Residents of the New York City area already pay some of the highest residential electricity rates in the country, ranging from 64 percent above average on Long Island to a whopping 130 percent above the national norm for Con Ed customers in the city and Westchester.
And now, in what amounts to an unlegislated state tax hike, those rates are poised to go even higher.
That’s because, essentially at Gov. Cuomo’s order, the state Public Service Commission will require electric utilities to both subsidize money-losing upstate nuclear plants and buy power from “renewable” energy sources, mainly solar and wind-generated.
The goal of the PSC’s so-called Clean Energy Standard is to have 50 percent of the power generated in New York in 2030 come from renewables, and to reduce the state’s carbon-dioxide emissions. The price tag? The PSC hasn’t provided a clear answer, but in a new report from the Empire Center for Public Policy, we estimate it could come to $3.4 billion over just the first five years.
Despite more than a decade of state and federal subsidies, renewables haven’t taken off in New York because they don’t produce enough power steadily enough to justify their cost.
In fact, effectively no wind turbines were built here during 2015 because market conditions — and, more importantly, wind conditions — made them uncompetitive, even with subsidies.
And when you can produce 50 percent more electricity from a solar panel by locating it in Arizona or Nevada, why install it in Albany or Niagara Falls?
Cuomo has said the Clean Energy Standard is needed “to combat climate change and the resulting extreme weather events” by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. But the plan won’t actually regulate carbon-dioxide emissions. Instead, it’ll require utilities to buy more power from a significantly expanded number of solar and wind-generated plants — which don’t yet exist.
The new standard’s goal for solar power would translate into roughly 200 times the capacity of New York’s largest existing utility-grade solar-panel farm, which is at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. It also calls for enough new land-based wind turbines to cover, at a minimum, an area the size of Putnam County.
Most of the added solar and land-based wind-generating capacity would have to be located upstate — but nearly two-thirds of the state’s electricity is consumed downstate, and power lines linking the regions aren’t up to the task. In fact, the transmission grid already required extensive upgrades before the new mandate was imposed, as Cuomo acknowledged when he pushed during his first term for grid improvements that are yet to materialize.
Another problem: Solar panels and wind turbines generate power only intermittently, since the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. But the new standard also makes no allowance for energy storage or standby generators powered by conventional sources, which would add to the cost of a big shift to renewables.
Statewide ratepayer subsidies for nuclear plants outside Rochester and Syracuse were hastily tacked on to the Clean Energy Standard after the plants’ operators threatened to shut them down as money-losers late last year. Cuomo says the subsidies are justified because the plants produce no carbon emissions.
But while the plan saves about 2,000 jobs at nuclear plants, it also will threaten untold number of jobs by imposing higher costs on energy-intensive industries. And that doesn’t even count the impact of Cuomo’s push for a “Clean Energy Fund” that will separately cost ratepayers $5 billion over 10 years.
While the Clean Energy Standard is, in Cuomo’s words, supposed to make New York “a leader of the global effort to combat climate change,” its impact will be microscopic in global terms. If reliance on renewables in New York actually reaches 50 percent by 2030, the resulting reduction in annual emissions will amount to less than a quarter of 1 percent of the carbon dioxide China emitted in 2014.
Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats alike stood by as this costly plan was hastily thrown together without their consent. Lawmakers should pull the plug — before their constituents get zapped.
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