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New York announces $1 billion 'green bank'

By Stephen Lacey Guest Author · 10th January, 2013
Constantin Ab Flickr
Image: Constantin AB / Flickr

New York City officials are thinking more about climate resiliency in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. But adaptation — making the city more resilient to intensifying extreme weather — is only one part of an effective strategy.

Mitigating climate change through clean energy and other carbon reduction efforts is just as important. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to understand that.

In his State of the State address, Cuomo outlined plans for a new billion-dollar  “green bank” to leverage private funds for deploying clean energy technologies, announced a 10-year expansion of the state’s solar programme by increasing funds $150 million per year, and named a new cleantech czar to oversee the efforts. The cumulative impact could be a massive expansion of renewables and efficiency in New York.

Here’s what the Governor had to say about the Green Bank:

The NY Green Bank leverages private capital in a fashion that mitigates investment risk, catalyzes market activity and lowers borrowing costs, in turn bringing down the prices paid by consumers. Through the use of bonding, loans and various credit enhancements (e.g. loan loss reserves and guarantees), a Green Bank is a fiscally practical option in a time of severe budget conditions. 

Many public credit and investment programmes require only a small amount of government funds, even holding taxpayers harmless or acting as money makers. And along with these benefits, the long-term public and social benefits of a robust and clean economy are virtually incalculable.

And here’s the language on the solar programme:

Last year Governor Cuomo created the NY-Sun solar jobs programme to bolster the use of solar power in New York, while also protecting the ratepayer. The goal of NY-Sun is to install twice as much customer-sited solar photovoltaic capacity in 2012 as was added in 2011, and to quadruple the 2011 amount in 2013. The NY-Sun programme is authorized through 2015. This year, Governor Cuomo proposes to extend the successful NY-Sun programme, continuing through 2023 the existing annual funding levels established under the programme. 

The extended solar jobs programme will provide longer programme certainty to solar developers than current programmes, funded through 2015, and is expected to attract significant private investment in solar photovoltaic systems, enable the sustainable development of a robust solar power industry in New York, create well-paying skilled jobs, improve the reliability of the electric grid, and reduce air pollution.

Solar has the potential to play a huge role in New York’s climate-conscious building strategy. Consider this: two-thirds of New York City’s buildings could feasibly host solar-electric systems — enough to meet half the city’s demand for peak power. And a lot of that could be developed today at a cost competitive with current electricity rates.

The solar industry has been working hard for many years to expand New York’s solar policies. And this latest announcement from Governor Cuomo shows it’s really starting to pay off.  But actually funding these programmes is the real issue. The State of the State address is designed to outline priorities — not always outline a plan for implementation. It remains to be seen if the Governor can fully raise the amount of money needed to meet these goals. The appointment of Richard Kauffman, a former adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, as energy czar will certainly help the process along.

Steve Lacey, 
Think Progress where this article first appeared. 

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