The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign scored an impressive victory in New York State on November 8th, when the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s solicitation for at least 800 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind development. It was the culmination of over five years of disciplined effort on the part of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, Beyond Coal Campaign staff and volunteers, and a coalition of over fifty organizational partners. The announcement supports Cuomo’s pledge to develop 2,400 MW of wind power as well as his mandate of 50 percent renewable energy in New York, both by 2030. Contracts are expected to be awarded in the spring of 2019.
Beyond Coal Campaign has strong clean energy goals to achieve in New York, and offshore wind is a critical campaign in their portfolio. The Sierra Club recognized that adopting it is the only way to get to scale with clean energy in downstate NY, given that regional utility Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) is currently sourcing approximately 3 percent renewable energy.
The Road to Yes
Consider the complex group of stakeholders whose concerns had to be met for offshore wind to go forward at scale: elected officials, intrastate and federal agencies, power companies, the fishing industry, and more. In this context it’s clear that the breadth and depth of Beyond Coal Campaign’s efforts to push forward the initiative was a major accomplishment.
How did the team go from a firm Cuomo “no” on offshore wind to this transformational outcome? In short, coalition-building, pressure, persistence, and persuasion.
The effort was unique in that it brought together partners that don’t often share a common goal. “We worked for over a year with our environmental, labor, and community partners to ensure offshore wind contracts will uphold responsible environmental, community, and labor standards,” says Lisa Dix, Sierra Club Senior NY campaign manager. The collaboration resulted in first-of-their-kind contract requirements around prevailing wage and community benefits, project labor agreements, and best environmental practices.
As fulfilling as this victory is on its own merits, the New York Sierra Club was simultaneously able to leverage several other wins. These include preventing a planned liquid natural gas terminal in the federally-designated “NY Wind Energy Area”, the defeat of repowering plans for four existing natural gas plants and one proposed new natural gas plant, and putting the utility LIPA on a path to 100 percent decarbonization by 2030.
It Takes a Village
One of the Sierra Club’s strengths has been the power of its volunteer activists to help drive its initiatives, and this project was no exception. “Volunteers were the heart and soul of this campaign, because they always showed up,” says Dix. They led phone banks, organized rallies, tabled, wrote letters to the editor and swarmed hearings, all to ensure their voices were heard in support of the project…over and over again.
Stephanie Doba, pictured below, is one of those volunteers. The Brooklyn resident retired four years ago from The New York Times, after a 30-year career in advertising sales, circulation, and marketing. Looking for a “volunteer gig,” she attended a Sierra Club meeting in 2015 celebrating the launch of a New York City Beyond Coal Campaign volunteer group. “I was impressed,” says Doba. “It was informative, they fed us some Thai take-out, there were group break-out sessions, and we got out on time. I thought, ‘This is an organization I can work with!’”
She joined the media team and soon became its leader. The team’s task is to write letters to the editor, and during 2017-18 they focused on the offshore wind effort. “It’s been a gratifying way to make a small, personal impact on the huge existential problem of climate change,” she explains. “We chip away at it every time we write a letter, and even more so every time one gets published.”
The power, of course, lies in lots of people chipping away. In this case, 60 team members were given strategic guidance from Beyond Coal Campaign staff on how to effectively target the decision maker, Governor Cuomo. Over the course of a year her team submitted 155 letters calling on him to support offshore wind, and 100 of them were published in 18 newspapers around the state. Doba also developed two co-leads in regional cities Albany and Utica to increase the letters’ impact through wider publication. “Stephanie is a great example of the power of the Sierra Club’s volunteers,” says Dix.
Going forward, Beyond Coal Campaign will continue to help shape the New York offshore wind program. After investing nearly six years in the project, Dix is excited to see it through. “This is a clean energy transition story. Not only has New York made historic commitments to getting clean energy to scale to combat climate change, but did it in a way that will uplift communities, adhere to strong environmental standards and include the first requirements in the region to ensure projects will pay prevailing wage and be developed under project labor agreements. The work the Sierra Club led with our partners in New York to achieve this transformational victory will hopefully be a model for other states,” she says. “This is the story I want people to hear.”