A major deception on emissions reductions lies at the heart of the New York Department of Public Service’s first annual report on implementation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), along with concerning evidence about the act’s early costs.
The report purports to show substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which per the CLCPA must decline 85 percent from 1990 levels.
But more than half of the claimed reductions are inaccurately attributed to the state’s zero emission credits (ZECs) program, subsidies paid to keep the state’s nuclear power plants open. While nuclear power is emissions-free, these plants have been operating since before 1990, and have neither replaced other greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources since then nor reduced their own emissions below zero.
That means the real greenhouse emissions reductions achieved since passage of the CLCPA in 2019—if any—are far less than the DPS has reported.
Despite the CLCPA not yet doing much to achieve the state’s emissions reductions goals—or its goals of 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent emissions-free electricity by 2040—the report indicates it has had a surprisingly large price tag—$43.7 billion in spent or committed funds to date.
The report does not detail much of that spending other than noting that the ZECs cost $1.6 billion between 2020 and 2022, so it is impossible for the public to know where the money is going or whether they are receiving any real benefit from it.
Even without a detailed accounting, though, the amount in itself is worrisome. The state’s Climate Action Council claims the full cost of meeting the law’s objectives will be between $280 and $340 billion. This suggests that between 12 percent and 15 percent of the purported CLCPA budget has already been committed, with very little to show for it and the vast majority of projects yet to come. Among the upcoming big budget projects are:
- development of offshore wind;
- expansion of the electric transmission grid to transport wind and solar power;
- transforming buildings from gas heat and appliances to all-electric;
- significant upgrades to end-of-line transmission equipment to support all-electric buildings;
- the electrification of the state’s public transportation and school bus fleet;
- large amounts of energy storage; and
- numerous future policies relating to agriculture, forestry, and waste management.
Simply put, the vast majority of spending lies ahead of us over the next several decades, so the report indirectly suggests that CLCPA policies will cost New Yorkers far more than advertised. That appears to be the case even if other elements of CLCPA do not face 100 percent cost overruns, as has development of the Port of Albany’s wind tubine production facility. Unfortunately, it is the nature of huge government projects to come in vastly overbudget, and CLCPA projects are unlikely to be an exception to the rule.
These extravagant costs will be paid for by New Yorkers, who are set to lose at least $118 – $178 billon on the CLCPA, a loss of $15,000 – $23,000 per household. That is the minimum loss based on the Climate Action Council’s own cost estimate—any cost overruns will further drain New Yorkers’ wallets.
The report reveals that these costs are already showing up on ratepayers’ electric bills. The report directly attributes the CLCPA with increasing residential customers bills between 3.7 percent and 9.8 percent. For some households this works out to increases of over $110 per year already, and this is just the beginning of CLCPA-related utility cost increases.
Ratepayers may not be willing to accept those increases. A Siena College poll showed that forty percent of New Yorkers are unwilling to pay more than $10 per month to combat climate change, while a majority are unwilling to pay more than $20 per month. If the public comes to realize it is not their utility company that’s to blame, but state climate policy, a day of reckoning may be on the horizon.
The costs are hitting commercial utility customers as well, with the report showing that some are paying up to $16,000 per month more due just to CLCPA costs. That’s close to $200,000 annually in additional operating costs for large businesses and is set to grow higher. Although considerations of the state’s economic climate were outside the purview of the report, it is not hard to see that businesses looking at whether to invest in New York may find sharply increasing energy costs to be a deterrent.
This first annual DPS report sets a baseline upon which to compare future development of the costs and benefits of the CLCPA. But it is vitally important that the report be prepared with unimpeachable accuracy and without fudging the numbers to make the state appear to be making more progress than it actually is.
It is also important that in the future DPS staff begin to assess what benefits are accruing to New Yorkers, so an accurate benefit-cost assessment can be made. And it will be crucial that New Yorkers’ actual benefits be calculated distinctly from the global benefit of CO2 reduction, which to date no state agency has done.
Finally, it’s worth noting that this first public report, while valuable in itself, is not well-designed for public consumption. The DPS staff must in the future give consideration to how they can design the report to be understood by the general public. An executive summary that encapsulates the main findings without subterfuge or spin would be highly desirable, as would a clear listing of the projects to which funding has been allocated.
It is the public, after all, that is footing the bill. They deserve a clear statement of accounts.