Updated 9/19/19 – 7:36 A.M.
VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Thursday mandating 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, and an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s below levels from 1990.
“In a few minutes, I will sign the most aggressive climate law in the United States of America,” Cuomo said to applause.
The governor’s enthusiastic support of the measure is a change from his statements in mid-June, when he said the bill was a “political placebo” and that its goals were unrealistic.
Cornell Professor David Wolfe*, who specializes in plant and soil ecology, believes it’s important to set the bar high.
“Obviously one state doing things to reduce its emissions is not going to stop the atmospheric increases in greenhouse gasses entirely, although it will have a dent in that, but it’s more the example I think we can show.”
The goal surpasses that of the state of California, which calls for an 80% reduction in all sources of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The law also sets interim goals that say 70% of New York’s electricity should come from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar by 2030. The state also wants all electricity to be carbon-free by 2040.
Wolfe praised the move calling it “bold, ambitious and comprehensive.” He said it goes even further than the Paris Climate Accord.
“The famous Paris Accord was inspirational, politically important but it didn’t have all of the details,” Wolfe said.
He added, having worked in the field for 30 or so years, he’s often pessimistic on the subject of climate change but he’s “excited to be in a state where things are happening in a positive way.”
Cuomo also announced some initial steps toward the goals, including two offshore wind power projects that will generate 1,700 megawatts. That’s enough, he says, to power 1 million homes, create 1,600 unionized jobs and over $3-billion of economic activity.
Cuomo also said there would be nearly $280 million in new investments in infrastructure for power distribution and a $20 million training program at the state university system for clean energy workers.
The law was widely praised by environmental groups, who said the ultimate success or failure of the law depends on the details of how the goals are met.
Liz Moran, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, wants the state to issue an annual public report card.
“This is complicated stuff,” Moran said. “We throw around terms like megawatts and gigawatts, and the average member of the public might not understand these things. We need something available that can as easily as possible help the public understand how this transition is happening.”
While the new wind projects would benefit the companies who won the contracts, the Business Council of New York State has some reservations about what it said are very ambitious goals.
The council’s Darren Suarez said they might drive up energy prices.
“That comes at a cost to somebody,” Suarez said. “And consumers ultimately will pay it.”
And he said 40,000 manufacturing jobs in the state would be jeopardized unless there are some significant innovations in alternative energy technology over the next several years.
“At this time, there is no technology to get us to where we want to be at 2050,” Suarez said.
Moran said the new law would create incentives to come up with the new technologies.
“Technology is going to have to catch up, because we have to act,” Moran said. “Because if we don’t, the consequences are utterly dire.”
A 23-member climate action panel will be created to carry out the goals as part of the new law. Business leaders, as well as environmentalists, will be included.
*Corrects David Wolfe’s name