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Gov. Andrew Cuomo may not be tilting at windmills, but he is leaning on them.
During his third 2021 State of the State presentation this week, the governor proposed a $26 billion public- and private-sector green energy program that would dramatically increase solar- and wind-power projects to boost New York’s post-COVID-19 pandemic economy.
He mentioned the development of two massive wind farms off Long Island — located more than 20 miles off Jones Beach and 60 miles off Montauk.
“Don’t worry,” Cuomo said, “neither will be visible from the shore. They will provide about 2,500 megawatts. This is the largest production of renewable energy by any state in the United States history.”
The transmission line for the wind turbines off Jones Beach will connect on land at Oceanside, Long Island, and for the turbines off Montauk, the transmission line will travel 200 miles under the Long Island Sound to Astoria in Queens.
The plan includes building the nation’s first offshore wind tower manufacturing facility at the Port of Albany, which Cuomo promised would create 500 construction jobs and employ 300 full-time workers.
Cuomo claimed the offshore wind and land-based renewable projects will reduce carbon emissions by almost 16 million metric tons per year, attract nearly $26 billion in direct investment and create over 17,000 good-paying jobs.
“This will help stimulate the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic, while leading the way to the new green energy economy,” he said.
Cuomo said the plan includes building the transmission infrastructure to deliver the renewable energy from upstate and offshore sites to New York City and other dense population centers — considered the biggest impediment to expanding alternative energy.
The governor also said he will put in place a new siting process to speed up construction and thwart not-in-my-backyard opposition to massive wind turbines and windmills.
Cuomo has sought to portray himself as a champion of green energy after killing plans to allow hydraulic fracking of natural gas in upstate New York, which supporters said would have boosted New York’s energy supply and increased jobs. Neighboring Pennsylvania allows fracking.
Critics also have complained that Cuomo has backed the phase-out of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester without renewable energy sources yet in place to replace it.
The Cuomo plan includes 100 projects, 68 of them already in the works. These include 52 solar projects, and 13 on-shore and three offshore wind projects.
Cuomo announced dozens more renewable projects, including a 20-megawatt solar project in Washington County, a 200-megawatt solar project in Orleans, a 250-megawatt solar project in Montgomery, and a 90-megawatt solar project in Franklin County.
“These projects will not only create power but bring needed economic opportunity to the struggling parts of our state. They will be accelerated by a new siting process and create nearly 11,000 jobs in upstate New York alone,” Cuomo said.
The governor acknowledged the biggest challenge has been sending the renewable energy from where it is generated upstate to where it’s needed — the densely populated New York City metropolitan region.
The distance from Times Square to Buffalo is 374 miles and from New York City to Canada, which produces low-cost hydropower, 327 miles.
By comparison, the distance from a wind turbine located in the Atlantic to Times Square is only 30 miles “as the crow flies,” the governor said.
“However,” he said, “a transmission cable doesn’t follow the path that the crow flies. These are dense, complicated, populated regions. Building transmission capacity is not as easy as it sounds and it has historically been the single greatest stumbling block.”
“Massive change is possible,” he said.
Cuomo announced a new competitive bidding process to build a green transmission grid, starting with three projects for state financing.
One transmission line would run 300 miles from the northeast corner of the state to New York City.
A third transmission line would run from Leeds, in Greene County, to the Big Apple.
But Cuomo said the coronavirus pandemic has proven that what seemed impractical in the past is now practical — and necessary. He pointed out how businesses and schools have shown they can run their operations and communicate with workforces and teach students remotely.
Meanwhile, Cuomo said construction has begun on a large-scale, 20-megawatt energy battery storage project in Franklin County to help meet the electricity demands of 1.2 million New York homes with renewable energy.
He called the program the biggest investment in any transmission system in the country.
“We must replace fossil fuel plants with clean power. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, and now is the time to do it,” Cuomo said..
The plan also calls for creating a $20 million Offshore Wind Training Institute at SUNY Stony Brook and Farmingdale State College to train and certify workers for the new energy jobs. He said 2,500 workers would be trained this summer.
Aside from solar and energy work, he said the training will include employees certified to replace home heating and cooling systems in approximately 130,000 buildings with heat pumps and geothermal heating.
“In total, our entire green energy program will create 12,400 megawatts of green power to power 6 million homes. It will directly create 50,000 jobs, and spur $29 billion in private investment all across the state. That, my friends, is how we launch ourselves into the new post-COVID economy,” Cuomo said.
While lauding Cuomo’s goal, fiscal watchdogs wondered where the billions in funding will come from to implement the energy program amid the pandemic-fueled recession.
Another would add capacity from upstate Massena to Orange County, and then build a new line underground to carry the power 70 miles to New York City.
“I think there’s a lot to know that we don’t know yet,” said Andrew Rein, executive director of the Citizens Budget Commission.
“We have these ambitious climate goals but we don’t have the infrastructure and transmission capacity in the state. The question we still need to learn is what’s the impact of how we are going to finance these so it’s hard to access because we have the goals but not all the details,” Rein said.
He said the state is grappling with a multibillion-dollar shortfall.
“It’s a huge problem and it’s a multi-year problem, like every recession, and what you need to do is solve a multi-year problem and you need to bring spending into line.”
Some critics said Cuomo’s clean energy proposal is pie-in-the-sky.
“Wind only blows when it blows, the sun only shines when it shines. We need reliable energy on a 24/7 basis. I’m not against green energy, wind energy — but is it going to worth the price tag — $26 billion – why not just hire people and create jobs,?” said Assembly Republican Minority Leader Will Barclay of Syracuse.
“I think what people are focusing on is Covid and the Covid rollout – green energy is not what my constituents are talking about — all they care about is the vaccination rollout,” he said.
But Cuomo also received plaudits from US Sen. Chuck Schumer and city Public Advocate Jumanne Williams — the latter a frequent critic of the governor — for agreeing to build an offshore wind turbine manufacturing hub at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Both were boosters of the project.
“With the selection of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park to assemble clean energy turbines, the wind is most definitely at Brooklyn’s back!,” Brooklynite Schumer said.
Williams said, “I am grateful that today, Governor Cuomo listened to our calls to build an offshore wind turbine manufacturing hub at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal.”
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