Governor Hochul urged to include conversion of state Capitol complex to 100% renewable energy in state budget

Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE)

Media Release

Supporters of 100% Renewable Capitol Call on Governor Hochul to Fund Project in State Budget

Lawmakers, climate activists, and labor unions called today for Governor Hochul to commit in next year’s state budget to rapidly convert the State Capitol complex to 100% renewable energy. This would halt the use of fossil fuels at the Sheridan Avenue Steam Plant (SASP) that has polluted a low-income neighborhood of color for more than a century.

The request comes as the United Nations and its scientists warn that keeping global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is increasingly unlikely and that governments have to immediately adopt radical measures to avoid the worst-case scenarios of climate catastrophe.

The speakers urged the Governor to include the Renewable Capitol Act  (S2689-Breslin/A5633-Fahy) in her upcoming proposed budget. RCA mandates the conversion of the State Capitol complex to renewable energy within three years.  Climate groups have requested an initial allocation of $50 million in the budget.

“Decarbonizing the Empire State Plaza complex, which houses some of the most important institutions in New York State government, will signify a major leap forward in achieving the emissions reduction targets laid out in the CLCPA. The Renewable Capitol Act represents an opportunity for the state to lead by example on climate policy by demonstrating that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions while also creating good-paying jobs in the renewable energy sector. I’m proud to sponsor the RCA in the Senate, and I call on Governor Hochul to fully fund this crucial project in next year’s budget,” said Senator Neil Breslin.

“New York leads the country on climate action, and the Capital Region has a chance to lead the state by decarbonizing the Empire State Plaza,” said Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D—Albany). “Not only will the Renewable Capitol Act help us meet our climate mandates laid out in the CLCPA, but it will create hundreds of good-paying union jobs, and cement New York’s commitment to decarbonizing its building stock, which accounts for more than 1/3 of our total carbon emissions. I’m proud to sponsor this legislation with Senator Breslin and urge her to include this funding in her Executive Budget for FY2024.”

The Governor supporting the RCA would signal New York’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis and implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Decarbonizing state facilities in downtown Albany would set an important example for local governments and private businesses. Decarbonizing the Capitol complex is also a critical environmental justice issue. For more than a century, the low-income Sheridan Hollow community of color has been subjected to pollution in order to power the Capitol complex.

“The implementation of the Renewable Capitol Act would represent a significant milestone in the achievement of the major goals of the Sheridan Hollow Alliance For Renewable Energy (SHARE). SHARE was formed to relieve Sheridan Hollow and surrounding neighborhoods from the poisonous effects of fossil fuels and to simultaneously make a contribution to climate sustainability. Prioritizing an emphasis on geothermal energy, with its heavy reliance on underground piping systems, the RCA  would model opportunities for workers with expertise  in maintaining natural gas pipes, to transition seamlessly into roles on this and similar projects, which would make important contributions to climate sustainability. To quote John Murphy, of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, ” A 55-year-old pipefitter cannot become an offshore wind technician’; said Merton D. Simpson, Co-Chair of SHARE and Albany County Legislator, District 2.

Coal, oil, gas, and even garbage have all been burned at SASP and the ANSWERS building, with negative health impacts for local residents such as asthma and cancer. Continued operation of the SASP is contrary to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Justice Policy (DEC Commissioner Policy 29), which provides that: “No group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations.”

“Greening the State Capitol and Empire State Plaza is a test of the Governor’s commitment to addressing climate change, but also of her commitment to my community,” said Rosemary Rivera, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York and an Arbor Hill resident. “Every year that we don’t address climate change brings ever more severe weather everywhere. And every year we don’t convert the Capitol to renewables means my community will continue to suffer from the effects, including respiratory illnesses and cancer.” 

The extreme weather that has hammered New York and much of the world this summer makes it clear that we are running out of time to keep global warming below the target of a 1.5 degree C rise. We have seen once-in-a-thousand-year floods in the Hudson Valley and poor air quality statewide from wildfires from Canada. Much of the country has experienced repeated heat waves. New York must move much faster in its efforts to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean energy. (could be quote)

This year’s budget passed in April included funding to conduct studies of how to decarbonize 15 of the state’s facilities with the largest carbon footprints, which includes the Capitol complex. Decarbonizing the Capitol will be a source of good paying jobs. The Capitol complex analysis can be done faster than the timeline laid out in the budget since the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and Office of General Services (OGS) are now wrapping up a two-year development of an energy master plan for the Empire State Plaza.

Four years ago, due to the actions of community residents and climate groups, the state legislature rejected a proposed $88 million appropriation to add two fracked gas turbines to the present state facility on Sheridan Avenue. Lawmakers instead redirected those funds for renewable energy and efficiency projects at the Plaza. However, there are still six gas boilers at the SASP that create steam to heat and cool the Capitol complex.


“As a young girl living and breathing in black ash and thick smog, as I sat on my stairs on Orange Street and Sheridan Ave, now worried about cancer, we must have health equity for all, and this includes clean air for all!  By design, underserved, minority communities have been disproportionately impacted by air pollutants and factories such as the Answers Plant. We must change this paradigm and one way to make change is to support the Renewable Capitol Act. No one, regardless of their race and socioeconomic level, should be forced to breathe in air that we know without a doubt, is deadly. Please support health equity now by supporting this bill,” said Dr. Brenda Robinson, DNP, MSN, FNP-CM; CEO Black Nurses Coalition, Ins, President. Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association, Health Equity Now.

“The governor should bring state operations into compliance with New York’s environmental justice policy, which is being violated by the fracked gas powered Sheridan Avenue Steam Plant. Emissions-free technologies such as geothermal heating and cooling are already deployed in Albany, including at SUNY Albany’s 246,000-square-foot ETEC building. The use of clean technologies at the Capitol and Empire State Plaza would reduce the pollution burden in Sheridan Hollow and Arbor Hill and demonstrate the state’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis in an environmentally just way,” said Laura Faulk, The Climate Reality Project: Capital Region Chapter

SHARE and others have urged the state to consider the feasibility of utilizing geothermal energy. Oklahoma, Michigan and Colorado heat and cool their state capitol buildings with geothermal energy. Even St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City uses geothermal energy. NYSERDA is funding studies to see whether district geothermal heating and cooling would work for hundreds of homes in Sheridan Hollow and the Mansion / South End Albany neighborhoods.

“Renewable options are available now. If we are to transition our state to renewable energy, we must show how it is done,” said Ruth Foster, Co-Chair of SHARE.

“The UN Secretary-General has strongly warned that the world is running out of time to avoid climate catastrophe and is begging governments to speed up their actions to halt the use of fossil fuels. One of the few clear agreements at COP28 was that we need to triple the amount of renewable energy by 2030. Decarbonizing the state capitol is one of a number of critical steps we need Governor Hochul and lawmakers to commit to in 2024,” added Mark Dunlea, the convenor of PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy), the affiliate in the Capital District.

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