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Lawmakers urge conversion of State Capitol in Albany to all-renewable energy

 The New York state Capitol building.
Wangkun Jia
The New York state Capitol building.

Some New York state lawmakers who represent the districts around the State Capitol said Monday that the multi-building complex should set an example for the rest of the state and switch to all-renewable energy to power lights and heating.

The state Capitol and surrounding buildings, including a 44-story office tower, are predominately powered by a plant with a checkered history.

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, who represents Albany in the chamber, supports a bill that would require the complex — where over 12,000 people worked before the COVID-19 pandemic — to be powered by wind, solar or geothermal power.

“If we don’t show by example, it’s very hard for us to expect more from others in the private sector,” Fahy said.

Fahy said it’s also a matter of environmental justice, and the move could “right the wrongs” of the past.

The plant — known as the ANSWERS plant, which stands for Albany New York Solid Waste Energy Recovery System — stands just blocks from the State Capitol in one of Albany’s poorest neighborhoods.

Originally a coal-burning, then an oil-burning plant, it was fueled by garbage incineration in the 1980s and 1990s. Nearby residents reported increased incidents of diseases like asthma and cancer. Frequent ash emissions once blackened the snow at the nearby governor’s mansion.

In 2017, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a plan to include as a power source the gas extracted through hydrofracking, a process that is banned in New York state. But that plan was later put on hold after neighbors objected.

The power for the Capitol complex now comes from a blend of energy sources that include natural gas and solar. But more action is needed, say those who support the bill to switch to all-renewable energy.

The measure’s sponsor, Assemblyman John McDonald, who also represents portions of Albany, said the specific renewable power source could be determined by the state agencies that oversee the upkeep of the Capitol complex.

“We’re not boxing it into one particular renewable energy,” McDonald said. “We leave that to those who know to come about with that solution.”

McDonald could not put a price tag on a transition to renewable fuels. But he and other local lawmakers said it’s hypocritical for the state to pursue the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050, and still power the Capitol mainly on fossil fuels.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.