Albany’s push to decarbonize New York State’s energy grid is growing ever more expensive. Companies tasked with building the renewable-energy projects to replace the state’s fossil fuels and nuclear-energy sources say that the costs involved are far greater than they anticipated, necessitating either larger state subsidies or permission to charge higher prices, to the tune of up to $12 billion. Without these assurances, some firms say they can’t complete planned projects—a troubling development, since the state has closed nuclear and fossil-fuel plants and denied permits for new ones in anticipation of renewable projects coming online.
But have no fear, because earlier this year, state lawmakers came up with a solution: a state authority will build and manage a new generation of renewable plants to produce much of the state’s energy by decade’s end. The Build Public Renewables Act, passed with strong backing from progressives and democratic socialists in Albany after years of wrangling, will allegedly transform the New York Power Authority into a wind- and solar-constructing juggernaut to meet the state’s aggressive renewables goals at lower costs and a faster pace than could investor-owned private firms. The act allegedly will give New York State “energy democracy,” a term cooked up by left-leaning climatistas to capture control of the energy grid and make it a vehicle of social justice.
Beyond providing for construction of renewable-energy sources, the bill rewards unions by forcing contractors to enter project labor agreements to “protect” pay rates, locating projects so that they benefit “disadvantaged” communities, and ensuring that workers who lose their jobs in shuttered plants get new ones at renewables sites. (That plan didn’t work out for the workers at the Indian Point nuclear facility, who were promised jobs that didn’t materialize.) The law also says that NYPA cannot “violate indigenous rights and sovereignty,” whatever that means.
If this legislation—which can be summed up as, “we’re from the government and we’re here to build twenty-first century infrastructure faster and cheaper than the private sector”—worries you, you’re not alone. In hearings more than a year ago, the power authority’s own president suggested that it’s unlikely that the agency, which didn’t even have a staff to design projects, could construct and produce renewable-energy facilities quicker and cheaper than could the private sector. “NYPA does not believe that we have a cost advantage in developing renewable generation,” the authority’s president conceded. He noted that the NYPA’s public status renders it ineligible for crucial tax credits available to many private renewables companies and must abide by the same approval processes and meet the same construction standards as do private firms.
Undeterred, New York legislators passed the Build Renewables Act just ten months later. The act is part of a broader push by New York to decarbonize by shutting down reliable energy sources and expecting that new projects “in the pipeline” will be built on time. Elsewhere, that expectation has proved faulty, with initiatives across the country falling behind schedule because of rising costs, materials shortages, and community opposition. New York has faced deep problems with the projects it has greenlighted, including “inconsistent funding, canceled projects and delays that led to lengthy project timelines and failure to achieve targets,” according to a worrying report from the state comptroller’s office. The comptroller also noted that beyond building the generating plants, the state must construct a massive new transmission system to serve them. That’s such a daunting task that just last week, the International Energy Agency said doing so globally would be impossible within the climate lobby’s timeframe. Here in New York, some up-and-running generating plants can’t operate at peak performance because the state’s transmission lines can’t yet carry their energy.
Advocates point out that New York already ranks sixth in the nation in renewable energy—but that’s because of hydroelectric power, which accounts for 75 percent of all renewables in the state (you can thank Niagara Falls for that). While the state currently has 6.5 gigawatts of renewable-energy capacity, it needs to add a whopping 20 gigawatts to meet its goal of generating 70 percent of its power from renewables by 2030. For context, in the past 20 years, the state has added 12.9 gigawatts of new power capacity—and much of that was reliable and technologically feasible fossil-fuel energy.
Governments fall behind on projects all the time. Residents grumble, and sometimes they just yawn. But there’s no yawning about the potential mess New York is making with its power grid. The New York Independent System Operator has cautioned that the state is nearing a “tipping point” where demand for energy outstrips reliable supply. The state grid’s overseer also warned of potential rolling blackouts in New York City unless the state allows so-called “peaker” plants, which run during peak-energy-usage hours; under new emissions rules, those plants must close by 2025. Residents of the greater New York area got a taste of what awaits them last winter when Con Edison warned customers that they needed to reduce their energy usage during cold spells or risk blackouts—an unprecedented notice that experts attributed to the 2021 shuttering of the Indian Point nuclear facility, which once provided about a quarter of the greater New York region’s power.
Even when the lights stay on, costs skyrocket. New York already has among the highest electricity costs in the country—a combination of cold winters and bad policy. The state has banned fracking, leaving tens of billions of dollars of valuable energy in the ground, and denied permits to a pipeline that would bring lower-cost natural gas into parts of the state. New York’s current rush to decarbonize will cost residents more than $15 billion a year, according to the comptroller’s already-outdated estimates. The money subsidizing the building of renewable infrastructure has driven rates up at least 10 percent so far, and that price is likely to soar with the newest revelations of these plants’ full costs. No worries, at least for lower-income New Yorkers: legislators are busy seeking ways to subsidize their spiraling bills, meaning the full cost of the state’s headlong rush into renewables will be borne by middle- and upper-income residents and, especially, by businesses, making industries like manufacturing even less competitive.
The power grid is the contemporary machine most responsible for our modern way of life. Among this magnificent invention’s gifts is softening the harshness of weather. That blessing has reduced annual climate-related deaths by 96 percent over the past century, from nearly half a million deaths in the 1920s to fewer than 20,000 today. The pain associated with any climate-change-related disasters over the next 20 years would pale in comparison to that of a failing state power grid.
But Albany legislators, sounding more like cultish adherents to an unrealistic cause than reasoned policymakers, keep the state barreling dangerously ahead. Pushed by socialists in their ranks, their latest solution, to socialize the state’s task of building and managing a new grid, ignores the catastrophes in actual socialist countries such as Cuba, where long blackout periods are common, or Venezuela, once one of the world’s top energy suppliers but now energy poor. New York State, with some of the worst-rated roads, bridges, and airports in the country, can barely build and manage twentieth-century infrastructure. Yet this same government proposes to engineer and administer a transition to a twenty-first century power grid in just a few years.
If you believe that, I have a wind farm in upstate New York I’d like to sell you.
Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images