More renewable energy for state
ALBANY—Gov. Andrew Cuomo will increase the state's reliance on renewable energy with a series of proposals he announced Wednesday during his State of the State address.
The state wants to transforms schools into solar hubs that will connect entire neighborhoods to alternative energy sources. It will increase the reliance on wood to power the energy grid and will hold a $40 million competitive grant program for communities that create electric “microgrids” that can disconnect from the power grid during extreme weather. It will also reduce the approval process for transmission lines from four years to 10 months as long as they follow an existing path.
For all the talk of clean energy that has few emissions, Cuomo never touched on natural gas, which he is pushing to use over coal and other dirtier fossil fuels even as he extends the moratorium on fracking in New York to its sixth year. More than 1,000 anti-fracking activists from around the state rallied outside the convention center. A long-term energy plan passed on Tuesday by the state Energy Planning Board — which includes some Cuomo appointees — also calls for more reliance on natural gas because of its lower emissions.
The state is falling behind its renewable energy goals, and the new efforts could accelerate effors to have 30 percent of the power grid fired by alternative fuels in 2015.
Still, developed solar capacity is four times higher in 2013 than in 2011 and the new state proposals would connect more homes while showing communities that alternative energies are more affordable than in the past.
The siting of wind farms is extremely challenging, and solar is easier to scale down for individual homes, said Sen. George Maziarz of Niagara County, the Senate's energy chair.
“Solar is the direction people are going to go in,” he said.
Cuomo wants to use New York's 5,000 public schools as “demonstration hubs” that will encourage entire communities to install solar energy, according to the book that accompanies his State of the State address. Community Solar NY will make solar energy available to a broader swath of the population by offering incentives, financing and technical assistance to school administrators who want to use their buildings as solar hubs. The state would also offer financial incentives to nearby homeowners who install solar. The goal is to create a larger customer base to bring down installation costs for all who use it.
The state will have a new biomass heating program called Renewable Heat NY. The initiative will use private sector investment to boost biomass heating, which is a renewable energy technology that uses low-grade wood as fuel. It is far cheaper than heating oil and can be sourced locally.
Forest covers about 63 percent of the state and much of it is on private lands. Under the new program, the state will work with landowners on sustainable harvesting projects and to create economic opportunities for selling the wood.
In the first year, Renewable Heat NY will focus on expanding the program to large customers that make it easier for energy firms to transition from oil to biomass. The state will also establish a competitive grant program for local communities that build biomass heating systems. The state will provide financial incentives to cut the upfront installation costs.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Westchester, the assembly's energy chair, said Cuomo's energy plans show a deeper commitment to renewables, but she isn't sure that biomass will have the wide community support of solar. She praised the proposals released on Wednesday, but wants a further expansion of clean energy technology.
“There's more we can do, we can encourage shared renewables,” she said. “We have a lot of markets that have yet to be tapped.”