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ENERGY

Think tank questions NY's green energy plan costs

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Renewable energy

ALBANY — A government watchdog group is urging New Yorkers to be skeptical of claims that the state's ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases will yield billions of dollars in economic benefits, with a new analysis finding it could lead to a net cost of up to $300 billion.

The assessment for the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, argues that the Climate Leadership and Protection Act, enacted in 2019, questions the assumptions in the legislation that target dates for slashing the emissions of greenhouse gases can be achieved without damaging the state's business climate.

"I would say at stake is the cost to New Yorkers and whether the benefits of it are really going to be worth the costs they are going to be paying," said James E. Hanley, the researcher who completed the study.

New York's energy plan calls for carbon-free power by 2040. The state, under the current schedule, is supposed to be getting 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

“The Climate Law, by design, will completely upend the state’s economy, and while the environmental goals laid out are no doubt noble, the economic ramifications could have devastating impacts for years to come,” Hanley said.

The study contends the law could end up costing the state's economy $510 billion, while yielding a net benefit of only $80 billion to $150 billion.

The Climate Action Council has issued a much more optimistic analysis, suggesting New York could see $260 billion in benefits through the avoidance of economic damage from climate change.

Environmental activists have been enthusiastic supporters of the state's efforts to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

"The world's experts say the planet is rapidly heating up and we might be passing the point of no return," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. " And so it's policies like this, which really focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that offer a blueprint on how to save the planet."

While costs will result from implementing the climate goals, Horner added, "It is far more costly to have runaway global warming."

The burning of fossil fuels has also been linked to premature deaths from asthma and fossil fuels, with one estimate suggesting pollution is responsible for 4,000 such fatalities annually.

State Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, told CNHI that while his conference has many concerns with the way the state is going about achieving the greenhouse gas reduction, the Republicans share the desire for a cleaner environment.

"They never addressed what the cost is going to be for consumers," Barclay said of the Democrats who framed the 2019 legislation. "Some of this is more political than it is good public policy. Let's tell people what this is going to cost so we can have an honest debate."

New York argues its clean energy agenda is the most ambitious one in the nation, with $21 billion invested in 91 large-scale renewable projects throughout the state.

John Williams, vice president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, told a legislative panel this week the state is aiming to train 40,000 New Yorkers for new jobs in the green energy sector. A total of 10,000 electric vehicle charging stations will have been installed by the end of this year, he added.

NYSERDA is also planning to award $85 million in clean transportation and mobility prizes, with some of that funding reserved for "disadvantaged" communities, Williams said.

Hanley, however, concluded it is "unlikely" the state can meet goals he called "overly ambitious." He also noted the state is responsible for emitting less than one half of one percent of the world's greenhouse gases, suggesting the impact from New York's plans will matter little in benefiting the environment.

"If New York is going to follow a legislatively-mandated timeline to transition to carbon-free electrical production and a carbon-neutral economy, the state’s citizens have a right to know the true costs and benefits of that transition and how they are expected to pay for it," the Empire Center report concluded.

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