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New report critical of New York's clean energy plan

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Supporters of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Clean Energy Standard rallied outside the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in August. The subsidies under the clean energy plan could save nuclear plants like FitzPatrick from closing.

A new report from the conservative Empire Center, a fiscal watchdog, finds that New York state's Clean Energy Standard plan to boost renewable sources of energy and support struggling nuclear plants could cost more than the state estimates.

The goal is to raise the amount of energy it gets from renewables, like wind turbines and solar panels, to 50 percent by 2030 and to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent during that time. The plan hinges on making energy providers like utility companies buy renewable and nuclear power because they do not emit carbon dioxide.

That is the wrong approach according to Empire Center policy analyst Ken Girardin. 

"The governor has picked out the prescription instead of letting the patient decide how we’re going to get there," Girardin said. "We could get the same kind of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions at a lower price and probably with even more innovation if the public service commission or even better the state legislature created a looser regulatory framework."

Girardin said subsidizing the additional renewable and nuclear sources, which are currently struggling to compete with dirty energy sources like natural gas and oil, will exceed $3 billion in the first six years of the program. That means an average monthly cost  for consumers that could rise to $3.40 a month by 2021, when the state expects a surcharge of only $1-$2 per month.

Girardin said New York should have focused its plan on reducing total carbon dioxide levels, not an "arbitrary" percentage.

"If the state did what California did and regulated carbon emissions, which are supposedly the governor’s target here, then you would get a better result for a lower cost because the market would be able to adapt and it would be the best of both worlds," Girardin said. 

But Conor Bambrick with the Environmental Advocates of New York said the alternative is worse.

"I’m more concerned what the price would be for not moving toward a future that addresses the impacts of climate change," Bambrick said. 

Bambrick said the Empire Center analysis overestimates the cost of subsidizing the clean energy sources and underestimates its rewards. The state expects that consumers will see $5 billion in energy efficiency and tax savings after just the first two years of the initiative.

"We have to move to a clean energy economy here in the state and by putting forward a forward-looking mandate to meet these goals on the renewable electricity side, the governor and the PSC (Public Service Commission) have taken that first step," Bambrick said. 

The report also finds that the plan may not be feasible. It notes that New York will have to double or even triple it's current solar panels and wind turbines to meet the 2030 goal. And even if it does achieve that feat, the report says the state will need to upgrade its "already congested" transmission infrastructure to carry the energy to downstate New York where demand is greatest. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.