A veteran New York official, Julie Tighe left the Department of Environmental Conservation in August 2018 to take control of one of the state’s most influential environmental groups. Insiders say she has Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ear on climate issues, and helped shape the final version of New York’s 100% renewables bill. As environmental issues play a bigger role in elections, her endorsements could prove all the more influential in the critical next two years.
Energy & Environment Power 50; 6-50
Energy & Environment Power 50; 6-50
Judith Enck might be one of the most influential environmentalists whose name you don’t know. After spending years in state politics fending off incinerator plants, she joined the Obama administration as the regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator, where she dogged Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his failure to act sooner on water contaminations upstate. Her new project, Beyond Plastics, aims to eliminate single-use plastics and reveal the ties between the industry and oil and gas interests.
The passage of New York’s 100% clean energy bill was a milestone for Anne Reynolds. The former executive at the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the advocacy group Environmental Advocates of New York devoted much of her early career lobbying for the programs that set the state on a path to renewables, pushing for the first renewable portfolio standard. She also helped establish the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s largest interstate cap-and-trade program.
A native Manhattanite and onetime Assembly candidate, Pete Sikora has been a committed rabble-rouser on climate change for years, facing arrest and braving bad weather to lead protests. He was one of the most influential leaders pushing for New York City’s historic building emissions bill – hailed as the city’s Green New Deal. Not many environmentalists can say they took on the city’s powerful real estate lobby and won.
A consummate environmentalist, Alex Beauchamp has been a crusader for nearly a decade in New York’s anti-fracking movement. In nearly every fossil fuel fight, he helps to turn out significant numbers of protesters. He was a thorn in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s side as climate became a key issue in the contested primary fight against actress Cynthia Nixon. He remains a fixture in the fight against new gas infrastructure in the state.
Sunrise Movement stormed onto the scene in 2018 when its young activists occupied then-incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand Democrats champion a Green New Deal. Miles Goodrich has been the group’s tireless man in New York, campaigning for insurgent Democrats and rallying outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s New York City office. Any 2020 contender who comes to New York without a strong climate plan should expect to see Goodrich and his cadre of demonstrators.
An ecologist and researcher, Sandra Steingraber emerged as the intellectual godmother of New York’s anti-fracking movement in the mid-2010s. She credited Rachel Carson’s seminal 1962 book “Silent Spring” with convincing her to leave the laboratory and get on the picket line. That’s where she made a national name for herself. Once dubbed a “toxic avenger” by Rolling Stone, she’s the subject of a new documentary called “Unfractured.” She’s also a published poet.
It’s hard to believe that North America’s lone five-turbine offshore wind farm only started generating electricity in 2016. It’s been a busy three years since for Joe Martens, whose advocacy group saw a windfall as federal and state authorities auctioned off huge swathes of the waters off Long Island to major offshore turbine projects. Now, with the new clean energy law, New York is looking to develop 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035.
A veteran of the Spitzer and Paterson administrations, Peter Iwanowicz spent much of the last year suited up and testifying before lawmakers in favor of the clean energy bill that made history last summer. Now at the helm of one of the state’s most prominent green groups, Iwanowicz’s connections in Albany made him a notable power broker in New York Renews, the coalition that fought to pass major climate legislation.
The forthcoming closure of Indian Point will mark the end of downstate nuclear power, but the industry remains a major force along the Canadian border, and it could still make a comeback, particularly if a Democrat like Joe Biden, Andrew Yang or Cory Booker clinches the 2020 presidential nomination. If that happens, Rob DiFrancesco, one of New York’s leading pro-nuclear advocates, will be a top voice to help shape whatever that policy looks like.
Tonio Burgos has been in the Cuomo World orbit for decades. The lobbyist, whose clients have included National Grid and NRG, worked as an aide to Mario Cuomo and donated hundreds of thousands to Andrew Cuomo’s campaigns through his firm and personally. From 2008 to 2018, he lobbied for Williams Companies, the firm behind the controversial pipeline project. He has also worked for the ascendant the wind industry, having lobbied for production tax credits.
As New York City’s real estate titans begin the work of complying with a sweeping new law requiring retrofits to curb power use, Jeffrey Perlman’s Bright Power is well positioned to make a windfall. The energy efficiency consultancy is one of the best known in the city. Perlman – who Crain’s New York Business named to its 40 Under 40 list in 2018 – is a name you’re going to hear more often.
The Natural Resources Defense Council was a dominant player in the green coalition that fought for New York City’s buildings emissions bill and the state’s historic clean energy mandate. Where Richard Schrader helped push specific bills over the finish line, Kit Kennedy got deep on the specifics. She’s been a leading voice in the movement to expand offshore wind – which looks likely to grow much faster in response to the legislation Schrader helped enact.
Few on the academic side of New York energy have as varied a resume as Karl Rábago. Besides leading the influential law school’s Energy and Climate Center, he chairs the board of the San Francisco-based Center for Resource Solutions and helps oversee the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, as well as a Department of Energy solar project. Previously he served on the Public Utility Commission of Texas and in the U.S. Army for 12 years.
A former aide to Brooklyn state Sen. Kevin Parker, Richard Berkley took over one of the leading ratepayer advocate groups in 2015. He has since been fighting rate hikes at National Grid and Con Ed and arming ratepayers with information to press the utilities at a critical moment when the companies are trying to put pressure on officials to enact favorable policies. A consummate consumer advocate, his Twitter feed reads like a young Ralph Nader.
Ecologist and biogeochemist Robert Howarth added serious scientific firepower to the anti-fracking movement several years ago. His research on the Marcellus Shale, the formation fracking companies hoped to tap in New York, helped propel the moratorium in 2014. He’s done vital work studying the effects of methane and biofuels, and has published extensive research on planet-heating emissions from the agricultural sector, drawing connections many others in the space lack the scientific chops to do.
A Danish Harvard graduate primarily based in Boston, Thomas Brostrøm now runs the U.S. division of Ørsted, the Danish offshore wind giant. The company bought Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island-based startup behind North America’s first offshore wind farm, in late 2018 for $510 million. Now it’s looking to massively expand in New York waters over the next few years as it establishes its foothold in the U.S. market.
John Gilbert III, who works for one of the most powerful real estate developer families in New York, might not seem like an obvious player in the energy world. But he’s an energy wonk, and it pays off. Just before the New York City Council passed its building emissions bill this year, insiders say he successfully pushed for provisions to allow developers to comply with the new regulation by buying renewable energy.
The Indian Point plant may be slated for closure, but it hasn’t stopped producing electricity just yet. Christopher Bakken, the chief of nuclear giant Entergy’s operations, is the person in charge for now. He fought hard to keep the plant open, and managed to get the licenses renewed after an 11-year review in 2018. But the company ultimately struck a deal in 2017 to sell the plant off after its upcoming shutdown.
Batteries, long considered the missing puzzle piece to make renewables competitive with fossil fuels, are coming online in a big way. One of New York’s dirtiest power plants in Long Island City announced plans last fall to build the state’s biggest battery project there. Bill Acker is a leading advocate for the battery and energy storage industry, and this is his territory. The sector is expected to balloon in the next few years.
You can’t say John Bruckner isn’t a fighter. As the battle over the Williams pipeline raged, and National Grid said it was necessary to meet its demand for gas, Bruckner began using ratepayers as part of his hardball negotiation and refused to provide service to 1,100 customers in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island. That drew the governor’s fury, as Cuomo forced National Grid to back down after threatening to revoke the company’s operating license.
The Champlain Hudson Power Express hydropower line isn’t the only big project in play. Zohrab Mawani’s transmissions startup OneGrid is positioning itself as the renewable-friendly alternative. The company has deep ties to renewables companies and could be a more politically palatable option for lawmakers and regulators concerned about ceding too much control to Canadian producers and not doing enough to spur the industry at home. The “All New York” project is gaining more attention.
A former reporter who left journalism about 15 years ago to work in environmental advocacy and government – in recent years as a champion of offshore wind energy – Julia Bovey is helping to develop Equinor’s first significant U.S. offshore wind farm off of New York Harbor. The project, which is expected to generate 816 megawatts of renewable energy, is a major component of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls New York’s “Green New Deal.”
Since leaving the New York City mayor’s legislative office in 2010, Eddie Bautista has established himself as one of the city’s leading environmental organizers. He offers a keen understanding of how power moves around the city. He studied city planning at the Pratt Institute, worked in various city offices, lobbied for nonprofits and eventually found himself in his current job, where he marshals constituents to push for change from the outside in.
As Long Island takes a leading role in the state’s renewable energy plans, Thomas Falcone has emerged as a central figure. The former investment banker has headed the country’s third-largest public utility since 2015, and rattled some observers recently by saying incentives for solar are little more than a “kick start” and that the industry must be more “self sustaining.” He has also waged a fight with the Town of Huntington to cut LIPA’s property taxes.
Daniel Eichhorn has a saying: “If we’re all working together and we all understand the direction we want to go in, then we can move mountains” – and he takes it to heart. At a moment when Long Island is increasingly vulnerable to weather-related disasters like Superstorm Sandy, the utility that powers 1.1 million homes is tasked with upgrading nearly 3,000 miles of wire in anticipation of the next big one.
Thomas Bartolomei spent nearly three decades working in the energy sector before he was promoted to his current role as head of NAES, which provides operations and maintenance services to power plants including Astoria Energy and Athens Generating Plant. After joining the company formerly known as North American Energy Services in 2014, Bartolomei has also served as the company’s senior vice president and as chief operating officer.
He’s a billionaire who wears many hats: grocery store tycoon, radio host, occasional Republican candidate for mayor. But it’s John Catsimatidis’s role as a fuel oil mogul that makes him a compelling figure in New York energy politics this year in particular. In the midst of National Grid’s prolonged fight to build the Williams gas pipeline, Catsimatidis stepped in, offering to convert an “unlimited” number of New York customers to old-fashioned (and dirty-burning) fuel oil.
Carl Taylor is an ascendant figure in the state’s utility industry. In summer 2017, he rose from vice president of customer service to take over Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. and New York State Electric and Gas. He’s a veteran of the company who started in 1987 as an electrical engineer after graduating with a master’s from Binghamton University. As the state broadens its renewable energy supply upstate, his two companies will be key players.
Charles Freni is a utility chief for an era of climate change. Nationally recognized for his efforts in restoring power in the Hudson Valley following major storms over the past decade, he earned acclaim in 2017 overseeing emergency efforts in Turks and Caicos following the devastating Category 5 Hurricane Irma. In May 2018, he rose from senior vice president of customer service to the top spot at the Poughkeepsie-based utility.
Richard Sanchez took the helm at the utility giant’s major subsidiary in the suburbs north of New York City in 2017. Sanchez, who joined Con Edison in 1990, previously oversaw the company’s cyber security, infrastructure and hiring. But the most interesting thing about his rise is where it could ultimately take him. Con Edison chief John McAvoy served as the top dog at Orange and Rockland prior to taking the throne at the parent company.
With so much new offshore wind energy set to be produced in the next 15 years, there’s an obvious logistic challenge: getting the electricity from the turbines to the shore and onto the power grid. That’s where Kevin Knoblock comes in. The former chief of staff in the Obama-era Department of Energy is overseeing a project to build out infrastructure to connect 2,000 megawattsto substations in Brooklyn and Long Island.
A self-declared “climate warrior,” Christopher Erikson serves on the executive board of Climate Works For All at Cornell University, works with the Urban Green Council, and spoke at New York’s climate march. That’s in contrast with the national International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has been fiercely skeptical of the Green New Deal movement. But with 1,500 electricians, he sees a lot of potential in new jobs in any just transition program.
If you haven’t heard of Lee Ziesche, chances are you haven’t been close enough to any major fossil fuel infrastructure fights. Though only 30, Ziesche is renowned in New York environmentalist circles, not only as a wonk with a formidable ability to comb through regulatory filings, but as an activist with a flair for the dramatic. Amid the Williams pipeline fight, she went on a three-day hunger strike in front of the governor’s Manhattan office.
As an aide to former state Sen. Antoine Thompson, Bill Nowak earned a reputation as an effective policy researcher, particularly in the clean-energy space. Now he’s leading the state’s top trade group for the burgeoning geothermal industry. As geothermal heating looks set to expand, particularly upstate, over the next decade, NY-GEO is hosting events and workshops around the state to educate the public and businesses about how to affordably switch to clean heating.
Indian Point’s high-profile demise may mark the end of nuclear power in New York’s populous downstate region, but Chicago-based Exelon Corp. remains a major player, operating four of the state’s six reactors nestled along the northwestern border with Canada – and the company is expanding its presence. Chris Crane started his career in the nuclear energy industry as a senior reactor operator and worked his way up over the course of three decades.
LS Power Development is far from a household name, but it maintains a household presence. The firm that Paul Thessen leads boasts of developing 10,000 megawatts of power and 630 miles of long-distance high-voltage transmission lines. In April, the company nabbed a big deal. The New York Independent System Operator selected LS Power to upgrade transmission lines across the state as part of an effort to deliver more clean power.
Brookfield’s energy arm has long been a major player in upstate hydro power issues. The firm waged a high-profile fight over a hydro project in the Schenectady area in the mid-2000s. Last year, Brookfield Renewable Partners started reapplying to federal authorities to extend its licenses on its Erie Boulevard Hydropower dam. Transmission Developers’ big proposal for New York City would likely run through Erie Boulevard, giving new political currency to the firm with Sachin Shah at the helm.
Bill Reid’s company is caught in one of New York’s most contentious power plant fights as it seeks permission to build a $500 million, 535-megawatt facility to replace its existing 511-megawatt gas plant on the Hudson River. But it faces fierce opposition from environmentalists, who say the plan is out of sync with the state’s clean-energy goals. The Orange County Legislature recently gave the plant its support, but there’s a grassroots effort to stop it.
The California-based CEO of electric car and solar giant Tesla is an important figure in New York. His company’s sprawling Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo was heralded as a crown jewel in the Tesla empire. But Musk has taken heat for rarely visiting the facility, which was built with state funds, and refusing to meet with the public when he finally did last April. In August he was accused of “failing to live up to promises.”
NRG Energy owns Staten Island’s biggest power plant and some gas turbines in Queens, but the utility giant’s real power play in New York came during a 2018 fight over a power station that shares its name with an infamous World War II battle. Under Mauricio Gutierrez’s leadership, NRG had hoped to turn the coal-fired Dunkirk plant in Western New York into a gas plant – but pulled the plug as costs and opposition mounted.
Much of decarbonization policy focuses on electricity, but replacing oil furnaces with zero-emissions alternatives is just as important. That’s why Kathy Hannun’s geothermal company looks set to become a big player. The New York-based startup, spun out of Google parent Alphabet, is making a bid to make geothermal heating installation as simple and marketable as rooftop solar, earning Hannun a spot among Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2018.
Thomas Spang and Advanced Power are at the center of one of New York’s most controversial energy projects. The Cricket Valley Energy Center plans to replace a coal plant with a fracked gas alternative, which Spang and his allies say is cleaner. But opponents and environmentalists – including protesters arrested at a November demonstration – say the new infrastructure will lock in years of gas use the state cannot afford as the climate crisis worsens.
As head of the American Petroleum Institute’s New York subsidiary, Karen Moreau is the oil industry’s leading representative in New York state. With the industry trade group stepping up its advocacy in the face of mounting opposition from climate hawks in the Democratic Party and steady support from the pro-fossil-fuel Trump administration, Moreau has made herself a vocal critic of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s renewable energy efforts and opposition to the Williams pipeline.
No one has a better grasp of New York’s rapidly evolving energy industry than Marie J. French. Politico New York’s Albany-based energy and environment reporter regularly cranks out the most reliably detailed dispatches on everything from the closure of New York’s last coal plant to a NYISO proposal that would “severely limit media coverage” of the energy market. Her newsletters set the agenda for energy and environmental professionals across the state.
Correction: An earlier version of this post had incorrect dates related to the closure of Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plant. This post had also incorrectly stated the capacity of an Equinor offshore wind project.