THE BLOG
06/15/2012 04:38 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2012

Sheldon Silver, New York's Solar Speaker

I was flat out wrong. Last week I wrote a long post detailing all the reasons why I thought New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should back an ambitious piece of legislation called the New York Solar Jobs Act, which would set the Empire State on a path towards real leadership in renewable energy generation. In the story, I argued that Cuomo's support for this particular bill -- or for similar legislation that would achieve the same goals -- would be a real game changer for solar both in New York and around the country.

So why was I wrong? Well, it's certainly not because I've changed my tune on the myriad benefits landmark solar legislation would provide to New Yorkers. Indeed, it's as clear as ever to me that crafting a long-term policy that provides the certainty and scale solar companies need to invest and hire is essential to achieving the kind of economic development everyone in the state craves. Then there is the powerful cost-savings benefit. As just one example, installing a significant amount of solar in New York would lead to what's called "wholesale price suppression," in which utilities can rely on solar power to provide electricity to run air conditioners on hot days instead of paying exorbitant amounts to obtain all the juice required to keep people cool in the summer. Finally, I argued that Cuomo's embrace of solar would change the national dialogue around solar in very positive ways, much as he did when he affirmed the right of same-sex people to wed.

All of this remains true. But I was wrong about whom I should be addressing. Turns out, not long before I made my arguments, the governor had already presented his own ambitious plan for solar in New York. As I suspected, he gets it, and I'm told that he has been exercising his formidable leadership abilities to pass clean energy legislation before the session ends in a week. While hugely important, Cuomo's support is not enough on its own. Sources in Albany tell me the person who really needs to grasp the opportunity to lead is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Now that the governor and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have put solar and clean energy at the top of their priority list, Speaker Silver is the last remaining piece to catapulting New York into national and international prominence in solar and clean energy job creation.

Opportunities to make a big difference like this don't come around too often. And in every way, this is an extremely limited time offer. Not only is this particular legislative session coming to an end soon, the coalition of environmental groups, clean energy companies and big businesses -- including General Electric and Wal-Mart -- that has been working to pass solar legislation for the past three years may conclude that New York just isn't interested. That would be an unfortunate legacy for Speaker Silver. A much more impressive one would be as New York's Solar Speaker. The time to grab that title is running out.