New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month signed the most aggressive climate law in the nation. But even he’s not sure it’ll work out as planned, and Cuomo’s not alone.
Some of the technology needed to achieve an 85% cut in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 isn’t even commercially available yet. It may require more legislation ahead. It will certainly be costly, and it depends on energy sources, including offshore wind farms, that still need to get final approvals and be built.
“I’m a little skeptical of these goals that go out to 2050,” Cuomo said in a public radio interview. But the issue isn’t certainty, he said. Rather, it’s setting up the best goals, and then “let’s do something today that actually puts us on the path to accomplish those goals.”
The first step is creation of a 22-member climate action council that has three years to weigh ideas. Once that’s done, the real work begins, according to people involved in the state’s energy, manufacturing and transportation sectors who say it will be next-to-impossible to hit the goals by the 2050 deadline.
“There is just simply no way that those lofty goals are going to get translated into reality,” said Walter Hang, the president of Toxics Targeting, a database firm in upstate Ithaca that maps toxic sites. Here are the hurdles in four key areas:
Buildings that accounted for more than 60% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 may represent the biggest challenge to the law, said Stephen Munro, a BloombergNEF analyst in Washington.
The cost “would fall directly on the building owners, who represent a powerful and well-organized political presence,” Munro said. “The law allows them many ways to comply as alternatives to retrofitting their buildings, but options such as purchasing renewable energy credits or installing on-site renewable generation such as solar panels still represents major expense.”
Meanwhile, one of the few ways New York can cut emissions from buildings now is failing to catch on, despite generous U.S. and state subsidies. The state is pushing use of geothermal heat pumps, which tap the heat from the ground and spit it into homes. But the upfront cost for residential homes is about $30,000, and the state and federal incentives only cut it to around $18,000.
That compares with as much as $10,000 for a boiler or furnace, said Janet Joseph, senior vice president for strategy and market development at the state’s energy research and development authority.
The incentives help, Joseph said, but the cost will “need to continue to come down to further penetrate the residential market.”
Transportation may seem like an easy sector, with a 63% growth rate for electric vehicle sales to 36,854 in the last year. But it also could be expensive to pull off for local communities and companies, since they need to install extensive infrastructure to support the vehicles.
In 2017, the New York metro area had only between 1% and 10% of the charging infrastructure needed to meet expected growth trends by 2025, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit research group. New York plans to spend $31.6 million to install 10,000 electric-vehicle charging stations by the end of 2021, and 800,000 zero-emission vehicles by 2025, and that will certainly help.
But replacing bus or truck fleets is expensive, and there are only so many times between now and 2050 that vehicles or fleets are replaced, said Amanda Myers, a policy analyst at Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC. A light-duty vehicle is likely to be replaced three times between 2015 and 2050, and a heavy-duty vehicle twice.
Decarbonization of the manufacturing sector is relatively straightforward, but the change is going to require a big capital investment, it will take time and probably should be done in steps, said Ned Harvey, a managing director at Rocky Mountain Institute.
First, companies need to make manufacturing processes as efficient as possible, he said. Then, in the short-term, industries like semi-conductor manufacturing and wastewater management should shift to lower-carbon natural gas before attempting full electrification.
If New York moves too quickly on electrification with tough regulations, it risks losing companies to other states, Harvey said.
Power generation may be the least challenging sector, but it’s still a steep undertaking. In 2018, New York ranked ninth among all states for its installed solar capacity and 14th for installed wind capacity.
The state’s new law calls for New York to have 6 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity by 2025 from about 1.7 gigawatts now, and 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035 from zero now.
In New York, two quasi-public agencies are in charge of procuring power for the grid as opposed to individual utilities. That allows New York to “procure energy of a certain description in a much more stream-lined way than other states,” said Munro.
Austin Perea, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, predicts the state will only be able to produce 4 1/2 gigawatts of solar power by 2025. To increase that, the state should pass legislation to allow community solar projects to allocate credits to customers statewide, Perea said. Now, New Yorkers have to be within the same utility territory to get credit, but that’s tough in areas like Manhattan that struggle to operate solar farms.
New York awarded offshore wind contracts last month for two projects off Long Island that will produce 1.7 gigawatts. But the projects need state and U.S. regulatory approvals to begin construction and, typically it takes as long as seven years from the award date to get up and running, said Bruce Hamilton, a director in Navigant Consulting Inc.’s Energy practice.
With assistance by Gerald Porter Jr., and Brian Eckhouse