Guest Post: Energy and Climate Content in the Budget Bill

I have been meaning to write a post about the energy climate content in the recently enacted state budget bill.  Keith Schue prepared summary and graciously consented to let me post his work. 

Keith has a master’s degree in engineering and worked in the private sector for fourteen years in hardware design. Before moving to New York, he was employed with the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy on issues relating to the impacts of human development and infrastructure on ecosystems. He has been engaged in New York energy policy since 2010, and currently volunteers as a technical advisor for New York Energy & Climate Advocates. He has provided technical input on the federal Clean Power Plan, NYS Energy Plan, NYS Clean Energy Standard, NYS Scoping Plan for climate action, industry regulations, legislation, and various projects.

Unjust State-Mandated Appraising of Solar/Wind Projects

Part N within the Revenue budget bill mandates the use of an appraisal model that shortchanges communities by preventing local governments from receiving adequate tax revenue for the solar/wind projects forced upon them. It also explicitly interferes with active litigation filed by several towns which had argued that the model was developed in violation of the State Administrative Procedures Act (SAPA). Part N exempts the state model from SAPA with a back-dated effectivity, thereby rendering the litigation mute. This blatant disregard of home rule and due process was strongly opposed by numerous communities, contributing to growing unrest among upstate residents in both parties. 

NYPA Authorization to Build Renewable Projects

Over the past few years, an ecosocialist far-left subset of climate activists have pushed for legislation requiring the government, through the New York Power Authority (NYPA), to build renewable energy projects. This has been based on a mistaken belief that the biggest problem facing the state is that solar/wind projects are simply not being built fast enough. However, those who understand energy realize that the biggest obstacles to solar/wind are system-related (transmission, storage, & reliable firm generation). Although there are ways that NYPA could help address these system-level issues, advocates of the Build Public Renewable Act (BPRA) have been myopically focused on the CLPA’s “renewable” quota. Various unintelligible versions of the BRPA were proposed. So eventually, succumbing to pressure, the Governor proposed her own version in this year’s budget. While still focused on the buildout of solar/wind, her bill was more sensibly written, granting NYPA authority without allowing it to be hijacked by ideological interests. Her proposal also established a Renewable Energy Access and Community Help (REACH) program to assist people within disadvantaged communities by providing bill credits tied to renewable energy generation. 

The governor’s bill became the template for legislation adopted, but several changes were made to accommodate advocates of the BPRA. A requirement was added to prepare a biannual strategic plan tied to the state’s renewable energy targets, developed with input from various groups and subject to public comment. The benefits of REACH were targeted to low and middle-income people. Labor benefits were added, as well as a requirement to use mostly domestically made components–although this can be waived if doing so would cost more (which is likely). The legislation also requires that NYPA shut down the “small natural gas plants” (peakers) that it owns by 2030 (actually sooner than Hochul had proposed). But as pointed out in analysis by Fred Stafford, NYPA’s peakers are actually less polluting than many of those downstate which are privately owned. So, this could ironically benefit private power producers while increasing pollution. The legislation partially addresses this by allowing NYPA peakers to continue operating if more than “de minimis” emissions would otherwise occur in disadvantaged communities. But emission rates could still increase generally. New York will likely learn the hard way that a plan focused on intermittent solar/wind results in more use of peaker plants, not less. (Note: Stafford identifies himself as a socialist–which I am not–but I respect his technical prowess and understanding of energy.) The legislation also provides $25 Million in funding to the Dept of Labor for programs to help workers transition into renewable energy jobs. 

Importantly, since NYPA is a state authority, it does not pay taxes. Therefore, any solar/wind projects that it builds will generate zero property tax revenue for local governments. The legislation vaguely says that NYPA’s strategic plan should consider ways of minimizing negative tax revenue impacts on municipalities and PILOT agreements, but nothing specific is actually required. Based on “willing seller” language, it appears that NYPA cannot use eminent domain to acquire property for renewable projects. But this is not so for transmission and a lot more will be needed to support a renewable buildout.  

Electrification of Buildings

As covered by the media, there has been significant public uproar over building electrification mandates, heat pumps, and the possible banning of gas stoves. Apparently, the governor and legislature believe they have addressed this by limiting such mandates to NEW buildings. After 2025, new buildings 7 stories or less in height would be prohibited from installing fossil fuel equipment. After 2028, this prohibition would apply to new buildings generally. However, the legislation also includes a number of exceptions, such as for large commercial, restaurants, industry, manufactured homes, car washes, laundromats, hospitals, back-up generators, and critical infrastructure.  Exceptions may also be granted by the PSC if adequate grid service is not reasonably available (which could be in a lot of places). For existing buildings, fossil fuel equipment can be used and replaced with new fossil fuel equipment indefinitely, for now.

In addition, the legislation requires that NYPA prepare decarbonization action plans for 15 of the highest-emitting state-owned facilities by January 2026, along with annual progress reports starting in 2025. Decarbonization would be required “to the extent practicable” and there does not appear to be a clear requirement for when such efforts must be complete. For this, decarbonization is defined as eliminating on-site combustion of fossil-fuels and co-pollutants except for back-up emergency generators and redundant systems, providing heating and cooling with thermal energy from non-combustion sources, and to the greatest extent feasible producing on-site electricity from renewables.

No Cap & Invest Program in Budget

The Climate Action Council recommended that the state create a Cap & Invest program (a version of Cap & Trade) to systematically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sources statewide over time. Essentially, this involves setting a statewide cap on total emissions that gets reduced every year. Then emission allowances are auctioned off to emitters, with proceeds invested in various climate initiatives. The Governor and legislature included versions of Cap & Invest legislation within their respective budget proposals. However, no Cap & Invest legislation made it into the final budget. . DEC claims that it does not actually need legislative authority to create a Cap & Invest program, but this could depend on the extent of the program implemented. Cap & Invest was a major recommendation of the Climate Action Council, so it is unclear what will happen next. It may still be considered during the legislative session.

Creation of a Climate Action Fund

The budget creates a Climate Action Fund for the purpose of helping to compensate for the increased cost to New Yorkers of implementing climate action. The fund is divided into three different accounts: a Consumer Climate Action Account (at least 35%); an Industrial Small Business Climate Action Account (up to 3%); and a Climate Investment Account (at least 67%), with the last one having particular focus on disadvantaged communities. The legislation also requires that a Climate Affordability Study be prepared by January 2024 on the appropriate distribution and use of such funds. In the Governor’s proposal, money for the Climate Action Fund was to come from proceeds of a Cap & Invest program. But since no such program exists yet, it is unclear how the fund will be supported.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and ( reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative ( Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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