lending for clean energy projects” by leveraging an estimated $8 billion in private investments.

The $717 million Innovation and Research portfolio, meanwhile, will “help spur innovations through research and technology development,” with clean-tech job creation and new consumer energy choices to follow.

That last portfolio sounds pretty good to David Hamilton, whose Clean Energy Business Incubator Program at Stony Brook University is chock full of candidates for new state R&D funds.

“It’s very exciting that the governor wants to do this,” the CEBIP executive director told Innovate LI. “It’s a lot of money over a nice period of time, and it should provide some significant dividends for new renewable technologies.”

But “the devil is in the details,” added Hamilton, who won’t do any backflips before he learns more about NYSERDA’s allocation plan – primarily, “how they’re going to distribute the funds and who’s going to get what.”

“I don’t have any details as to how this money is going to be allocated,” Hamilton said. “I’m looking forward to talking with my NYSERDA managers to figure out how they plan to move forward.

“All that said,” he added, “how can $5 billion be a bad thing?”

In addition to greenlighting the $5 billion purse, the Public Service Commission also approved Thursday a process to create “a separate support mechanism” for upstate nuclear power plants, noting nuclear plants create no greenhouse emissions.

The commission also established a new “benefit-cost analysis framework” for evaluating new energy proposals and allocated $150 million for the development of new large-scale renewables projects in 2016.

The strength of the Clean Energy Fund initiative is not only in the state money funneled into projects that lower carbon emissions and promote sustainability, but in the ability to “enhance private investments” in those projects, according to Audrey Zibelman, chair of the New York State PSC.

“Under the Clean Energy Fund, every dollar of clean-energy spending will achieve greater savings,” Zibelman said. “We will build on the success of previous energy-development programs in a way that meets evolving customer and market needs.”