New York's Clean Energy Programs: The High Cost of Symbolic Environmentalism
In 2016, the New York Public Service Commission enacted the Clean Energy Standard (CES), under which 50% of all electricity sold by the state’s utilities must come from renewable generating resources by 2030, and emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) must be reduced by 40%. The CES also incorporates New York’s previous emissions reduction mandate, which requires that the state’s GHG emissions be reduced 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (the “80 by 50” mandate).
- Given existing technology, the CES’s 80 by 50 mandate is unrealistic, unobtainable, and unaffordable. Attempting to meet the mandate could easily cost New York consumers and businesses more than $1 trillion by 2050.
- The CES mandate will require electrifying most of New York’s transportation, commercial, and industrial sectors. (In 2014, for example, fossil-fuel energy used for transportation was twice as large as all end-use electricity consumption combined.) Even with enormous gains in energy efficiency, the mandate would require installing at least 100,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind generation, or 150,000 MW of onshore wind generation, or 300,000 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 2050. By comparison, in 2015, about 11,300 MW of new solar PV capacity was installed in the entire U.S. Moreover, meeting the CES mandate likely would require installing at least 200,000 MW of battery storage to compensate for wind and solar’s inherent intermittency.
- Meeting the CES interim goals—building 2,400 MW of offshore wind capacity and 7,300 MW of solar PV capacity by 2030—could result in New Yorkers paying more than $18 billion in above-market costs for their electricity between now and then. By 2050, the above-market costs associated with meeting those interim goals could increase to $93 billion. It will also require building at least 1,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission facilities to move electricity from upstate wind and solar projects to downstate consumers. No state agency has estimated the environmental and economic costs of this new infrastructure.
- The New York Department of Public Service and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority claim that renewable energy and the CES will provide billions of dollars of benefits associated with CO2 reductions. Not so. Regardless of one’s views on the accuracy of climate models and social-cost-of-carbon estimates, the CES will have no measurable impact on world climate. Therefore, the value of the proposed CO2 reductions will be effectively zero.
Jonathan A. Lesser, PhD, is the president of Continental Economics, an economic litigation and consulting firm.