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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Donors Get the Green

The governor is awarding renewable energy grants to his big money contributors.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo watches as former Vice President Al Gore speaks at an event at New York University on March 9, 2018, in New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using the state’s renewable energy funds, collected via surcharges on New Yorkers’ utility bills, to award campaign donors with grants through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its child organization, the New York Green Bank.

“Low-income households pay a disproportionate amount of their income to fund the Green Bank when compared to wealthy households,” notes Jessica Azulay, Executive Director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “Because the Green Bank is using public money, it really should have a goal of equitable funding, with a strong focus on overcoming the barriers that New York’s most vulnerable communities face when they want to implement renewable energy projects.”

But the governor has primarily used NYSERDA’s 10-year Clean Energy Fund, a pool of $5.3 billion, and the Green Bank to finance donors’ energy projects. Five renewable energy behemoths who have given tens of thousands of dollars to Cuomo have received grants in the millions.

  • In June, NYSERDA announced NRG Renew would receive $18 million from the Green Bank to support distributed community generation solar projects in the Hudson Valley. NRG Renew has given $42,500 to Cuomo since 2010.
  • Conifer Realty LLC gave $45,500 to Cuomo over the same time frame and in June received $75,000 to retrofit buildings in New York State.
  • Brookfield Renewable, an energy subsidiary of the multinational asset management firm, Brookfield Group, gave $100,000 through 3 different LLC’s registered to the same address on Jan. 9, 2017. Three days later, in his State of the State address, Cuomo announced that NYSERDA was awarding $360 million in grants to support renewable energy generation upstate. Brookfield Renewable and a subsidiary were among two of eleven recipients of the funding.
  • Renew Financial, a holding of Nathaniel Simons’ Prelude Ventures, received $20 million from the Green Bank in 2015 to expand a lending program that finances green home improvements. Simons’ father, James, a hedge fund billionaire named in the Panama Papers, has given $260,000 to Cuomo since 2010. The younger Simons made a $65,000 first-time donation to Cuomo in January.
  • NextEra Energy Transmission, which has donated $10,500 to Cuomo, was among the recipients of a $1.4 billion grant from NYSERDA to fund large-scale renewable development projects. The two grants NextEra received will go toward solar facilities in Mohawk Valley.
  • Though any solution for the climate crisis will necessarily include the kinds of renewable energy technologies that NYSERDA and the Green Bank support, the people that are benefiting most from its grants are wealthy hedge-fund managers not communities.

There is also a significant overlap between Cuomo donors and the boards that oversee the grants. John McAvoy, the CEO of Consolidated Edison Inc., gave $7,000 to Cuomo in 2016 and again in 2017. He was appointed by Cuomo to NYSERDA’s board in 2014.

NYSERDA is headed by former Goldman Sachs banker Robert Kauffman, himself a one-time Cuomo donor, though the $10,000 donation was made in 2005 while the governor was running for Attorney General.

As chairman of NYSERDA, Kauffman oversees New York State’s entire energy portfolio, including the New York State Department of Public Service, the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, NYSERDA and its Green Bank. Kauffman’s predecessor, Robert Catell, has been a bit looser with the purse strings, making $32,000 in contributions to the governor between 2006 and 2018.

Cuomo-appointed Green Bank President, Alfred Griffin, is also Citigroup executive. In 2015, Citi extended a $50 million line of credit to Nathaniel Simons’ Renewal Financial, supplementing the $20 million it received from the Green Bank.

Meanwhile, says Azulay, “The Green Bank hasn’t done much in the arena of lending for projects that serve low-income communities or communities of color, the communities that struggle the most to find the upfront capital to build renewable energy projects.”

NYSERDA declined to comment for this article. Gov. Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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