It’s budget time in Albany. In recent years, the custom has come to be that most if not all important policy issues for the year get considered as part of the annual budget, even if they aren’t germane to that subject. So everything is on the table. The Governor and Legislature, both in control of progressive Democrats, are competing to see who can come up with the most destructive proposals to add to the mix. The basic mind-set of all the elected officials is that if only we raise enough tax money and spend it on enough handouts to favored constituencies, we can shortly achieve nirvana and utopia.
There is exactly one conservative-side think tank in New York State, known as the Empire Center, that makes a systematic effort to put forth a contrary agenda. The Empire Center is just out with a big Report called Next New York, with a series of chapters setting out counter-proposals in the major policy areas: public safety, K-12 education, Medicaid and healthcare, energy, transportation and transit, housing, and so forth. Today the Empire Center held a conference, which I attended, in connection with the release of the Report.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to cover several of the subjects from the Report. For today, I’ll start with my favorite, energy policy. The energy section of the Report, titled “Heading off New York’s Home-Made Energy Crisis,” begins at page 69, and was written by the Empire Center’s energy guru, James Hanley.
I guess it’s fair to say at this point that we do have an “energy crisis” in New York, but the key word is “home-made.” Everything about energy in New York that could remotely be called a “crisis” is entirely the creation of our politicians. There is no rational reason why energy policy should even be a significant political issue in New York. We have a perfectly good, functional energy system. By far the larger part of it — the non-electrified part, including nearly all transportation, industry, agriculture, and home heat outside the large cities — came into being through private initiative and works with little to no input or interference from politicians and bureaucrats. The other, smaller part — the electrified portion plus urban natural gas distribution — has historically been subject to substantial government regulation, but until quite recently the whole point of the regulation was only to prevent the monopoly utilities from raising their rates to a point of overcharging the customers.
Then our politicians got the idea that there was an imperative to address and solve “climate change” through the device of a politically-directed total re-do of the energy system into something that has never previously been tried nor proven to work. (Don’t get me started on the question of how a place like New York, with a fraction of 1% of world greenhouse gas emissions, is supposed to be able to affect “climate change” by using less fossil fuels, when the places that emit the large majority of world GHGs, like China and India, are adding new coal power plants as fast as they can build them.).
At pages 69-75 of the Report, Hanley provides a brief history of how this subject of reducing GHG emissions got a toe-hold in New York and then rapidly metastasized. Governors Pataki and Paterson began the game in the 90s and 00s, with things like a “renewable portfolio standard” and joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (2005). Andrew Cuomo (first elected Governor in 2010) ramped things up by blocking fracking in the extensive Marcellus Shale that underlies a large part of the state, and by having his environmental bureaucrats block natural gas pipelines on bogus “water quality” concerns. But the full suppression of fossil fuels and the wind/solar mania did not really take full control in New York until 2019, when the progressive Democrats finally took both houses of the State Legislature. They used that control to pass something called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which was then signed by Cuomo.
Suddenly, we are on a crash program to get rid of all fossil fuels, electrify everything, and depend completely on the wind and sun for the generation of our energy. Hanley:
The CLCPA’s overarching goal is an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a net-zero state economy by 2050. Intermediate steps on the way include 6,000 megawatts of installed solar and 185 trillion BTU savings in energy efficiency by 2025, 70 percent renewable energy production and 3,000 megawatts of battery storage by 2030, 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind production by 2035 and 100 percent zero-emissions electricity production by 2040.
I believe that I have used terms like “ridiculous,” “preposterous,” “incompetent,” and “irresponsible” to characterize the legally-mandated goals to which the CLCPA commits our state. Hanley is much more gentle in his use of words:
To say the CLCPA’s goals are ambitious is an understatement, and yet they will not be adequate to provide the state with sufficient clean energy to ensure the continuing reliability of the electrical grid.
One place where Hanley makes a real contribution to the debate is by producing a chart, based on data from the federal Energy Information Administration and Department of Energy, that makes the absurdity of the CLCPA goals apparent:
In the eleven years from 2010 to 2020, the percent of New York’s electricity coming from “renewables” inched up from about 22% to about 28%. But most of that 6% increase came from that blue line, “hydro,” aka almost entirely the Niagara Falls power plant, going from about 18% to about 22% of state electricity production. Meanwhile, in that 11 year period when everyone was starting to obsess about wind and solar and federal subsidies ramped up dramatically, the percent of electricity from wind (the orange line near the bottom of the graph) went all the way from about 2% to about 4%. And the percent from solar remained a barely-perceptible 1% or so, represented by a gray line that is so close to the x-axis of the graph that you can barely see it next to the brown line representing wood.
And then supposedly the percent of electricity from renewables takes off like the blade of a hockey stick in 2020 and gets to 70% by 2030. Unmentioned is that we don’t have another Niagara Falls. Therefore this whole increase now has to come from wind and solar. Oh, and we’re already two years in since the data in Hanley’s graph. How much of this has happened so far? Almost none.
Meanwhile the consumption of electricity is supposedly going to double or so, due to the electrification of automobiles and home heating.
I’ll throw in a few figures from research of my own to further illustrate the absurdity. According to EIA data here, New York’s electricity consumption in 2021 was 141,423,778 MWh. If that doubles from electrification of automobiles and heating, then we’ll need about 280 million MWh in a year. Per Hanley’s summary of the CLCPA above, the state authorities are calling for adding 6000 MW of solar and 9000 MW of offshore wind by 2035. At highly optimistic capacity factors of 25% for solar and 40% for wind, here’s what that will get you:
6000 x 0.25 x 8760 + 9000 x 0.40 x 8760 = 44,676,000 MWh
In other words, as ambitious as the plans for wind and solar may be, even if all gets built this will provide less than a sixth of the electricity that will be needed. And with wind and solar generation, such electricity as gets generated will come at random times that could include long weeks of no wind and almost no sun in the dead of winter.
But meanwhile they are proceeding apace to shut down the existing natural gas capacity.
Hanley concludes his section of the Report with a series of highly sensible recommendations, like ending the fracking ban, ending the pipeline moratorium, and scaling back renewable energy subsidies and tax credits. I actually think we will likely be better off going full speed ahead on the innumerate nonsense and running hard into the green energy wall.