New York State recently enacted the Clean Energy Standard, which has supportive subsidies for clean energy producers, including nuclear energy.
Yes, this was a huge change. The number of people who welcomed it was also huge. You can see pictures of the rally in Albany at this blog post at Environmental Progress: Big New York Victory Shows How Far Nuclear Still Has to Go. You can see Al Gore and Governor Cuomo congratulating the state in this Twitter stream, which was Storified by Nuclear Energy Institute.
|August 1 Albany CES Rally|
Michael Shellenberger at center
photograph by Stephen Whiting
In the Environmental Progress blog post, there's a graph of the amount of the clean energy subsidy for nuclear and renewables.
The current subsidy for New York state renewables is 4.6 cents per kWh. This is the federal 2.2 cents per kWh subsidy (the production tax credit), plus the Tier 10 subsidy by New York State of approximately 2.45 cents per kWh. Over the various years, the New York Tier subsidy has varied between 1.5 and 3.5 cents per kWh, with most of the recent year New York subsidies being close to the current 2.45 cent subsidy. These subsidies are set by an auction process.
The Price of Efficiency
A question I often get asked is: why can't we just fund efficiency? Wouldn't that be better?
Well, no. I will leave out the problem that you can only push efficiency so far, before we go back to candlelight. Instead, I will look at Vermont's full-speed-ahead attempt to support efficiency.
Vermont has an entire agency, Efficiency Vermont, to promote efficiency. According to a government renewables and efficiency energy website, the funding for this agency has grown from $19 million in 2006 to over $35 million in 2010.
Efficiency Vermont is supported by a surcharge on everyone's electric bill, and that surcharge has been growing. According to recent newspaper articles, linked below, the agency now has a budget of $50 million per year. There are 600,000 people in Vermont, so that is about $80 per person per year. Most households (one electricity bill) have more than one person, so their "fair share" could be hundreds of dollars a year (say, four times $80 or $320). On the other hand, commercial and industrial users pay these charges, and this lowers the household cost. I think the average residential bill for Efficiency Vermont is less than $200 a year.
As you can see, this per-person charge for Efficiency Vermont dwarfs the charges expected from the New York State Clean Energy Standard. The Governor's office in New York estimated the Clean Energy Standard cost at $2 per household per month ($24 per year) In contrast, Vermont efficiency costs approximately $80 per person per year.
Efficiency for Whom?
I spent a few years serving on my town's Energy Commission. I am no longer on the commission, but I still appreciate energy efficiency.
Efficiency is getting a bad reputation, though. In recent years in Vermont, there has been a rebellion against Efficiency Vermont charges, A typical article from VPR is titled: House Brings Down Budget Axe on Efficiency Vermont. Or in VTDigger: Amendment to H.40 freezes energy efficiency charge. These articles state that Efficiency Vermont has a budget of about $50 million per year.
If you read the comments on these articles, you will read notes from people who wanted Efficiency Vermont to help them with the costs of energy improvements to their homes. Many of them didn't get funded, and they were not happy about it. Many people did not qualify for the grants, for various reasons. Some could not afford the blower-door tests that Efficiency Vermont required to start the efficiency process. All in all, an efficiency grant helps me but not you, or you but not me. If my neighbor has new insulation, that helps him directly, but all I see of the insulation is a surcharge on my electricity bill.
It is no wonder that at $80 per person per year and only some people benefit--there was going to be pushback from Vermonters.
Clean Energy versus Efficiency
For some people, it's a no-brainer to fund efficiency instead of funding any kind of big nasty power plant. However, when taxes and surcharges fund a clean energy source, everybody benefits from the clean air. When efficiency is funded, only some people benefit.
Let's be honest. I benefited. I could afford a blower door test. I could afford to work with a certified contractor. Yes. I have new insulation. Every now and again, I want to thank my neighbors for donating the money (through their electricity bills) for my new insulation. Well. Maybe that "thank-you" would not be a good idea. ;-)
In contrast, clean energy benefits everyone. The benefits are as clean and clear as the air we breathe.
The New York State Clean Energy Standard is a great bargain for the people of New York.