ALBANY – Three energy experts sharply debated Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s clean-energy standard Monday morning in a forum at the Albany Hilton.
Robert Bryce, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, Ken Girardin, a policy analyst for the Empire Center for Public Policy, and Jerry Kremer, the chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, took questions from moderator Barbara Lombardo and audience members about the standard’s impact on the consumers and the private market, nuclear power, public response and the role of the state Legislature throughout its development and implementation.
The clean energy standard, which Gov. Cuomo announced Aug. 1, will require the state to receive 50 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030, while charging state citizens less than $2 more for their utility bills.
According to the news release announcing the standard, it also ensured that James A. FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point nuclear facilities in Oswego County and the Robert Emmett Ginna Plant in Wayne County would remain open and operational by requiring utility companies and energy providers to purchase zero-emission credits.
“The clean energy standard has the potential to become the most significant mandate ever imposed by any New York state agency,” said E.J. McMahon, the research director for Empire Center.
The panelists were far from uniform in their positions on the governor’s plan.
Mr. Kremer said he supports the standard because he believed it was the first significant effort at the state level to combat greenhouse gas emissions.
He encouraged audience members to “give it a chance” because he said it could provide clean energy throughout the state, but encouraged them to evaluate and critique the standard’s progress as it could be reviewed in the future.
He criticized the state government for not implementing an efficient clean energy policy sooner.
“It’s hard to get things done in New York,” he said. “Maybe we give it a shot.”
Both Mr. Girardin and Mr. Bryce, however, were critical of the standard for its impacts on public policy and steep consumer costs.
BIG RATEPAYER COSTS
Mr. Girardin said that Gov. Cuomo and the Public Service Commission overstepped their boundaries by not allowing the state Legislature to vote on the new energy policy. He also argued that requiring utility companies to support the standard by purchasing renewable energy credits and to support the nuclear plants by purchasing zero emission credits will force utility companies to charge rate payers more, particularly for energy supply costs.
While the state has not yet determined a price for energy credits, Mr. Girardin said the policy will cost businesses and ratepayers approximately $3.4 billion over a five-year period if the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency charges $40 per megawatt hour for them, similar to the cost of credits in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“You will pay more, but you won’t be able to see it,” Mr. Girardin said. “Taxpayers would be really surprised if they knew just how much the state does without the legislature’s consent.”
Mr. Bryce said that the standard provides a platform for alternative energy developers to participate in “subsidy mining” and helps them more than consumers. He also questioned the feasibility of the standard with statewide and international backlash against wind energy development and the divide it created between rural and urban communities by requiring rural areas to house alternative energy facilities to meet urban demand.
According to PSC, the state would have to receive approximately 33,700 gigawatt hours of energy from renewable energy facilities in order to meet the standard’s goal, and Mr. Bryce asked how the state could produce that overall output while facing opposition such as Erie, Orleans and Niagara counties’ opposition toward Apex Clean Energy’s Lighthouse Wind project, the lawsuit against the PSC from multiple entities for subsidizing the nuclear plants which, according to the New York Times, was filed in October and statewide challenges to the state Article 10 law review process.
“This backlash is starting to play out here in New York,” Mr. Bryce said. “What is happening in New York is in fact happening all around the world.”
The panelists also argued about the feasibility of alternative energy sources, particularly solar and wind, throughout the debate.
Mr. Kremer said that solar energy developers will continue to expand the overall output of their solar arrays, citing the Long Island Power Authority’s Long Island Wind Farm, which he claimed was able to power about 11,000 homes, and said Nassau and Suffolk counties both utilize solar power.
Both Mr. Girardin and Mr. Bryce said solar and wind energy facilities’ reliance on inconstant sources make them less dependable. The peak production of wind energy in the state this year was Jan. 16 at 1,571 megawatts per hour, said David C. Flanagan, the media and community relations manager for the New York Independent Systems Operator, which controls the movement of electricity along the grid.
In 2015, wind energy made up 3 percent of the state’s overall energy production.
“There are better ways than solar and wind,” Mr. Girardin said.
In addition to discussing the standard’s impacts on ratepayers, all three panelists discussed how the standard could impact businesses and the energy market.
Mr. Girardin said requiring utilities to pay for credits would give an unfair advantage to alternative energy developers, in addition to requiring those utilities to potentially increase their prices to keep up with costs.
Mr. Bryce said the state would have to restructure its entire economy to meet the standard’s goals, but Mr. Kremer said utility companies will have to be more “dynamic” to adjust to the for the standard’s initiatives and building more clean-energy generation facilities would help create more jobs.
Ms. Lombardo and audience members asked the panelists for their opinion about the standard’s support nuclear power, and while both Mr. Kremer and Mr. Bryce agreed with the state’s decision to support the nuclear plants, Mr. Girardin said state officials could have pursued more viable alternatives.
Mr. Kremer said people will continue to use nuclear energy and that it would have cost the state more to decommission the nuclear plants, adding that Long Island residents are still paying for the costs of closing the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant in 1989.
Mr. Bryce said it was “the best-worst solution for now” in a market that favors solar and wind energy over nuclear. When asked about President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s potential view on nuclear power, both Mr. Kremer and Mr. Bryce said that they hope Mr. Trump and the Republican party continue to support it.
“We obviously need nuclear energy to be a part of the picture,” Mr. Kremer said.
Mr. Girardin said that the overall output from the three nuclear power plants failed to justify the need to provide subsidies and that state officials should consider investing in hydroelectric power or outsourcing energy.
“There are all sorts of hydroelectric power projects coming online north of the border in Canada,” he said.
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