Blair Horner: New York’s Next Step In Combating Global Warming

Jan 12, 2015

An important reason for New York State to ban hydraulic fracturing was the need to move from a fossil fuel-based economy to one based on non-greenhouse gas-emitting alternative fuels.

There can be no doubt that the world must move away from reliance on fossil fuels.  The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently stated that given the threats posed by greenhouse gases, the best strategy is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Thus, the best strategy for New York is to develop state policies that encourage reducing energy use, efficiency measures and the move to reliance on alternative energy sources, such as solar power.

Last Spring, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) decided to move forward with the Reforming Energy Vision” initiative (REV), aimed at overhauling the way energy is generated, transmitted, monitored and used.  The plan could have a profound impact on the state’s electric utilities, power producers, consumers, clean energy initiatives and climate for decades to come.  Moreover, REV is being closely watched—not only by other states, but across the globe.

Under the current utility structure, the power sector in New York is on track to spend an estimated $30 billion to replace and modernize the state’s aging energy infrastructure over the next decade.  Unless the state makes changes, the $30 billion of investments will increase costs to ratepayers and perpetuate the use of an outdated, inefficient, polluting system.

The REV initiative recognizes that the existing energy model is unsustainable and that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the long term environmental and public health degradation caused by continued reliance on antiquated technology requires a wholesale transformation of the state’s energy systems.  Moreover, REV presents a unique opportunity for New York State to offer a new, national model for generating energy while reducing the emissions that fuel global climate change.

The future of the state’s renewable power and energy efficiency programs now are tightly linked to the REV initiative.  Many of the state’s energy conservation and environmental programs are expected to be absorbed by the new REV system.

According to the plan, these programs will serve as a bridge to smooth transition to the new energy efficiency and renewable products expected to materialize when REV is fully implemented— a process that is expected to span many years.  The plan anticipates that the Clean Energy Fund will complement that transition by filling market gaps and keeping the state on track to eventually meet its efficiency and renewable goals.

But in order to further strengthen the state’s REV plan, New York must establish aggressive but achievable long-term goals for efficiency and renewables, with interim targets and other related goals.

Environmentalists are pushing to ensure that the REV plan adopts verifiable environmental targets.  They want New York, through REV, to achieve the following goals:

·         The state get at least 50% of its power from renewable energy sources by 2025;

·         The state meet 20% of its projected energy demand through conservation and efficiency programs by 2025; and

·         The state reduces by 80% its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  That goal has been set by the experts as the minimum reduction necessary to avoid the worst of the environmental problems resulting from climate change.

And of course, these goals must be met while keeping the cost of energy affordable in New York.

New York’s bold move to ban fracking has positioned it to be a national leader in tackling the dangers posed by global climate change.  If it develops a new energy plan that shows the nation how to meet the state’s energy needs while relying on clean, renewable power, it could serve as a global leader as well.

As the Reforming Energy Vision—or REV—process unfolds over the coming months, it’s critically important that New Yorkers pay close attention and make their voices heard.  We have to act like the fate of the planet depends on our attention—and indeed, it does.

Blair Horner is the Legislative 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.