New York’s state Legislature and Governor Cuomo approved the sweeping ‘Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’ (CLCPA) in 2019, setting in motion an aggressive climate change agenda mandating 100 percent zero-emissions electricity by 2040 through a Climate Action Council charged with developing a ‘scoping plan’ of recommendations to meet those and other targets.
Critics say that plan – up for public comment through June 10, 2022 – is too aggressive and expensive for homeowners and businesses; supporters say the plan is less costly to New Yorkers than would be failure to take immediate, tangible action on climate change.
“Consumer and community decision-making is key, and especially important for the purchase of new passenger vehicles and heating systems for homes and businesses through the next decade,” the CAC says on its website (climate.ny.gov). “(z)ero-emission vehicles and heat pumps will need to become the majority of new purchases by the late 2020s, and fossil fuel-emitting cars and appliances will no longer be sold after 2035.”
The CAC also says “Necessary methane emissions mitigation in waste and agriculture will require transformative solutions. Massive diversion of organic waste from landfills and innovative manure management and animal feeding practices coupled with the capture of fugitive methane emissions.”
Otsego County state Senator Peter Oberacker sent a mailing to his district urging public comment, adding the admonition, “Well intended, this plan could mean higher energy and consumer costs for you.”
“This plan is too aggressive to succeed,” he said to The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta. “They’re talking about telling us we can’t have gas-powered cars and appliances. I know people are worried that they won’t be able to burn firewood. It’s an indicator of a downstate/upstate divide where our voices aren’t heard.”
“The concept of mandating change, especially for our rural regions, is shortsighted,” Sen. Oberacker said. “I am 100 percent in favor of all types of energy and what they can bring to our area. It’s hard to look at these mandates at a time when we’re dealing with the highest rates of inflation we’ve seen in ages and when our economy is under so much pressure.”
Wayne Mellor, Chair of Sustainable Otsego, called the mailing “the start of the disinformation campaign.”
“When you’re at this stage of the game, you’re going to see the information battle,” he said. “The cheapest source of energy you can build out right now is utility-grade solar. Texas generates more renewable energy in one year than New York uses in a year. They’re not drilling (for fossil fuel) because it’s cheaper to build solar. There and in Oklahoma they’re building transmission lines to New Mexico and Arizona.”
“Not long ago there was discussion of new combined-cycle natural gas plants in the Hudson Valley,” Mr. Mellor said. “I didn’t see anybody complaining about rate changes about that.”
He dismissed claims that the CAC’s scoping plan seeks to ban the burning of wood for home heating and other purposes.
“They’re not going to look at that,” he said, pointing to a statement from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that New York is “not considering legislation that would ban heating your home with firewood.”
Sustainable Otsego, he said, “absolutely supports the CAC plan,” noting he believes the key to its success is the development of more storage for renewable energy. A February 2022 report in The Wall Street Journal, for example, highlights construction beginning this year on a ‘339-mile high-voltage transmission line’ delivering power from a Quebec dam, enough to supply ‘about 20% of New York City’s (power) needs by late 2025.
“It’s digging a big hole in the ground,” Mr. Mellor said of the dam project. “We have two in New York, Gilboa and Lewiston. But politicians love technology and love to cut a ribbon on a building that says ‘we’re going to build this battery plant. It looks better.”
He acknowledged public concern over power intermittency that so far has caused service disruption in California and Texas.
“We’ll have much better technology in place,” he said. “Better storage is essential to overcoming intermittency.”
New York’s Public Service Commission agreed this month to track and assess “advancements made toward meeting the requirements and targets of the CLCPA” and provide policy guidance to fulfill the law’s mandates. At the May 12 meeting, Commissioner John Howard supported the CAC’s scoping plan but expressed concern about its potential cost to consumers.
“This issue of the two grids – that we have an upstate grid that is largely zero-emission, way over 90 percent, and a downstate grid that is the same proportion of fossil-based,” he said during the meeting. “At no time during the debate on the CLCPA or subsequently have we made it clear to all New Yorkers that the state of New York wants the zero-emission people to subsidize the higher-emission people.”
Mr. Howard said, “The Legislature either through its silence or total lack of action has given this Commission nearly the exclusive responsibility to reach into New Yorkers’ pockets to pay for the CLCPA’s mandates. I will almost assure you the same authors and proponents of the CLCPA in the legislature, when they see the actual bill impacts and rate impacts of the measures we will be forced to do in the absence of their action, we’ll be highly criticized. Currently we’re the only guys in town that will pay for those actions.”
He continued, “If the Legislature does not want to pay for it, I hope my colleagues on this Commission understand that responsibility falls to us exclusively to the tune of hundreds – not a couple – hundreds of billions of dollars. It is an awesome responsibility that we got through statute and by default.”
“To fulfill the mandates — the amount of clarity we need to cut through this fog that is created by what I believe is a totally unworkable program from the 22-member Climate Action Council and its subcommittees – Rube Goldberg way to make public policy,” he said. “It’s very easy not to be able to tell New Yorkers what’s going on.”
In a statement provided to The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta, the Public Service Commission said, “The Commission remains committed to balancing the goals of the CLCPA both with the reliability and resiliency of the system, and the resulting rate impacts to all customers. The state’s Climate Action Council’s analysis demonstrates that the cost of inaction is more than $90 billion higher than the cost of investing in a clean energy future. The Council’s Scoping Plan has not yet made any final determination on what actions need to be taken, so it is incorrect to suggest New York ratepayers will be on the hook for the entire cost of our state’s transition to clean energy.”
Sustainable Otsego’s Mr. Mellor said he is skeptical about the CLCPA timeline, noting the need for an aggressive build-out of off- and on-shore wind generation. Sen. Oberacker said he continues to gather and gauge opinion from residents in his district and will “come back after hearing from the public” about the Committee’s scoping plan.