New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of a "Green New Deal" initiative Tuesday, responding to pressure for bold climate action from progressives and clean energy advocates.

The plan, outlined in Cuomo's 2019 Justice Agenda, calls for a "globally unprecedented" ramp-up in renewable energy deployments as New York seeks to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040, and ultimately to eliminate its entire carbon footprint. 

“Amidst the Trump administration’s assault on the environment and in order to continue New York’s progress in the fight against climate change," the briefing states, "Governor Cuomo is announcing New York’s Green New Deal, a nation-leading clean energy and jobs agenda that will put the state on a path to carbon neutrality across all sectors of New York’s economy."

Former California Governor Jerry Brown signed a similar executive order last fall calling for the Golden State to achieve carbon neutrality economy-wide by 2045. California also passed legislation to achieve 100 percent clean electricity by the same year. If Cuomo's 100 percent carbon-free electricity goal is approved by the state legislature, New York will officially have the most aggressive — and legally binding — clean energy target in the country.

The cornerstone of Cuomo's Green New Deal is to boost New York’s Clean Energy Standard from 50 percent to 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030. To meet this new mandate, the briefing calls for:

  • Nearly quadrupling New York’s offshore wind target to 9,000 megawatts by 2035, up from 2,400 megawatts by 2030
  • Doubling distributed solar deployment to 6,000 megawatts by 2025, up from 3,000 megawatts by 2023
  • More than doubling new large-scale, land-based wind and solar resources through the Clean Energy Standard
  • Maximizing the contributions and potential of New York's existing renewable resources
  • Deploying 3,000 megawatts of energy storage by 2030

Gov. Cuomo also announced $1.5 billion in competitive awards to support 20 large-scale solar, wind and energy storage projects across upstate New York. These projects are expected to add 1,650 megawatts of capacity and generate enough renewable energy to power nearly 550,000 homes. All projects are expected to be operational by 2022 and create more than 2,600 short- and long-term jobs in the process.

“The state’s commitment to wind and solar power will attract the interest and investment we need to get projects built," said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York. "And we applaud the governor’s announcement that eight new staff members will be hired to accelerate renewable project siting and permitting.”

Vote Solar — along with a coalition of industry, environmental and clean energy advocacy partners, as well as the support of dozens of lawmakers — has been urging Gov. Cuomo for the past year to establish a goal of 1 million solar-powered homes across New York by 2023, the equivalent of the new 6,000-megawatt solar target.

"With Governor Cuomo’s commitment to 1one million solar customers, New York will put thousands to work, save millions on electric bills, and spur local economic investments and opportunity to communities all across the state," said Sean Garren, senior Northeast director at Vote Solar, who led the Million Solar Strong New York campaign. 

"We will continue working with the administration and the legislature to meet this goal and ensure that the growing solar economy meaningfully serves all New Yorkers, including at least 100,000 low-income families," he continued. 

To hit the 6,000-megawatt target, the Cuomo administration is expected to direct the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to double the NY-Sun incentive program. To ensure that clean energy is affordable and accessible for low-income and underserved communities, Cuomo will also direct NYSERDA and the Department of Public Service to expand their Solar For All program and couple it with energy savings opportunities.

While elements of the plan pertaining to low- and middle-income customers will be dealt with administratively, Vote Solar said it will also work with legislative allies to get those program benefits enshrined in statute.

As for Cuomo's 100 percent carbon-free electricity goal, it will be part of the state budget, which still has to go through the legislature. Vote Solar and its partners also plan to support that effort.

That task could be made easier by the fact that Democrats took control of the New York State Legislature last election, for the first time in a decade. Growing momentum across the country around the concept of a Green New Deal, championed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, could also push state lawmakers to make Cuomo's clean energy goals binding.

Separate from the clean energy targets, Cuomo's Green New Deal will create New York’s first statutory Climate Action Council, comprising relevant state agency leaders and other workforce, environmental justice and clean energy experts. The council will evaluate a wide range of options for making the state carbon-neutral, including the feasibility of a new multistate emissions reduction program that covers all sectors of the economy.

According to the 2019 Justice Agenda, this work is to commence immediately and align with development of the next State Energy Plan over the next two years. The briefing notes that there will be ample opportunity for public comment as the council develops New York’s first carbon-neutrality roadmap.