Albany Times Union: N.Y. can set new energy standard

By Lyndon Rive and Mark Ruffalo; Original story here

As America watched the ball drop in Times Square, New Yorkers could ring in the New Year with similar celebration for the clean, renewable energy jobs growing in 2015 and beyond. With major decisions coming out of the governor’s office and Public Service Commission last month, we closed 2014 with a state getting into its clean energy groove.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s recent decision to ban fracking protects us from harmful health impacts and methane emissions. It also adds the chorus to an anthem emerging from New York as the state’s energy efficiency, solar and wind industries have risen over the last five years. As the door finally closed on fracking here, the governor and Public Service Commission ushered in a suite of decisions acknowledging that private sector and community development of clean energy is poised to lead national job creation and expand consumer choice.

Renewable energy accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the world’s new generating capacity last year. In the U.S., more than 55 percent of new generating capacity came from renewable sources during the first half of this year. Here in New York, we got 23 percent of our total energy from renewable sources, and generated more hydroelectric power than any state east of the Rockies. We are seventh in the nation for solar power, and 11th for wind. But what’s really exciting is the clean energy sector’s growth potential — in both energy production and job creation.

Over $340 million was spent installing solar in 2013. And the price of solar keeps falling, declining 7 percent last year and over 39 percent nationally since 2010. Nationwide, the competition for clean energy dominance is on: the U.S. added more than 20,000 solar jobs in 2013. Today, there are more than 400 solar companies operating in New York alone, and they are hiring.

But New York’s policy decisions are not only spurring job growth across the state’s rooftops, they are also bringing manufacturing back to the United States. In Buffalo, thousands of jobs are returning to the site of a shuttered steel plant as SolarCity builds the largest solar energy equipment factory in the Western hemisphere. Within the next two years, thousands will work there.

Across the country, though, both consumer demand and technological innovation are running up against the status quo. Economic, legal and regulatory barriers of a century-old electricity system built around centralized fossil fuel generation have yet to be removed — and in many states are kept in place by the beneficiaries of the 20th century status quo and a shortsighted rush to natural gas.

New York can set a new standard. Two years after Hurricane Sandy showed us just how much we rely on the grid and how vulnerable it is, the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, spearheaded by Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commission, seeks to shake off the status quo assumptions of an electricity sector that has changed very little in a hundred years, and create something cleaner, more reliable and more efficient in its place. While there are risks — utilities, for example, should not be allowed to expand their monopolies into an existing free market for distributed generation — REV has the potential to set the standard for 21st century electricity planning. If New York also adopts strong efficiency, renewables and community benefits targets in the new year, businesses offering clean energy solutions will flourish and 100 percent of New Yorkers will gain access to the affordable, healthy and stable electricity system just coming into form.

This kind of bold leadership and creativity is what attracts innovators and investors from around the world — a trillion dollar global market in clean energy — to New York. It’s what brought SolarCity to Buffalo and will bring millions of tourists to Manhattan for the new year. And it’s what has New York positioned to attract today’s energy jobs and investment, inspiring other states to move, too. As the Frank Sinatra song went at New Year’s celebrations across the country yesterday, “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York!”

Lyndon Rive is the CEO and co-founder of SolarCity, the nation’s largest residential solar company. Mark Ruffalo is a New York-based actor, father and board member of the Solutions Project (100.org), a national organization whose mission is to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all people and purposes.