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A tale of two states: New York, West Virginia Governors’ contrasting energy perspectives

New York’s State Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Image: Pat Arnow.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s annual State of the State Address has reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to combating climate change and growing the green economy, in stark contrast to West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s address which spoke of “fighting” to retain coal jobs.

Among the earliest State-level addresses given this year, with the vast majority still remaining to take place later this month, Cuomo’s address mainly built on the already ambitious renewable or carbon-free electricity targets in place (100% by 2040), with the supporting target of deploying 3GW of energy storage.

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One of eight main topic areas covered by the 2020 address was ‘Combat climate change’. Cuomo pledged US$3 billion to a new environmental bond act, ‘Restore Mother Nature’, to enable investment in “environmental restoration”, which the administration said is “essential to New York’s continued economic success. This includes habitat restoration and flood reduction.

There was a wide programme of support announced for electric vehicles (EVs) including setting up an electric vehicle taskforce, electrifying the bus network and building a “robust network” of EV chargers (at least 800 new chargers over the next five years). The NY Green Bank will also offer US$100 million in financing for clean transport businesses in the state.

Competitive solar, wind, storage tenders

While from a clean energy point of view it would be hard to top the significance of targets and pledges made in Cuomo’s address last year, this year’s address still accommodated significant announcements for the renewables sector. NYSERDA will hold competitive tenders for more than 1,000MW of large-scale solar and onshore wind and 40MW of energy storage projects in upstate New York. In total, 21 projects will receive awards, with the state expecting it to “spur over US$2.5 billion in private sector investments” and create more than 2,000 long or short-term jobs.

While the energy storage portion is modest, the state has already begun its widespread deployment of ESS technologies towards that 3GW goal and the market is considered to already be booming: one local community recently elected for an 80MWh energy storage solution in preference to a planned power plant, and utility-scale projects and opportunities have started springing up within urban New York too.

Perhaps of more widespread significance was the announcement of a forthcoming plan to authorise and build new transmission capacity to integrate higher shares and greater capacity of renewable energy. Clean energy will be given priority on these networks. NYSERDA, the New York Power Authority, the state's energy and climate agency and New York Public Service Commission will all work together on this. 

“The plan will include upgrading the grid with smart new technology that increases the capacity and effectiveness of the system, such as battery storage technology,” a release from the Governor’s office said.

Cuomo also announced a further 1,000MW of offshore wind, a retrofit programme for homes and businesses to go low carbon including a US$30 million competitive challenge, another competition for port infrastructure improvements – this time worth US$200 million – and US$9.4 million in grants for the protection of Lake George. New York is also banning single use and packaging styrofoam containers, by the beginning of 2022.

New York’s utility-scale energy storage sector kicked off in earnest during 2019. Image: Key Capture Energy

West Virginia: ‘Dog fight tough’ to keep coal burning

By contrast, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s State of the State Address 2020 speech, talked at length about the “incredible potential” of the petrochemical industry. The state is creating a taskforce, Justice said, adding that he foresees a revival of manufacturing in West Virginia, closely tied to “the petrochemical side”.

“It is unbelievable what is going to happen to manufacturing in this state. And it's all going to flow… not all, but a lot of it is going to flow through the petrochemical side. We want our oil & gas people to thrive,” Justice said.

However, the Governor then flat-out admitted that it is “dog fight tough” to create even “one additional coal job. One additional gas job”, referring to the sliding price of coal, which has gone from US$78 a tonne to US$35.

“We just can’t hardly compete,” Justice said, before adding that “we’ve got to find solutions and ways to absolutely insure that our coal miners are going to have their jobs,” according to a transcript of the speech published on Justice's official website.

Justice then said that his state administration is keen to open up low-pressure gas wells, before suddenly talking about the exciting potential of Virgin Hyperloop. The West Virginia Governor made no explicit mention of climate change, nor of clean or renewable energy.

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