Clean Energy Standard: Environmentally Worthless, Economically Punitive

Published November 3, 2016

In August, the New York Public Services Commission approved its new Clean Energy Standard (CES). The goal of CES, which goes into effect in 2017, is to have 50% of New York State’s electricity provided by renewable-energy sources by 2030. Unfortunately for New Yorkers, renewable-energy mandates such as CES force expensive, heavily subsidized electricity on ratepayers and taxpayers while providing few, if any, net environmental benefits.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, doesn’t see it that way. He has called CES a “bold action to become a national leader in the clean energy economy,” and he says CES “shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combating climate change.”

This final point is debatable, but even assuming it were true, it doesn’t necessarily make CES a good idea. The Empire Center recently released a study of CES in which Empire Center researchers say the mandate will cost state ratepayers roughly $3.4 billion over the next five years and amounts to nothing more than a “massive unlegislated tax increase, imposed through utility charges.”

CES’ environmental impact will be minimal. New York expects a fully operational CES to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 23.6 million metric tons in 2030. This number is “seemingly impressive,” but it “equates to less than 0.3% of CO2 emissions in China alone as of 2014,” wrote the researchers.

Getting New York to the 50% renewables mark within the next 13 years will require a colossal investment in wind- and solar-energy sources. Wind-energy sources would need to triple, requiring roughly 2,090 additional turbines, according to the Empire Center’s estimate. The amount of land that would be required to accomplish this is estimated between 196 square miles and 922 square miles. To demonstrate how much land these turbines would cover, only 23 of New York’s 62 counties are larger than 922 square miles.

An additional 152 expensive turbines would also have to be built offshore — either in the Atlantic Ocean or Lake Ontario. The country’s first offshore wind farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island’s beautiful Block Island, is still being built, and before it construction could even start, it had to successfully parry Stakhanovite levels of NIMBYism, which is de rigueur for these types of projects. (“Why, yes, I love wind power! No more fossil fuels! Wind power for all! Huzzah! Wait … what? You want to put them where? Right over there? You’re joking, right? You’re not joking? But, but … my view! The greater good? To hell with you and your greater good, sir! Spark up my internal combustion engine!”)

Cost of construction for just five turbines will be $300 million, and that would only provide power for 17,000 homes, meaning the wind farm will cost roughly $17,600 per home powered.

Wind power alone, however, wouldn’t be enough. Solar capacity in New York State, a place so notoriously sunny it makes the French Riviera look like the South Pole, would also have to grow by 19,900% (not a typo) beyond existing capacity. This would require an additional 38 square miles of solar farms, which is twice the size of Manhattan Island.

The final part of the CES plan is to subsidize New York’s unprofitable nuclear power plants to keep them open and online. These plants are required under the CES plan to back up the large increase in renewable energy, because the land-based turbines and solar panels are only intermittently operational.

The New York Independent System Operator, a nonprofit agency that auctions New York State’s energy supply, estimates the turbines and solar panels will only be operational 14% and 45% of the time, respectively, during periods of peak demand.

The wind and solar power sources forced on consumers by renewable power mandates such as the CES are extremely expensive and are an especially bad deal for low-income families, who spend a larger percentage of their net income on energy costs.

A 2014 study by the Brookings Institution found wind power on average is twice as expensive as the conventional power it replaces, while solar power is three times as expensive as conventional power. These higher costs impose real burdens on electricity consumers: Retail electricity prices in states with renewable power mandates are rising twice as fast as the national average.

The repeal of renewable power mandates would lower electricity prices, thereby raising living standards, stimulating long-term economic growth and creating a substantial increase in net jobs.

Living standards increase because lower-cost electricity frees up money for consumers to purchase additional goods and services, which improve people’s lives. Economic growth and net job numbers would also increase, because the newly available money spent on goods and services would spur job growth throughout the economy.

While it has received the imprimatur of Cuomo and the regulatory mandarins in Albany, the CES remains no more of a feasible plan to power New York than having the legendary Gothamite Pizza Rat and millions of his kin turn wheels all day long. New York is already home to the fourth-highest electricity prices in the continental United States, sitting behind three other states with renewable mandates. All CES will do is drive these high prices even higher.

William F. Buckley Jr. was fond of saying, and I’m even fonder of repeating, that as ideology approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive. This is certainly true of the CES. Cuomo and friends may have gotten the old-time religion, but it is the everyday New Yorker who will do the repenting.

[Originally Published at Investor’s Business Daily]