Monday’s meeting of the Climate Action Council made one thing clear – the Council has no intention of figuring out how much the state’s headlong rush to renewable energy will cost New York utility customers.
Listed as one of the Council’s “unresolved issues” going into the meeting, members determined that it would remain unresolved. Rather than address ratepayer costs themselves, they are leaving that to be sorted out in the process of implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act), meaning the cost to ratepayers will remain a mystery.
This is a shame, because as much as New Yorkers may support reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they also want and need affordable electricity. The new transmission lines Governor Hochul recently approved to bring more renewable energy to New York City will raise some consumers’ monthly rates by almost 10 percent, and that’s just a start on the cost of shifting to renewables. The Climate Action Council suggests future heavy reliance on offshore wind power, the most expensive source available, further adding to ratepayers’ cost burden. But again the Council chose not to address the cost to energy consumers.
An important element of the Climate Act is its focus on “climate justice” and the effects of climate change on communities of concern. But energy bills consume a disproportionately higher share of the family budget for low-income New Yorkers, so they will be hit even harder than the average New Yorker when those bills rise in order to subsidize alternative energy projects. These effects will be exacerbated if climate change leads to more frequent severe weather events.
This is no small matter. It’s not just about dollars and cents, but a matter of life and death for at-risk New Yorkers, particularly the elderly and poor. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that higher energy costs lead to more deaths in the coldest months of winter. It’s likely they also lead to greater deaths during summer heat waves as people struggle to afford the cost of cooling their homes to safe temperatures. In ignoring the cost to ratepayers of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, the Climate Action Council is putting New Yorkers’ lives at risk and undermining its own mandate to consider climate justice.
Beyond that there is the issue of transparency in government. New Yorkers are still not receiving the information they need in order to know if they can afford the goals of the Climate Act. Unfortunately, the Climate Action Council has chosen to punt on that issue, leaving the state’s citizens figuratively — and potentially literally— in the dark.