Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 includes billions of dollars for climate-related funding but climate activists are not satisfied. This post highlights things they want to implement in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act). I also want to point out that these are only the acknowledged parts of the funding because there are major costs buried in the utility costs that won’t be counted by the Governor.
This is another article about the Climate Act implementation plan that I have written because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget Climate Act – Funding
The impetus for this post was an article in the Gothamist titled Gov. Hochul’s state budget prioritizes climate fixes — but will it be enough? The introduction states:
Even with its billions of dollars in climate-related funding, policy experts said Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 needs more vigor to meet the urgency of the climate emergency.
The article mentioned that the budget package includes specific items that will add costs. There is a proposal for a cap and invest program. To my knowledge the Hochul Administration has not admitted how much this is expected to cost. The Executive Budget would also add 231 new staff positions at the DEC to enact and enforce regulations for climate laws. The article notes that “The budget is sprinkled with incentives such as $200 million to start EmPower Plus, a program from the state’s energy research and development authority that will provide 200,000 low-income residents with free energy-efficiency solutions for their homes, such as insulation, electrification and energy-saving appliances.” I was not surprised by the statement in the introductory paragraph because I think costs will be enormous.
What did catch my attention were the comments by Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We know ultimately it’s going to take a lot more money to do that,” Tighe said. “It’s a good down payment to make sure that we’re starting to take action and helping people who are least able to afford it.” I want readers to know her vision:
The governor’s budget also includes big-ticket items like more than $9 billion for mass transit improvements, a historic amount that’s 10% more than last year. But the state continues to invest record amounts on infrastructure for modes of transportation that are responsible for 28% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, such as roads and bridges. Tighe contends that massive counterinvestments are needed to get New Yorkers to stop driving and use cleaner forms of transportation that are also affordable and viable alternatives.
“We can’t drive our way out of the climate crisis,” Tighe said. “We need people to take mass transit. We need people to be taking e-bikes and walking more and using regular bikes.”
An organization that is located at 30 Broad Street in New York City has mass transit options. For those of us that live in upstate New York public transit options are limited and e-bikes, walking and regular bikes are not a credible option in the winter even if there are no distance limitations.
It has been educational to watch the gas ban messaging unfold. The Gothamist explains:
The executive budget, for example, features a controversial gas ban for new buildings, except it doesn’t go as far as some state legislators and environmental experts think it could. The All-Electric Building Act — a state bill currently stalled in the Senate’s finance committee — would prohibit the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings and require those structures to rely completely on the electrical grid on a faster timeline than the governor is recommending.
Hochul’s version also comes with many exemptions and later deadlines for switching from gas to electric in homes and buildings. Buildings are the state’s largest climate polluters, responsible for 32% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Experts have called the electrification of buildings “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to making an impact in mitigating global warming.
That sums up the climate activist position. But the reality is that they are a small, albeit loud, constituency. I suspect that the majority of those currently using gas want to continue using it. In response to concerns raised by those folks, there also has been a flurry of news articles worried that “misinformation is spreading about Governor Kathy Hochul’s plans with a phase-out of fossil fuel systems.” James Hanley eviscerates the Administration response to the gas stove ban:
As the old Marx Brothers joke goes, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, told lawmakers that she was setting the record straight, and that “We are not taking away gas stoves, as one example of perhaps misinformation we need to correct.”
But the Climate Action Council that she Co-Chaired produced a Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) Scoping Plan – which she voted to approve – that says the state will in fact be taking away gas stoves.
It’s right there on page 190, in the chapter on buildings, for all the world to read.
So where’s the misinformation?
Indeed, where is the misinformation? My position is that much of the misinformation is coming from the Hochul Administration. Most of this is political gamesmanship where the exact wording of the legislative or regulatory proposal allows some wiggle room when confronted with an inconvenient question. In the instance of the gas stove ban she falls back on claiming that she only wants to ban gas in new homes and moves on before the Scoping Plan reference can be brought up. The biggest item of the Administration’s overt misinformation is the ultimate cost to get to the Climate Act target of net-zero by 2050. The Administration claim in the Scoping Plan is that the “costs of inaction are more than the costs of action”. Aside from the biases and exaggerations of the alleged benefits, the official line consistently ignores the caveat that the Scoping Plan costs only include the costs of the Climate Act itself and not the costs of “already implemented” programs that are necessary to get to net-zero by 2050. The already implemented programs include the following:
- Growth in housing units, population, commercial square footage, and GDP
- Federal appliance standards
- Economic fuel switching
- New York State bioheat mandate
- Estimate of New Efficiency, New York Energy Efficiency achieved by funded programs: HCR+NYPA, DPS (IOUs), LIPA, NYSERDA CEF (assumes market transformation maintains level of efficiency and electrification post-2025)
- Funded building electrification (4% HP stock share by 2030)
- Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards
- Zero-emission vehicle mandate (8% LDV ZEV stock share by 2030)
- Clean Energy Standard (70×30), including technology carveouts: (6 GW of behind-the-meter solar by 2025, 3 GW of battery storage by 2030, 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035, 1.25 GW of Tier 4 renewables by 2030)
Needless to say when the costs of these programs are added to the Climate Act program costs, the costs of the actions necessary to get to the Climate Act net-zero by 2050 target far exceed the costs of inaction. Nonetheless, the climate activists want more funding:
“The governor’s budget proposal is lacking when it comes to ambitious climate funding,” said Elizabeth Moran, a New York policy advocate with EarthJustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. “There’s some funding there, but it’s far from what we know is needed.”
Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget – Buildings
The Gothamist article describes proposed policies for buildings:
When it comes to carbon emissions from buildings, Hochul has planted some long-awaited policies in her budget, including a mandate for all-electric new construction that includes a few exemptions, such as commercial kitchens.
But the timeline is delayed relative to other state proposals and some local laws. For smaller buildings, Hochul’s plan would take effect in 2026. That differs from the All-Electric Building Act, which calls for the electrification of new smaller buildings by 2024. Likewise, New York City’s Local Law 97 wants to electrify any new building larger than 25,000 square feet by next year.
Hochul’s plan would delay this regulation for new commercial buildings until 2029. The All-Electric Building Act calls for implementation by July 2027. Facilities such as laundromats and hospitals would not be required to comply. Fossil fuels will continue to be used in backup generators.
I am opposed to any “all-electric” legislation or regulation because of safety: what happens when there is an extended electric outage? The article notes that the Adminstration tries to get around this by saying “fossil fuels will contine to be used in backup generators”. What is the percentage of fossil fuel sales for backup gnerators sold by suppliers? My guess is that it is a small fraction, at most 10%, of their sales. Is there any scenario where those suppliers will be able to remain viable when they lose 90% of their business?
Another example of the desires of climate activists is an accelerated schedule. It can be argued that the state’s leading climate activist is Robert W. Howarth, Ph.D., the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University. In his statement supporting his vote to approve the Scoping Plan, he reiterated his claim that he played a key role in the drafting of the Climate Act, developed the irrational methane requirements, and credited one politician for getting the Act passed. The article noted his desire and others that the phase-in should speed up:
Dr. Robert Howarth, a member of the Climate Action Council, said there is no reason to wait to require electric appliances in new construction, especially when they will have to be replaced in the case of heating and hot water, when laws take effect. Howarth said following the new regulations could save homeowners money in the long run while also cutting emissions faster. More than a third of building emissions come directly from natural gas use in cooking, heating and hot water. And a year does make a difference when the total leaks nationwide from turned-off gas stoves add up to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from half a million cars.
To speed up the transition, more incentives and assistance for homeowners in the budget could go a long way, said Dr. Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School. Even homeowners who don’t qualify may also switch to electric as a result of wider adoption. The proposed $200 million for the EmPower program is a drop in the bucket when there are more than 7.5 million households in the state, and Tighe said assistance is needed for other homeowners, even large building owners, especially since New York is the country’s No. 1 user of heating oil.
Under Hochul’s proposal, new buildings can’t have cooking appliances that use fossil fuels such as natural gas. Existing buildings won’t be required to swap their gas stoves for electric models, even when purchasing replacements. By 2030, the governor would ban fossil fuel-powered heating or hot water equipment in homes.
The author of this article did not pick up on the fact that the Scoping Plan recommends that existing buildings will have to replace any fossil-fired appliance with an electric appliance starting in 2035. By then it will be somebody else’s problem and Hochul will be long gone.
Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget – Energy
The Gothamist article discussed two aspects of the electric energy system. Apparently because there isn’t enough interest by the private sector to build the infrastructure necessary for the net-zero transition, the Executive Budget proposed letting the public power operator get involved:
The Hochul is empowering the New York Power Authority to develop, finance, construct, own, operate and maintain renewable energy projects. This move will ensure that enough zero-emissions power sources are built. The governor is calling for the phaseout of electricity production from gas-fired peaker plants by 2035, and wants to support the training of a green power workforce.
The private sector and customers have traditionally shouldered the cost of renewable energy projects. They’re handled outside of the budget, mostly through renewable energy credits.
I have no opinion on the value of this approach but picking and choosing when the State depends on the market for electricity supply seems to be a slippery slope. The other aspect concerns transmission projects:
“The state budget does not include funding for transmission infrastructure,” said Jason Gough, deputy communications director for the governor’s office. “Utilities typically pay for the cost of power infrastructure, including transmission lines. These costs are passed to utility ratepayers through the delivery charge for electric service.”
Let me translate Gough’s comments. “These costs are passed to utility ratepayers through the delivery charge for electric service” means “The costs of the Administration’s policies that we won’t let the utility companies itemize for their ratepayers, are passed on so that the ratepayers will vent their anger at the utility companies rather than the Administration”. The next press release will say “The utility bill increase is not our fault, it is greedy industry’s fault.”
The article goes on:
But transmission lines and other infrastructure are needed to bring clean power to the downstate grid, which is mostly dependent on fossil fuels. New York City doesn’t have the space, Tighe said, to build enough solar and wind power. The absence of direct funding for this key infrastructure could hinder the city in reaching its goal of a zero-emission grid.
“New York City needs a lot more power lines going toward the city in order to enable the sort of clean energy transition, the rapid transition that is necessary now,” Wagner said. “Transmission is the biggest bottleneck to decarbonize New York state.”
Several days ago, I wrote about the hidden costs for this infrastructure. The New York Public Services Commission recently approved rate increases for this purpose in case 20-E-0197. The transmission upgrade projects will cost $4.4 billion to support 3.5 GW of renewable energy or $1.26 billion per GW. An additional 2.8 GW is expected by 2025 and another 4.1 GW by 2030 according to Scenario 2 of the Scoping Plan. At that rate, ratepayers will be on the hook for a total of $13.05 billion through 2030. It is disappointing to me that Upstate ratepayers are on the hook for bill impacts up to and exceeding twice the bill impacts of Con Ed ratepayers who need Upstate power to reach the goal of a zero-emission grid. If the Hochul Administration would stop pandering to her political base and have the courage to be responsible for these costs then they should be spread equitably over all the state.
Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget – Transportation
The Gothamist article describes proposed policies for transportation:
Public transportation will receive a big boost in the proposed budget. The MTA could get around $8 billion, a 10% increase. The funds will address the revenue deficit incurred as a result of a drop in ridership during the pandemic. But Moran said additional financial support is needed for faster fleet electrification, and more of it.
For individual vehicle electrification, the DOT expects to receive $175 million from the federal government as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over the next five years to build fast charging stations along New York’s interstate highways.
Hochul has also included congestion pricing as a revenue stream to help fund the ailing transportation authority. Tighe applauded the measure as a “good incentive for people to stop driving in Manhattan.”
The governor’s proposal also wants to fund mass transit outside of New York City. It includes nearly $1 billion for non-MTA public transportation, including some bus electrification and rehabilitation of upstate light rail.
Affordability is important in making public transportation a viable alternative to driving, Tighe said.
As noted previously, climate activists are big proponents of public transit. Unfortunately, that is only a solution in urban areas. None of these proposals benefit rural Upstate New York.
Cleaner modes of transportation require more funding to substantially reduce emissions, Wagner said. New bike lanes and the expansion of car-free pedestrian areas would make an impact on reaching goals and encourage these commuting modes, he added. The budget proposal doesn’t specify how much money will go to these environmentally friendly travel alternatives, and there are no direct amounts either. But these projects can be funded through the state DOT’s small umbrella programs such as the Transportation Alternatives Program and clean air funding initiatives.
Other climate activist strategy favorites are bike lanes and pedestrian areas. One of the issues with these green solutions is that they don’t work all the time but the activists demand complete compliance. In the winter bike lanes in many parts of the state are dangerous and pedestrian areas challenging. Winter is also a reason that many Upstaters are reluctant to depend completely on battery electric vehicles.
“Is this [budget] going to set us on a completely different path commensurate with the challenge? No,” said Wagner. “It is doing a lot of good things. Not to be ungrateful, but I thought we all recognized that we are in a climate crisis here.”
New York’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are less than one half one percent of global emissions and since 1990 global GHG emissions have increased by more than one half a percent per year. That does not mean that we should not do something but it does mean that even if there is a climate crisis New York cannot do anything about it alone. We must make sure that we are not doing more harm than good with the net-zero implementation.
This is just a part of the legislative initiatives to meet the Climate Act targets. There are many member items also up for consideration. In addition, there are also regulatory initiatives. For example, the Department of Environmental Conservation is promulgating Part 218: Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II) as part of the reckless push for all electric transportation. The emergency/proposed rulemaking will incorporate the State of California’s Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II) regulation into New York’s existing rules.
My overarching problem with all these initiatives to meet the recommendations of the Scoping Plan is that the Integration Analysis that provided the background for the Plan did not include a feasibility analysis. The Integration Analysis is simply a list of potential control strategies with estimated emission reductions that when combined together provide the controlled emissions appropriate for the emission targets. There was no consideration of “what if and how about” questions like how are all the people who live in homes that have to park on the street going to be able to charge their cars? What if the magical solution necessary to keep the lights on called dispatchable emissions-free resources is not available on the schedule of the Climate Act. The Hochul Administration has not given consumers the expected costs or addressed the question what happens after everything is electrified and there is an ice storm.
Consider the feasibility of just one control strategy component. The article notes that NYSDOT expects funding of $175 million from the federal government as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over the next five years to build fast charging stations along New York’s interstate highways.. A gas station fuel pump costs about $20,000 and can serve a customer in less than six minutes. A 50-kilowatt fast DC charger costs about $100,000 and can serve an EV customer in about 30 minutes. The gas pump can serve five times as many customers for one-fifth of the capital cost of a high-speed charger. Think about the feasibility issues. The $175 million can only fund 1,750 fast chargers. The closest NYS Thruway service center to my home has ten automotive fuel pumps but is a small service center. Consider what would be needed to maintain the same level of refueling capacity. The service center would need 50 charging stations to provide the same amount of refueling capacity and I suspect that would blow through the $175 million for the 27 service centers on the NYS Thruway. The space available and energy needed for those chargers means physical upgrades are needed at the service centers. Throw in the fact that for a long time it will be necessary to provide gasoline too. Finally, the NYS Thruway is just under 500 miles and the total NYS interstate mileage is 1730 miles so the $175 million would provide recharging support for less than half the interstate mileage. The implementation logistics for this component of the electric vehicle requirement appear unrealistics so the onus should be on the State to prove that this can work. They have not done this for any of the control strategies included in the Scoping Plan.
If any reader has concerns similar to mine, I encourage you to contact your elected officials and demand answers to these “what if” and “how about” questions before they vote on or support any legislation related to the Climate Act. There are opportunities to comment on regulations. A virtual hearing is scheduled for March 1, 2023 at 1 pm for Part 218: Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II). The comment deadline is 5 pm, Monday, March 6, 2023. Written comments may be submitted to NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-3254, ATTN: James Clyne, P.E., or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Climate activists like Robert Howarth and Julie Tighe are pushing the state down a road towards a canyon without a bridge. Howarth’s arguments that Mark Jacobson’s academic analysis of wind, water, and solar energy is proof that a net-zero transition is cost-effective and possible is misplaced. The reality is that the Climate Act is promoting a system with less stability, robustness, and reliability that will undoubtedly raise costs a lot.
It is not only the disconnect relative to technical limitations but the attitude of the activists that disappoints. Tighe said: “We can’t drive our way out of the climate crisis” relegating everyone in the State who must rely on driving because they have no viable alternative to second class citizenship. This is no less demeaning than Marie Antoinette’s infamous “Let them eat cake”. Unfortunately, it can only get worse. Now there are climate scientists who are arguing for rationing to fight climate change.
If the Hochual Administration wants to solve their alleged climate crisis then they have to come up with a solution that provides the developing world with the prosperity and quality of life that comes with abundant and cheap energy. It is immoral to deny them that right because the best adaptation strategies for extereme weather require prosperous societies. The onus is on New York to provide them with affordable emissions-free energy technology or get out of the way. At home, the only means left to avoid the Climate Act stampede that will destroy our existing reliable and affordable energy system is to speak up now and vote anyone who supports this out of office before the we go over the cliff.