By Howie Hawkins and Steve Breyman
New York stands at a fork in the road to its energy and economic future.
It can choose a 21st century upgrade to clean energy and sustainable prosperity that protects our climate, cleans our air and revives our economy. Or it can continue to rely on a 19th and 20th century system that will leave it battered by climate change, poisoned by pollution and economically stagnant.
The state’s draft Energy Plan points backward to the fossil-fuel past. The carbon emission reductions goal of the draft Energy Plan – an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 – is too little too late.
Climate scientists now say we must reduce emissions 6 percent to 10 percent per year to forestall disaster. Fortunately, a recent peer-reviewed study demonstrates the feasibility of converting New York to 100 percent carbon-free energy in 17 years. This goal and this plan should be the starting point for a state energy plan.
The clean energy future features electric power and heat from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, wave and tidal. Every home, office and factory will be a power plant (solar panels) with energy storage capacity (hydrogen fuel cells). All road and rail transportation will be powered by clean electricity.
The economic impact would be enormous. It would create millions of good-paying jobs. The $600 billion in investments needed over 17 years yields 4.5 million construction jobs and 58,000 permanent jobs. The savings in health care alone from the elimination of fossil fuel air pollution would cover the costs of building the energy system before accounting for electricity sales.
The Energy Planning Board, mostly appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, produced a draft plan that relies on dirty coal, oil and gas and unsafe nuclear power. It projects burning more methane-leaking and carbon-spewing natural gas than current levels. It envisions new natural gas pipelines and other gas infrastructure that encourages fracking in Pennsylvania and Ohio and, sooner or later, in New York.
The governor’s plan locks New Yorkers into additional decades of expensive, unsafe nuclear electricity. It pays only lip service to the importance of energy affordability, and it ignores the conservation campaign needed to address the waste in the current system. Even the good recommendations in the draft plan – utility reform, improved building codes, electric vehicle adoption – lack measurable goals.
Our choice is clear. We surrender to the energy giants that want to drill, frack and burn every last hydrocarbon or we ban fracking and shift away from all fossil fuels as we build sustainable prosperity based on plentiful, clean and renewable energy.
Howie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate for governor. Steve Breyman teaches “Energy Politics” at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.