High costs and few benefits in New York’s crazy climate plan

Top-down economic planning has failed everywhere it’s been tried, creating stagnating economies and poverty. But that’s no deterrent to New York’s Climate Action Council. Its just-approved scoping plan, the blueprint for implementing the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, has few benefits — but staggeringly high costs — for New Yorkers.

The law requires the state’s entire economy to be reorganized to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Charged with this task, the council chose to dictate what types of consumer products New Yorkers will be able to buy, how they can heat their homes, how much workers in the green economy will be paid, how quickly reliable sources of electricity will shut down and what types of businesses will be bribed to set up shop in the state.

The council mandarins actually think they know how to plan a $2 trillion, 8-million-worker economy. It doesn’t matter that individual New Yorkers may have their own life goals or economic realities. They will be “incentivized” — and if necessary forced — to make government-deemed “correct” choices.

The council has armed itself with a consultant’s “integration analysis” that purports to show the climate act’s benefits outweigh its costs. But its scoping plan fails to note that this analysis says New York’s direct costs are around $150 billion greater than its direct benefits.

A wind tower
The council openly admits there will be shortfalls in electricity production from wind and solar.
Getty Images

How is that so? Most of the benefit is defined as the value of avoided greenhouse-gas emissions — a global benefit of which New York shares only a small portion. The immense costs, however, will be borne almost entirely by New Yorkers. The council has carefully hidden this ugly truth from the public.

The costs are also likely to be much higher than the consultant’s estimate because the ultimate price tag of multibillion-dollar public projects is nearly always underestimated by a factor of two, three or more. That means New York’s costs may outweigh its gains by $300 to $500 billion — a deadweight loss of up to $25,000 per state citizen.

As California politician Willie Brown said, politicians don’t tell the truth about the cost of public projects because if they did the public might never support them.

There’s also no direct connection between the integration analysis and the costs suggested in the scoping plan. The council seems to have taken the cost-benefit estimate as a blank check for spending. So compliance with its plan’s various stipulations is to be accomplished via “incentives” — a word that appears in the plan almost 200 times. Because the individual costs of these incentives are undetermined, their total cost could easily exceed that predicted by the integration analysis.

The analysis also ignores two potentially vast costs. First, it implicitly assumes that all this top-down planning doesn’t harm the broader economy, making it harder for businesses to run profitably and deterring investment in the state. But history shows that such heavy-handed intervention tends to be an economy killer.

Keyspan's Ravenswood Power Plant
New York’s costs may outweigh its gains by $300 to $500 billion — a deadweight loss of up to $25,000 per state citizen.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Second, there is still no plan to replace electricity production from natural gas before shutting down gas-fired power plants. The council openly admits there will be shortfalls in electricity production from wind and solar but does no more than speculate on a nonexistent (perhaps magical) “dispatchable, emissions-free resource” that will — it hopes — plug the gap.

Not only is the cost of this magical solution not given, but unless it appears, that gap could lead to electricity blackouts costing hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damage, not to mention potentially hundreds of lives.

Yet at a meeting this month, one council member shockingly said it would not be good for the plan to “overstress” electric reliability.

Such a remark makes clear that the council wasn’t serious about understanding the real costs of its plan. And it’s not hard to understand why.

The Climate Action Council was charged to pursue a statutory goal: the climate act’s mandated reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet that same law puts no limit on what residents can be forced to pay to achieve its targets. It’s sad but it’s also predictable that the council’s plan shows such little concern for the act’s effect on residents’ overall well-being.

After all, the underlying law was written with even less concern for the well-being of the average New Yorker.

James Hanley is a fellow with the Empire Center for Public Policy.