Some upstate New York electric customers are already paying 10 percent of their utility bill to support the state’s effort to move off fossil fuels and into renewable energy. In the coming years, people across the state can expect to give up even bigger chunks of their income to the programs — $48 billion in projects is set to be funded by consumers over the next two decades.
The scenario is creating a headache for New York Democrats grappling with the practical and political risk of the transition.
It’s an early sign of the dangers Democrats across the country will face as they press forward with similar policies at the state and federal level. New Jersey, Maryland and California are also wrestling with the issue and, in some cases, are reconsidering their ambitious plans.
“This is bad politics. This is politics that are going to hurt all New Yorkers,” said state Sen. Mario Mattera, a Long Island Republican who has repeatedly questioned the costs of the state’s climate law and who will pay for it.
Democrats, Mattera said, have been unable to explain effectively the costs for the state’s goals. “We need to transition into renewable energy at a certain rate, a certain pace,” he said.
Proponents say the switch will ultimately lower energy bills by harnessing the sun and wind, result in significant health benefits and — critically — help stave off the most devastating climate change scenarios. And they hope federal money from the Inflation Reduction Act, celebrating its one-year anniversary, can limit costs to consumers.
New York has statutory mandates calling for 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and a fully “zero emissions” grid by 2040, among the most aggressive targets in the country. The grid needs to be greened, while demand for electricity is expected to more than double by 2050 — the same year when state law requires emissions to be cut by 85 percent from 1990 levels.
But some lawmakers in New York, particularly upstate Democrats, and similar moderates across the nation are worried about moving too quickly and sparking a backlash against higher costs. The issue is another threat to Democrats heading into the critical 2024 battleground House races in New York, which will be instrumental in determining control of Congress.
Even Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who is fond of saying that “we’re the last generation to be able to do anything” about climate change, last spring balked at the potential price tag of a policy to achieve New York’s climate targets. And she’s not the only top member of her party to say so.
“If it’s all just going to be passed along to the ratepayers — at some point, there’s a breaking point, and we don’t want to lose public support for this agenda,” state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, warned in an interview.