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Kennedy: Make New York the solar hub for the East Coast

James Stritzki and Alex Morez, right, install solar

James Stritzki and Alex Morez, right, install solar panels on the roof of a home in Williamstown, N.J. (Feb. 23, 2007) Photo Credit: AP

Albany lawmakers are on the verge of passing solar legislation that promises to allow New Yorkers to lower their energy bills, deliver billions of dollars in economic investment, create thousands of new local job opportunities, modernize New York's aging power infrastructure, and ensure a reliable clean energy supply in the state for generations to come. There's strong bipartisan support for this bill, but precious little time remains on the state legislative calendar to enact the New York Solar Bill before lawmakers adjourn for the summer. So they must act fast.

The bill would extend Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's successful NY-Sun Initiative, which began in early 2012, for another 10 years. A public-private partnership, that program is well on its way toward meeting its initial goal of quadrupling the amount of solar installed in New York by 2015 (from the amount installed just four years before). In just its first year, the state saw a 91 percent increase in solar power investments over the previous year, at $257 million. And to date, the state has installed enough solar energy to power 27,000 homes, as well as put 3,300 New Yorkers to work in the state's growing industry.

The New York Solar Bill provides the last piece of the puzzle by providing industry the long-term certainty to invest, scale up, and make the state a regional hub for solar development and clean energy jobs.

Extending the NY-Sun program for a decade would exponentially build on this progress. Specifically, it is expected to:

* Save New Yorkers billions on their energy bills, by reducing the need to fire up the dirtiest and most expensive power plants.

* Create thousands of new local jobs in solar installation, maintenance and manufacturing.

* Spur millions of dollars of investment in the state's emerging clean energy economy.

* Provide enough clean, reliable electricity to power 400,000 New York homes.

We have the political will to capture these benefits for our state. So much so, in fact, that the bill has already unanimously passed the State Senate and it has support from a coalition of businesses, trade associations and environmental groups. A similar bill is expected to pass the Assembly shortly. But time is not on our side -- between now and the scheduled end of the session, June 20, Cuomo and leadership in both houses must come together and hammer out a three-way agreement if this program is to become law.

Superstorm Sandy exposed major vulnerabilities in the state's aging power grid, knocking out electricity for some residents for weeks. This disaster made it all too clear that we need to invest in an electricity delivery system that is more resilient, clean and reliable. Solar energy can help get us there. And with storms in the region expected to only get more frequent and intense -- predictions for this year's hurricane season are already ominous -- there's no time to waste.

The clock is also ticking on an opportunity to leverage federal funding that can help advance this program, and make private investments go further. A federal solar tax credit that expires in 2016 would help lower the upfront installation costs of solar projects for customers, thereby ensuring New Yorkers get even more bang for every buck invested under this program. Other states, including California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have established long-term solar policy goals in order to take advantage of this federal tax credit opportunity and encourage billions in private solar investment. New York would be remiss not to seize the same opportunity as those states by enacting the New York Solar Bill before the legislature leaves town.

We're counting on our representatives in Albany to show their constituents that they can in fact lead on clean energy, and to not miss their chance to enact such a widely popular policy. To do so would be to let enormous economic, resiliency and clean energy benefits pass us by. And that's not something New York can afford to do.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.


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