Watchdog slams ‘likely infeasible’ renewable energy goals

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

New York’s plan to pursue a large-scale switch to renewable energy by 2030 could lead it to fall short of emissions goals set out in a landmark climate law enacted this summer, according to an independent fiscal watchdog.

In a report published yesterday, the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) said New York’s goals for renewable growth are “likely infeasible” given local opposition to new projects. The CBC called on the state to set a carbon price to meet targets in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, signed in July by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

That law established some of the country’s most ambitious goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, including the complete decarbonization of the power sector by 2040 and an 85% economywide reduction by 2050.

It granted renewables the lead role as the state’s future provider of electricity, requiring them to supply 70% of generation by 2030, up from about 28% in 2017. The wind and solar industries — currently modest contributors to New York’s electricity mix — won large new carve-outs for development including 9 gigawatts of offshore wind and 3 GW of energy storage by 2035, and 6 GW of distributed solar by 2025.

But “too few projects are underway” and timelines too long to hit those marks, the CBC said in its report.

“New York is poised to direct the expenditure of billions of dollars and still fall short of the stated goals,” the nonprofit civic group said.

Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, said the CBC is “correct that these goals are very ambitious” but added that “it’s wrong to say that they’re infeasible.”

“It’s a question of commitment and a sense of urgency,” she said.

Reynolds noted her organization has asked budget authorities to create new grants and incentives for communities that host large-scale renewable projects.

“If you merge the two missions” of economic development and climate goals, she said, “you could make some of these communities more welcoming of wind and solar projects.”

Carbon price

Even if New York meets its renewable energy targets, the watchdog said, the mandates would be unnecessarily costly for consumers — particularly the 9 GW of offshore wind, which the CBC estimated would raise New Yorkers’ electricity bills by 8% to 12%.

To meet emissions reduction goals, officials should “retain the use of nuclear energy” by extending subsidies set to expire in 2029, the report recommended.

It also criticized the state for blocking new natural gas pipelines, a policy that the CBC said could “hurt economic competitiveness,” and for rejecting deals for hydropower that involve building new dams.

The focus on renewables over nuclear, gas and hydro “will be counterproductive” for emissions reduction efforts, the group wrote.

Jordan Levine, Cuomo’s deputy communications director for energy and environment, said in an emailed statement that Cuomo’s office was reviewing the CBC’s recommendations.

“New York will build on its nation-leading plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by implementing new actions to meet the urgency and demands of the growing climate crisis,” he said.

Levine didn’t respond to questions about the watchdog’s top recommendation for reducing emissions: instituting an economywide price on carbon, whether through a carbon fee or a cap-and-trade system.

“To be most effective, the pricing system should apply to as broad a market as possible covering all sectors and as many participants as possible,” the CBC said.

New York’s climate law will already require regulators to factor in an estimate of the “social cost” of carbon emissions stemming from proposed energy projects. A carbon fee, which assigns a price to the use of fossil fuels, is also being considered by grid operators in the state.

New York’s nuclear plants, which have gone from 17% to 28% of the state’s power since 1990, could benefit from a carbon fee, the CBC concluded.

In 2029, zero-emissions credits in place for four of the state’s six nuclear units will expire. Without them, “it is conceivable that the entire fleet of nuclear plants may shut down,” with natural gas likely stepping into its place, the report said.

The report also touched on the problem of emissions from the transportation sector, criticizing the governor’s focus on selling electric cars through rebates and charger build-outs rather than emphasizing public transit.

The CBC credited New York with managing the nation’s second-largest net reduction of CO2 emissions since 1990, behind Pennsylvania.

Allowing nuclear plants to shutter, the group said, would “erase nearly all previous emissions gains.”

The CBC pointed out that New York residents emit less CO2 than residents of any other state and consume less energy than anyone but Rhode Islanders.

Compared with other states, the authors wrote, “New York is already green.”