by Gregg McQueen [Manhattan Times]

He knows how to work a spotlight.

Now, award-winning actor and environmentalist Mark Ruffalo wants to cast the focus on clean power in New York.

Ruffalo, clean energy advocates and environmental business leaders gathered on Mon., May 2 to announce a new statewide campaign aimed at increasing clean energy use across New York State.

The New Yorkers for Clean Power campaign, a coalition which includes uptown organizations, will focus on advocacy to engage the public, local governments and businesses to push forward renewable energy and clean transportation options and to expand the state’s clean energy policies, said Campaign Coordinator Renee Vogelsang.

“We are at a critical climate crossroads, and New York is taking the right path,” remarked Vogelsang. “New York is already doing a tremendous amount, and has the chance to become the national leader in renewable energy.”

Ruffalo serves as an advisory board member with New Yorkers for Clean Power.

“It’s exciting to see the scope of this campaign and all of the lives and communities it touches,” commented Ruffalo, who said the state is making huge strides in clean energy achievement. “New York is where you come when people tell you what you’re trying to do is impossible.”

The campaign was announced at a press conference held at Solar One, an educational facility for green energy located on the East River, and the city’s only self-sustaining solar energy building.

Donna De Costanzo, Director of Northeast Energy and Sustainable Communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the campaign holds great promise for getting all New Yorkers involved in the fight against climate change.

“We really do need all hands on deck to address the biggest environmental challenge of our time,” she said.

The campaign also released a new “Clean Jobs New York” report showing that more than 85,000 New Yorkers already work in the clean energy sector, across 7,500 businesses.

“New York is taking the right path,” said Campaign Coordinator Renee Vogelsand.

There is due in large part due to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent mandate for 50 percent renewable energy in the state electricity sector by 2030, said Vogelsang.

“In metropolitan New York City, there are 57,000 working in clean energy,” said Ron Kamen, New York Chapter Director of the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).

“When stronger policies are put into place, we can continue to create jobs in our state, while also helping our environment,” he added.

Kamen said the next step was getting more electric vehicles on the road.

“The Governor and legislature took a step in the right direction by including a $2,000 tax credit for electric vehicles in the state budget,” remarked Kamen, who noted that Ford Motor Company has announced an investment of $4.5 billion to build up its electric fleet.

Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of Harlem-based advocacy group WE ACT For Environmental Justice spoke of the need to include low-income communities in clean power initiatives.

“In order to protect some of New York’s most vulnerable residents from climate change events, and to improve air quality, we must achieve an ‘energy democracy’ by transitioning to an equitable, sustainable energy system that can only occur if there is a decisive power shift towards communities, workers and the public,” stated Shepard.

“We’re going to green those buildings,” said Donnel Baird, Chief Executive Officer of BlocPower.

Shepard said that WE ACT has worked to educate building owners and residents in Northern Manhattan on the city’s mandated switch to cleaner heating oils and technology, and launched a climate action plan with other uptown stakeholders.

The city needs more solar energy projects in vulnerable neighborhoods, stressed Shephard.

“These systems can be built as locally-owned microgrids to give tenants greater control over their own energy generation and use,” she said.

Donnel Baird, Chief Executive Officer of BlocPower, which conducts energy-efficient building retrofits, described his company’s project with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

“Montefiore Medical Center has provided data on which buildings in the borough have a high number of kids with high asthma rates,” said Baird. BlocPower is adding solar panels with reducing particulate matter in those buildings, he said.

“We’re going to green those buildings and improve asthma rates, and reduce overall visitations at local emergency rooms,” added Baird.

BlocPower is also piloting a project in Brownsville, Brooklyn to install solar panels on NYCHA public housing buildings. “The panels would be jointly owned by the utility company and low-income residents,” explained Baird. “As solar electricity is generated, it will be sold to local residents and distributed in form of cash dividends to residents.”

Ford Motor Company has announced an investment of $4.5 billion to build up its electric fleet.

Shephard said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to greatly expand the city’s number of affordable housing units provides an opportunity for developers to incorporate solar and clean energy into lower-income neighborhoods.

“Those communities are the last to get the benefits,” said Shepard. “But they need to be prioritized because those energy innovations really improve health.”

For more information, please visit www.nyforcleanpower.org.