Finalization of a “Climate Action Plan” for New York State, which is mandated by a state Executive Order, is not a priority for the Cuomo administration. So says Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Martens, who spoke on Central New York WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom friday.
Rather than an overarching plan, Martens said, the focus is “action.”
New York City, by contrast, continues to release plans detailing its approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This Earth Day, the de Blasio administration rolled out its “OneNYC” plan, which links climate resiliency and environmental sustainability with social equity.
Commissioner Martens was asked by radio journalist Susan Arbetter about the state climate plan mandated by Executive Order No. 24, which set a goal to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.
Executive Order No. 24 also created the New York State Climate Action Council, which is supposed to prepare an action plan that would assess how all economic sectors can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The Plan would also identify the extent to which these actions support New York’s goals for a clean-energy economy.
The Climate Action Council never finalized a plan, but it did release a detailed interim report in 2010, which includes an examination of what is needed to achieve a low-carbon, clean energy economy in New York.
Concrete actions on climate change are more meaningful than “a plan on a shelf,” Commissioner Martens argued. He noted that the state’s mitigation and adaptation objectives are built into current initiatives, such as requiring state agencies to take future climate risks like storm surges, sea level rise and flooding into account when planning, and overhauling how energy is produced and consumed in New York.
Five billion for clean energy- but the devil is in the details
Martens pointed to a $5 billion “clean energy fund” proposed by Governor Cuomo, along with the state’s 10-year, $1 billion commitment to developing a self-sustaining solar market in New York.
The $5 billion fund Martens spoke of friday represents a seismic shift in how the state plans to expand the development of renewable sources of energy.
As discussed in an article by GreenTechMedia, the state plans to raise $5 billion from electric bill surcharges over the next ten years to create a Clean Energy Fund, which would “essentially take over responsibility to ‘ensure the delivery and continuity of clean energy programs’ statewide.”
The state plans to transition from renewable-energy and efficiency mandates, which are expiring this year, to a “new regulatory and economic model that brings distributed, customer-owned [not utility owned] energy assets into account.”
Examples of customer-owned energy assets include rooftop solar, on-site generation, energy storage systems, and smart home or building energy controls.
New Yorkers pay a variety of surcharges on their utility bills which are set to expire, creating an opportunity for the state to adjust its approach to energy planning. One example is the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. The EEPS has helped to fund state energy efficiency programs with the goal of reducing New York’s electricity usage by 15 percent, relative to forecast levels for 2015.
Some of the existing surcharges support programs that assist low-income New Yorkers with their energy costs. Consumers could also see lower costs in a restructured energy market, say proponents.
Instead of the EEPS and other state-led initiatives, New York’s ratepayers will eventually support a Fund designed to encourage private investment, through market development and “technology and business innovation”, to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“Rather than mandating a certain share of renewable energy or better efficiency,” GreenTechMedia explains, “the Clean Energy Fund will create a market for making this investment worthwhile.”
Advocates push for a climate framework
Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York, an Albany-based watchdog group, said that decisions in the absence of a comprehensive climate plan lead to bad public policy. “In the end, whatever progress made is undermined by poorly-vetted decisions that exacerbate our climate challenges,” he said in a statement.
Finalization of the State’s Energy Plan, a planning process separate from the market restructuring described above, is now more than two years late, Iwanowicz pointed out.
Iwanowicz referred to inconsistencies in clean energy policy, such as the state’s “bailout” of a coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk, located in central New York.
Under Governor Cuomo’s plan, according to Capital New York, “the 435-megawatt plant is to be converted from burning coal to natural gas, which requires a new pipeline to bring in gas fracked in Pennsylvania. Taxpayers will contribute $15 million to the project, which despite the administration’s promises that it would be cleaner will still be able to burn coal on some days.”
Environmental groups have also criticized a recent “$41 million budget raid of the state’s premier carbon abatement program.”
“Governor Cuomo has embraced an Executive Order that says New York has a goal to reduce climate pollution 80-percent by 2050 and that all New Yorkers will know the plan to achieve that goal…Whether the Governor reconsiders that order or develops another, New Yorkers deserve a climate action plan,” Iwanowicz said.
Photo credit: Heather Phelps-Lipton