Post-election Review: Unprecedented change – and opportunity – in the NYS Legislature

Posted on November 8, 2018


By Jeff Jones

With heavy spending by the oil and gas industry, ballot initiatives promoting renewable energy and supporting climate projects went down to defeat in Washington, Colorado, and Arizona. Whether or not there was a Blue Wave can be debated in other parts of the country. But not in New York. Powered by Gov. Cuomo’s strong re-election success at the top of the ticket, Democrats took firm control of every level of state government, winning all four state-wide races, holding on to Kirsten Gillibrand’s US Senate seat, taking over the majority in the state Senate and holding firm in the Assembly. Of these, the most significant change is in the state Senate. Even the best pre-election speculation gave the Dems a chance of picking up one or two seats. That they now hold an 8-seat majority is unprecedented in anyone’s memory. It means, among other things, that they can, if they choose, move an aggressive agenda across a range of issues.

At ACE NY, we are asking: What will this mean for renewable energy and energy efficiency policy in New York?

It is reasonable to expect growing support for renewables and almost any concrete initiatives that are linked to combatting climate change. Longstanding relations between traditionally fossil-fuel friendly utilities, independent power producers and Senate Republicans are suddenly without consequence. Many of the newly elected members, coming from metropolitan areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy, included action on climate change in their campaign agendas. They were also universally in sync with the Governor in standing in opposition to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. And on Long Island, long a bastion of upper house Republican power, the Democrats now control six of the nine Senate seats. This does not mean that an organized and clear climate agenda is part of the incoming Majority’s agenda. Their initial focus looks to be on health care, ethics reform, and voter access. Even marijuana legalization was higher up on the electoral agenda. But the door will quickly open for serious support for renewable energy (and offshore wind on Long Island) and energy efficiency legislation.

Upstate, the NIMBY problems that have plagued the siting of utility-scale wind and solar projects will not go away. But two newly elected Senate Democrats, from the Hudson Valley and Syracuse, are active clean energy advocates. Jennifer Metzger, who won the 42nd District seat held by the retiring John Bonacic, has been a mid-Hudson Valley leader of community solar and other local clean energy programs for years. And Rachel May, who defeated Independent Democratic Conference member David Valesky and went on to win the District 53 seat, attended the 2nd Climate Solutions Summit, co-sponsored by ACE NY last May in Syracuse. With support from environmental organizations and the renewable energy industry, these two newcomers can become strong voices for the clean energy agenda.

Individual Senators will still echo local opposition to utility scale wind and solar projects, and this will remain an important area for ACE NY to monitor. They can even introduce bills, thanks to reforms enacted by the Senate Democrats during their brief and chaotic majority ten years ago. But, given the strong relation between the incoming Senate Majority and the Governor, we can hope for a  more favorable political environment in the Capital.  Both supporters and developers of renewable energy took heart from expressions by Governor staff members at the October ACE NY annual conference, undertaking to move projects more quickly through the Article X siting process. It also means that the Assembly will now, for the first time in a decade, be considering clean energy legislation that has a chance of passage in the Senate. This could be a game-changer