Redefining the Energy Market


Photo courtesy of 32BJ Training Fund / G. Martinez-Cabrera.

“Lenders across the spectrum are now doing [energy efficiency] deals that they would not have before," John Rhodes, the CEO of NYSERDA, told a diverse audience of market makers, policy experts and operations professionals at SEIU Local 32BJ on Thursday, April 21.

He was speaking, of course, of the success of the New York State Clean Energy Fund (CEF), a strategy for investing $5 billion over 10 years to implement the state's new energy plan, Renewing the Energy Vision (REV). REV has set broad goals to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system. To adequately support these goals, the CEF is split into four main areas of investment:

Certainty in Solar: Supporting the Market

The NY Sun program, which focuses on creating certainty for the NY solar market and lowering the cost of solar, utilized the $1 billion investment to rapidly increase the number of solar installations and clean energy jobs in the state. As a result, New York is now ranked 4th in the nation for solar jobs.

Capital for Clean Energy: Financing the Market

The state's $700 million investment in clean energy and energy efficiency will be made through the NY Green Bank, which leverages state funding to partner with private financial institutions to accelerate and expand the availability of capital for clean energy projects. The fund focuses on solar, energy efficiency and small-scale wind projects. About a third of the money has been committed so far and has leveraged an additional $1 billion in private sector investments.

Behind the Meter: Developing the Market

The third and biggest area of investment is market development—almost $3 billion in state funding will help to reduce costs and accelerate "behind the meter" investments, such as improving building codes and construction/installation processes for new technologies. The idea is to reduce the 'soft costs' and non-monetary barriers to efficiency and renewables.

“We know a lot of renewable projects can't get financed,” Rhodes said, describing why such a large proportion of the fund is directed to market development, “and we want to expand the availability of capital to those projects.”

Rhodes also mentioned that one obvious target for behind the meter investment is workforce development.  Working directly with employers, as well as unions and other industry associations, the state plans to invest in training and career advancement of building operations staff to accommodate the new technologies that higher performing buildings will require.

Clean Energy Innovation: Reinventing the Market

Finally, the state has invested in cutting-edge technologies specifically designed to meet the increasing demand for clean energy. Rhodes shared five key opportunity areas for innovative solutions:

  1. Smart grid technology
  2. Renewables, energy storage and distributed energy resources
  3. High-performance buildings
  4. Clean transportation
  5. Cleantech startup and innovation development

“We don't just want solutions,” Rhodes said, suggesting that CEF’s goal was more long term. “We want startup companies.”


Photo courtesy of 32BJ Training Fund / G. Martinez-Cabrera.

Q&A: Financing and Training for Clean Energy Jobs

During the lively question and answer session, Rhodes was joined by Laurie Kerr, Urban Green’s Policy Director, and Gerry Dunne, Resident Manager at The Riverhouse in Battery Park City.

How do you decide how to further improve an already green building?

Even in the greenest buildings, there is room for improvement, according to Dunne, who recommended continuously monitoring all systems and making improvements wherever and whenever possible.

How do REV and CEF support local service workers and operations staff?

Rhodes stressed the importance of training and developing the workforce to implement the state's energy goals. Each of the key areas of innovation will rely heavily on skilled operators who can keep new technology working correctly. He stressed that a majority of the jobs created by CEF investments would remain in New York and expressed hope that clean energy workers would earn a living wage.

Have REV and CEF changed the current market? What are the successes you’ve seen so far?

Speaking to current successes that he attributes, either partially or wholly, to REV and CEF, Rhodes gave particular praise for the state's business incubators, PACE financing and the expansion of solar.

“Bring solar to New York, the timing is right,” he said, stressing that the market is already able to support solar and other clean tech opportunities—that CEF and REV are already reforming New York’s grid.

 

Robert Muldoon is the Assistant Manager for Green Building Training at 32BJ SEIU.