NYSERDA Chair Richard Kauffman Gives Grounds for Optimism on Climate Change

On February 20, Richard Kauffman presented the second installment of the Energy Policy Discussion series hosted by the Frank J. Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law.

In February of last year, Kauffman was appointed the first-ever Chairman of Energy and Finance for New York, and since June 2013, he has also filled the role of chairman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

His lecture was, in many ways, an excellent counterpart to the series’ previous installment with Daniel Esty, former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Like Esty, Kauffman emphasized that the current context for promoting renewable energy growth is difficult. “The headwinds against a robust renewable energy program are in some sense getting stronger,” he said. Federal financial support for renewable energy is dropping off. And because natural gas remains cheap, cleaner yet more expensive forms of energy like wind and solar power aren’t catching on.

However, he said, “we have room to tack against these trends.” Decreasing federal financial support is incentive to look at how we can reduce the “soft costs” of renewables, which can be burdensome. In December 2013, for example, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory calculated that for solar panel installations, such non-hardware costs can mean up to 64% of the total. One way we can reduce soft costs, Kauffman said, is by eliminating financial inefficiencies.

New York State is taking the initiative in promoting renewable energy. One project is the Green Bank, inspired by Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority—the original “green bank.” Rather than subsidize renewable energy, the Green Bank strives to close gaps in access to funding.

Kauffman also suggested that greater competition among utilities companies and greater interaction between them and their customers can lead to more innovation. He encouraged utilities companies to respond to customers more efficiently by using “smart software.”

Before taking on the role of chairman, Kauffman was the senior advisor to US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. He was also CEO of Good Energies, now known as Bregal Energy, and chaired the Global Financial Group at Goldman Sachs.