Cuomo’s energy plan is worthy of praise

By Mark Ruffalo | May 10, 2014

When you’re right you’re right, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is right about sparking a power revolution in New York.

I’ve criticized the governor over fracking. I live in New York with my wife and three kids, and I firmly believe fracking is a threat to our watersheds, our environment and our health.

I’m thrilled to praise his decision to rethink how we produce and distribute energy. Gov. Cuomo envisions moving from big, centralized power stations controlled by utilities to de-centralized power options that families, businesses and towns can control. This would change the landscape in New York — and serve as a model for the nation.

Big, centralized power stations have long dominated the electricity landscape. Almost everybody has had to buy power from utilities that enjoy regional monopolies on electricity.

But, as the price of installing small-scale energy equipment continues to drop, families, businesses and institutions want more control over how they produce, store and use energy. As captured in the state’s Draft Energy Plan, Gov. Cuomo and the Public Services Commission are working on bold plans to bring the state’s energy system into the 21st century.

The changes will open the energy market so that decentralized generation can flourish, and utilities are no longer threatened.

The real power of this new vision comes from empowering New Yorkers to own and control more forms of clean energy. Many more will be able to add small-scale clean energy sources, including wind and solar power. Schools, office buildings, factories and homes can make more of their own power and sell any leftover energy to the grid.

It took a lot of hands to reach this point and a strong administration. The state’s plan combined with extension of the NY-Sun Initiative and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s investments in local, clean energy businesses mark true progress.

Fossil fuel prices are infamously volatile; sudden price hikes can blow family budgets and wreak havoc with business plans. With renewable energy, you never have to worry about sunlight or wind prices going up.

With new capacity coming online, customers won’t have to pay for new power plants or deal with the higher bills and increased asthma they can cause. Generating electricity closer to where it’s used also means less energy lost in distribution.

The governor’s plan envisions micro-grids, which can protect neighborhoods from wider outages during severe weather like Superstorm Sandy.

By restructuring its power system to allow consumer choice and clean energy to flourish, New York will attract investment, grow small businesses and grab a bigger slice of this market. There is money at stake: Globally, investment in renewable energy was $254 billion last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Jobs are also in play: More than 300,000 long-term jobs will be created in New York as we transition to 100 percent clean energy, according to a Stanford University assessment.

The governor’s plan is visionary, but the devil will be in the details. We look forward to working to ensure this plan delivers cleaner, more affordable, more reliable energy, a stronger economy, and a healthier environment. New York can avoid extreme fossil fuel extraction and help lead the way to a cleaner energy future for our nation and the world.

Mark Ruffalo is an actor who lives in New York and advocates for renewable energy and water defense.