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Blair Horner: Will NY Become More Energy Efficient?

Energy efficiency means using less energy to provide the same level of energy.  If a house is properly insulated, less energy is used in heating and cooling to achieve a satisfactory temperature.  Houses can be built facing the sun to take advantage of solar energy. 

Another example is installing fluorescent lights or skylights, instead of incandescent lights, to attain the same level of illumination while using less energy.  Appliances can be designed to reduce the amount of electricity they use.  Power management systems also reduce energy usage by turning off idle appliances. Smart meters allow a building's energy use to be monitored to assess and regulate usage.

Energy efficiency reduces the amount of energy used, which helps lower energy costs for consumers, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change.  Energy efficiency also helps reduce the cost of producing energy and building power plants. Utilities are also able to save money by not building new power lines, substations, and transformers.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) energy efficiency programs return three dollars for every one dollar invested.  And that doesn’t include health benefits or reductions in climate change. 

So, emphasizing programs to make New York more energy efficient would be a “win-win”; it would help reduce global warming emissions and help consumers to save money.

But New York has been going in the wrong direction.  New York’s ranking on energy efficiency has slipped under Governor Cuomo, falling from 3rd to 7th nationally in the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.  Massachusetts is the national leader.

New York’s current 2016-2018 utility energy efficiency targets are far below what the Cuomo Administration assumed in its Clean Energy Standard (CES), and significantly lower than those of other nearby states—Massachusetts and Rhode Island—that lead in energy efficiency. And to make things worse, New York missed a prior target of 15% energy savings from energy efficiency promised by former Governor Paterson expired in 2015.

Rhode Island and Massachusetts see annual incremental savings from energy efficiency programs of nearly 3%, Vermont saves more than 2% and California saves nearly 2% (California recently set a goal of 4% annual incremental savings).  Currently, New York is estimated to be saving about 1%.

In his 2018 State of the State, Governor Cuomo announced a plan to create new energy efficiency targets and appliance standards, acknowledging that “much work remains to realize the full potential of energy efficiency for New Yorkers.”  He directed state agencies to propose new 2025 energy efficiency targets by Earth Day, April 22, 2018.

Earlier this month, and in advance of Earth Day, the governor issued his plan.  The goal is to save energy equivalent to the amount used by 1.8 million homes by 2025.  All combined the new efforts would increase annual electricity savings to more than 3 percent by 2025, which if achieved, would make New York among the top tier of states in terms of savings from energy efficiency.

Promises are important and goals help focus government agencies.  There can be no doubt that if the state is to achieve its environmental goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it can only do so by making New York’s energy grid more efficient and shifting from a system powered by fossil fuels to one powered by renewables like solar, wind, geothermal power.

But saying so does not mean it will happen.  As mentioned earlier, a previous goal was not achieved.  And despite the state’s promises of investments in renewables and efficiency, the governor’s decision to spend billions to prop up out-of-date nuclear power plants has drastically reduced available resources.

When it comes to the looming catastrophe the world is facing from global warming, talk is insufficient.  Actions matter most.

Given the shockingly dangerous policies of the Trump Administration and the Congressional majorities that ignore science and instead push for more use of fossil fuels, states like New York must lead – by actions, not just goals.

Let’s hope that the Cuomo Administration not only advances laudable goals, but also offers regular metrics on how well they are moving in the right direction.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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