New York City mayoral Democrats on green energy investments and infrastructure and the economy

Scott Stringer has long championed green initiatives and used his positions as city comptroller to begin divesting the city’s pension fund system from the fossil fuel industry. Candidate Stringer promises to overhaul the New York City Housing Authiority buildings under the guidelines of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’s “Green New Deal”, a federal proposal that projects outlays of $180 billion over 10 years to retrofit green infrastructure for public housing.

Both progressive green energy policies have drawn attention for the high cost of their planned public investments.

“Does all of that pay for itself immediately? No,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University. “On a broader scale it is about incentivizing for precisely this kind of transition to happen and to happen much sooner than it already would.”

Stringer anticipates his Green NYCHA plan would lead to 32,000 jobs, while Wiley boasts 28,400 jobs will come from “New Deal, New York.”

These plans are seen as pie-in-the-sky promises by Thomas Abdallah, professor of sustainability management at Columbia University.

“A billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to,” he said with a chuckle. “This is not a young city. We have ancient buildings and ancient infrastructure. Start slow, do a pilot project and get some momentum.”

Stringer also proposes converting the city’s utilities Con Ed and National Grid into a single public utility that will power the city through 100% renewable energy by 2035. It’s not clear how Stringer will manage to enact this proposal given that Con Edison and National Grid are private companies.

“I applaud the thought process, but we’ve got to be practical,” said Abdallah, who believes there’s too many variables at work that have nothing to do with the mayor. “There’s just not enough control and there’s too much politics involved when it comes to the power grid and energy providers and land-use and, of course, the state has some say.”

Through her experience in environmental control management, Kathryn Garcia vows to create “Green Boulevards” across New York—converting 25% of car space into space for people—and plant 1 million trees in eight years, a realistic goal that some believe could revitalize various neighborhoods in the city and create a new landscape for small businesses to thrive under.

“That is achievable,” said Abdallah. “That is not an expensive thing. If you have a storefront on area that’s nicely shaded and you stimulate walking, there’s an advantage with having people walking and traveling through the neighborhood. I’m thinking mom-and-pops.”

Two candidates focused on using the private sector to leverage the transition to a green economy are Shaun Donovan and Ray McGuire. As a former Obama-Biden administration cabinet member, Donovan touts his ability to use his Washington connections to gain federal money, and he regularly brings up the fact that he was tasked by President Obama to lead the administration’s Superstorm Sandy response.

But Donovan will need to work with the private sector to enact a zero-carbon building code he plans for by 2030 and a ban on the use of fossil fuels during construction. Any partnership with the business community would make the cost of green energy conversion cheaper for the city, explained Wagner.

“Much more broadly, not everything has to be public expenditure,” Wagner said. “It’s essentially setting standards and targets and guiding the private sector’s investment.”

Like Donovan, Ray McGuire wants to lean on public-private partnerships and his relationships with Washington to fund green infrastructure. McGuire would invest in making South Brooklyn and the North Shore of Staten Island a wind power hub to boost maritime job growth in those sections of the city.

“It may reenergize the blue-collar sector in this town in ways few other initiatives have,” noted Bautista.

But there are logistical questions attached to McGuire’s vision, as well as a threat of competition from Long Island and New Jersey for wind turbine development.

“The issue is logistics and it’s a question of where the wind farms are and the staging area to get them out there,” explained Ira Breskin, professor at the State University of New York Maritime College. “South Brooklyn and Staten Island are potential players, they’re viable, but it’s a question of how viable. They’re competing with South Shore Long Island and North Shore Long Island and some of New Jersey’s ports.”

Two front-runners of the race, Eric Adams and Andrew Yang, each take a divergent path toward green energy. Adams’ policy proposals are scant and mainly include investing in wind power and using city ports like Red Hook Container Terminal, Port Richmond and the Brooklyn Navy Yard to facilitate those investments. Yang, on the other hand, cribs Stringer’s green retrofit for NYCHA and supports a $250 million private sector development to build a sustainable energy plant in Long Island City to power the surrounding neighborhood.

“Their policy proposals are light,” said Bautista. “Potentially the reason they are less robust is they haven’t had a history of engaging with climate change and environmental policies as the other candidates.”

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