Rural areas of upstate New York are expected to be on high alert. Albany government leaders have us in their sights.
It’s bad enough that former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest budget includes “Section 94-c.” As communities across the state are discovering, the Accelerated Settlement Act bypasses local home rule and emasculates careful environmental scrutiny under SEQRA, allowing corporations to replace our farms and forests with giant solar and wind projects. However, recently proposed legislation puts Albany’s “industrial energy sprawl” agenda on steroids.
Spurred on by lawmakers who mistakenly believe that plastering upstate New York with glass, copper and steel can meet the energy needs of the lower state, the Build Public Renewables Act would essentially divert the New York Power Authority. The law would force NYPA to compete against private developers in a race to build massive solar and wind farms as quickly as possible – the cost, rural communities and the environment be damned.
It is essential to examine the ramifications. NYPA production facilities are tax exempt. So, in addition to gutting vast tracts of fields and forests and devastating upstate townships, the bill would wipe out local tax revenue that upstate communities currently receive. Private sector energy producers currently pay more than $1.5 billion in property taxes annually. However, counties, cities and municipalities obligated to host solar and wind projects built by NYPA under the BPRA would not get a dime.
The law currently requires NYPA to engage in a competitive procurement process for new energy supplies. In fact, the legislative intent of the 2019 budget prevented NYPA from building or owning any new generation. Yet, in a crusade to socialize energy production, BPRA unravels NYPA’s currently sound operating principles.
If BPRA becomes law, the giant new industrial solar and wind facilities would be funded by government bonds, meaning NYPA customers and taxpayers — not renewable energy companies — would bear the risks and liabilities. increase in the cost of these projects. Who are NYPA customers? The New York City Housing Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, municipalities and school districts, as well as large and small businesses and nonprofits like universities and hospitals that rely on the currently favorable energy rates of the NYPA. Additionally, NYPA would not be able to benefit from federal financial incentives available to renewable energy companies, thereby increasing the tax burden on these institutions and all New York citizens.
The state should think twice before putting all – or almost all – of its eggs in a basket of panels and turbines. As thousands of union workers concerned about the state’s climate plan have expressed, installing Chinese-made products will not produce the skilled, well-paying jobs that New Yorkers need. A review of proposed projects shows that only one permanent full-time job could be generated for every thousand acres bulldozed for a wind or solar farm. But even if the installation of panels produced by Uyghur forced labor were desirable, the NYPA cannot move faster than the private sector. It must go through the same implantation and installation process. and having not built a power plant in 15 years, NYPA is pretty rusty.
But aside from the government’s overreach, widespread economic and environmental damage the bill would cause, BPRA is rooted in a mistaken belief that the world’s energy problems can be solved with massive renewable energy construction. As noted climate scientist James Hansen has pointed out, no matter how quickly the state approves solar and wind projects, it won’t solve our energy or climate problems. According to the New York Independent System Operator, nearly half of all electricity generated in our state in 2021 came from carbon-free sources. But only 6% came from solar and wind. The vast majority came from baseload hydro and carbon-free nuclear power.
Solar and wind can certainly contribute to decarbonization, but since they represent a larger percentage of the energy portfolio, the complexity and costs of integrating them into the grid – storage, transmission, backup generation and reduction – become formidable obstacles. We have already seen it in the failed efforts of California and Germany to decarbonize: they have only succeeded in increasing their dependence on fossil fuels. Whether it’s France with nuclear, Norway with hydro, or Ontario with both, places that have successfully decarbonized their grids haven’t relied on massive amounts of intermittent and underperforming resources that run on the whim of the weather. While very few places – like Iceland – have substantial volcanic geothermal power, larger economies have decarbonized with “firm” generators capable of producing reliable electricity when needed: the nuclear energy and hydroelectricity.
Frankly, the same is true when we read New York as a tale of two grids. Reflected in 2021 data from NYISO, the vast majority of electricity generation in the upstate was from hydro (41%) and nuclear (44%). This is in stark contrast to the downstate, where after Indian Point closed, fossil fuels now generate 90% of electricity.
Yet, based on reasoning based on slogans rather than science, the BPRA would require that every government building in New York, Binghamton, Syracuse, Buffalo or anywhere else in the state get all of its electricity at from “100% renewable” sources. Downstate municipalities would be required to buy power from renewables that don’t exist — and may never exist. and in the upstate, along Lake Ontario, offices in towns, cities and municipalities would be banned from using carbon-free electricity from nearby nuclear power plants.
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act itself recognizes the value of a diverse energy portfolio. Notably, the CLCPA calls for 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040, not 100% “renewable” electricity. Threatening reliability, the BPRA prevents NYPA from owning or operating non-renewable generators, or even planning transmission facilities that could transport electricity from non-renewable sources.
Contrary to what the authors of the BPRA might believe, regulations cannot circumvent the laws of physics. But misguided and ill-conceived legislation can certainly waste public money, trample communities, jeopardize our future with an unreliable network, and hinder effective action on climate change. The state assembly will accept comments on the public renewable energy law on July 28. The link for public comment information is here: https://tinyurl.com/u78srbtu
Every county, city, town, and New York City officer should line up to say “no” to this hardline bill.
Dennis Higgins lives in Otego.