Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wanted New York to adopt a limit on greenhouse gas emissions that’s “the most aggressive goal in the country.” Unfortunately for New Yorkers, state lawmakers took him at his word.
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act now awaiting his signature vastly expands the state’s power to regulate every corner of New York’s economy in pursuit of lower emissions. Yet sponsors didn’t even bother to estimate its fiscal and economic impacts before rushing it through.
The bill gives the Department of Environmental Conservation extraordinary powers over all emissions sources — farms, factories, offices and even the furnaces in single-family homes. And it empowers every state agency to weigh emissions “in considering and issuing permits, licenses, and other administrative approvals and decisions.”
The Public Service Commission, which regulates electric utilities, will “require the procurement” of substantial amounts of new renewables and energy storage capacity. This means the commission will mostly force utilities and large electric customers to buy renewable energy credits to symbolize the purchase of renewables or pay penalties to the state.
The bill requires the PSC to have 70% of the grid’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030; just 26.4% of the state’s power came from renewables last year — down from 28% the year before.
Part of that 70% will involve subsidizing at least 900 new wind turbines to be built off New York City and Long Island.
Offshore wind is an especially expensive way to reduce emissions. The state Energy Research Development Authority last year estimated an 800 MW offshore wind project would have $4.3 billion in capital costs followed by $109 million in annual operating costs. For the expected 9,000 megawatts, that would put the up-front price tag at more than $48 billion, followed by about $1 billion in annual operating costs.
And as the Empire Center warned last year, most of that funding will come from ratepayers north of New York City.
Utilities will also have to fund 6,000 megawatts of solar panels, or more than 21 times the 281 megawatts of new solar panels for which the state subsidized construction last year.
Assuming sites will be a maximum of 150 acres, this mandate will necessitate adding at least 56 square miles of solar panels (larger than the city of Buffalo) spread across 240 sites. But recent renewable development projects have run into significant community opposition and transmission hurdles, which is part of why Cuomo’s existing renewable goals keep falling short.
If there’s one place where these sorts of arbitrary levels shouldn’t be set by politicians, it’s in the energy sector. New York took deliberate steps in the 1990s to dial back its regulation of the wholesale electric-generation market specifically because market forces did a better job of pushing down rates than state action.
What’s missing from the much- touted new climate bill? A new tax to pay for it.
In fact, the money will come from two sources: Entities that can’t eliminate their emissions will pay penalties, and the PSC will force electric utilities and large electric customers to shoulder the costs of renewables.
The PSC is an attractive vehicle for funding such a costly program because it has the power to forbid utilities from showing costs on electric bills.
This lets state lawmakers keep their hands clean and builds on their record of using commissions to do things for which they fear political consequences. But vesting what amounts to lawmaking powers in the DEC and taxing powers in the PSC is certainly not good practice—and possibly not constitutional.
The expressed purpose of this unprecedented expansion of state regulatory power over every sector of the economy is to reduce emissions linked to man-made climate change. But accepting the underlying premises of the climate bill’s supporters, it will actually have very little effect.
New York generates just 0.47% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the ambitious emissions reduction goals all became a reality overnight, global emissions would be slashed by a grand total of 0.40%.