State’s Proposed $150 Million Annual Subsidy for Renewables Far Short of Dealing with Climate Change Crisis

Clean energy advocates called today upon the Governor and State Lawmakers to substantially increase the subsidies for large scale renewable energy (LSR) beyond the $1.5 billion over 10 years proposed this week by NYSERDA (NYS Energy Resource Development Authority).

The Green Education and Legal Fund noted that the subsidy is actually less, when adjusted for inflation, than what was provided over the last decade under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. The RPS failed miserably in achieving its goal of having renewables account for 30% of the state’s electrical production by 2015. Instead, the state added only 3 to 4% to the existing base of 19% (mainly hydro).

Groups do hope that the state’s proposal for long-term energy contracts for renewables (e.g., Power Purchasing Agreements) will help reduce overall costs and raise additional financing for such projects.

“Missing from the proposal was recognition of the climate change crisis. Nor were any clear goals or benchmarks proposed for electric production in general or for specific utilities. The anemic funding proposed certainly isn’t enough to jump start the state’s non-existent off shore wind program,” said Mark Dunlea, Chair of GELF.

The proposal heavily emphasized financial concerns rather than the crisis posed by climate change. GELF said it was disingenuous that a state that has utterly failed to control the price of electricity would use cost concerns to justify its weak proposals on transitioning away from fossil fuels. New York has the fourth highest electric rates in the U.S.

“New York failed to meet our established goals for renewable energy of 30% by 2015. The only meaningful response must be new ambitious goals for renewables to be met by 2020, 2025 and 2030, substantial funding and a concrete plan to achieve those goals. Fossil and nuclear interests have received enormous subsidies for decades; their market power dominates. In the face of this reality, New York’s reliance on the magic of the marketplace to promote clean energy is foolhardy and threatens to erase the clean energy progress we have already achieved,” states Barbara Warren, Executive Director of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition.

GELF and more than 70 other organizations are supporting legislation (A7497 / S527) to require the state energy master plan to adopt a goal of 100% clean energy (for everything, not just electricity) by 2030. Key to accomplishing that goal is a robust off-shore wind effort. A study by Stanford and Cornell professors on a clean energy future for New York have called for 40% of the state’s energy needs to be met by off-shore wind.

Scientists say that we have 15 years to take action in the hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Climate change itself is already too far along to stop but scientists hope that a halt to burning fossil fuels can avoid the most damaging impacts.

While some groups have praised the new proposals, GELF described their response as at least partially being “thankful it wasn’t worse” in light of the opposition by Cuomo’s energy czar, Richard Kaufman, to subsidizing renewable energy. Such groups have asked the state to adopt a goal of at least 50% renewable energy by 2025, which was missing from the proposal.

“It is illogical for the Cuomo administration to promote market forces as the solution to climate change yet fail to propose a major carbon tax to make companies that burn fossil fuels pay for the damage they cause,” noted Prof. Steve Breyman of RPI and board member of GELF.

It is estimated that New Yorkers spend in excess of $22 billion a year to deal with the health costs associated with burning fossil fuels. The estimate of the number of excess deaths annually in the state from such air pollution exceeds 3,100. There are also costs from the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather. The state’s 2014 Draft Energy Plan documented that the costs to New York from Hurricane Sandy were over $32 billion and predicted that the annual damage costs from climate change will be $10 billion.

Administration officials have indicated that more specific goals for renewables may be included in the state’s long delayed final Energy Plan. Groups have criticized the draft version of the plan as being too vague without timelines and benchmarks and promoting the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

A report presented this week at the UN climate change talks in Germany concluded that harmful impacts of global warming such as heat waves and sea level rise are mounting and show a need for a “radical transition” to a greener economy.