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Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities

By Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim - Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) - November 2017

This study examines the prospects for transformative clean energy investment projects for New York State. Taken as a whole, these investments should be understood as a major initiative within the state to advance the fundamental goal of global climate stabilization. These investments should be undertaken by both the public and private sectors in New York State, supported by a combination of public investments and incentives for private investors.

This study builds from New York State’s existing Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) project and the New York State Energy Plan, which fleshed out a policy agenda based on the REV project. Governor Andrew Cuomo first presented the REV program in April 2014 and reaffirmed New York State’s commitments in June 2017. The primary goals of the REV program, which are targeted to be achieved by 2030 in New York State, include: 1) a 40 percent reduction in all greenhouse gas emissions; 2) generating 50 percent of all electricity from renewable energy sources; and 3) achieving a 23 percent improvement in energy efficiency in buildings relative to the 2012 level.

The REV goals and the State Energy Plan are unquestionably significant starting points for advancing clean energy policies in New York State. But they are not adequate to enable the state to achieve emissions reduction goals that meet the challenges we face with global climate change. As such, this study works from a more ambitious set of goals, both in terms of emissions reductions and in achieving broader positive impacts with respect to expanding job opportunities and raising living standards throughout New York State.

The first specific aim on which we focus in this study is to achieve, by 2030, a 50 percent reduction below the 1990 level in all human-caused CO2 emissions in New York State, along with comparable reductions in methane emissions resulting from natural gas extraction.

The second, equally important, goal is to achieve the 2030 CO2 emission reduction standard while also expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout New York State. The expansion of clean energy investments will need to focus on 1) dramatically improving energy efficiency standards in New York’s stock of buildings, automobiles and public transportation systems, and industrial production processes; and 2) equally dramatically expanding the supply of clean renewable energy sources—primarily wind, solar, and geothermal power—available at competitive prices to all sectors of New York State’s economy.

In addition to these goals for 2030, this study also explores the prospects for achieving the longer-term aim of bringing CO2 emissions in New York State down to zero by 2050, while, again, concurrently expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout the state.

Read the Report (PDF).

A closer look at electric vehicle growth: impact on pollution, and labour conditions in the mines supplying raw materials

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, August 23, 2017

The summer started with several “good news” stories about the surge of electric vehicles, such as “Starting in 2019, Volvo will use electricity to power every new model” from the Washington Post (July 5) , quoting Volvo’s CEO :  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”  Bloomberg Business Week, summarizing the findings of its latest New Energy forecast,  stated on July 7, “in just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040″, and “Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries” .  On July 6,  France announced   it would end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040 ,  and on July 26 the U.K. released its Clean Air Plan, which included  a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas cars after 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.

Response to the U.K. announcement is mixed.  In “Electric cars are not the solution to air pollution” Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and chair of the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants states that “The government’s plan does not go nearly far enough,” “Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.”  In his role as a member of  the Centre for London’s commission on the future of the capital’s roads and streets  ,    Professor Kelly provides more detail about the problem of particle pollution and states:  “London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution”  in The Guardian (August 4).  His conclusion: “The safe and efficient movement of people around the city can only be achieved through a clean and expanded mass transit system served by buses, overground trains and the underground system – and as much active transport in the form of walking and cycling as is feasibly possible.”

Others are raising issues about electric vehicles on other grounds, specifically the environmental costs  and labour conditions of producing the lithium ion batteries that power them.  These are not new concerns:  Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods raised the flag in June 2015 with “The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too”   in The Conversation.   In January 2016, Amnesty International published a detailed documentation of the hazardous working conditions and the use of child labour in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in  This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt  . (Cobalt is also used in mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices). The report  is available in English, French and Chinese from this link .

Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State

By J. Muin Cha, Ph.D. and Lara Skinner, Ph.D.- The Worker Institute - June 2017

Economic inequality in New York is rising. Currently, the state has the second highest level of economic inequality in the country. Unequal job growth across the state and stagnant wages in several sectors are two of the main contributors to rising inequality. While the state overall has seen several years of employment growth, there are stronger employment gains in New York City than in other parts of the state still suffering from job losses and stagnant employment levels. Additionally, in many sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, wages are not increasing at the same pace as inflation, leaving many workers with paychecks that fail to cover basic household costs.

At the same time, New York is falling far short of its necessary greenhouse gas pollution reductions. To stop catastrophic climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, which would require four times the current annual emissions reduction rate. By 2050, New York State’s emissions must be only a fraction of what they are now to meet the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s targets set to prevent irreversible damage. We are far from that target. In the transportation sector, emissions are actually increasing and energy sector emissions may also be increasing given likely underestimation of methane emissions from natural gas.

New York State can take action now to protect New Yorkers from the worst effects of climate change, and do our part in reducing global emissions, while also fighting against growing economic inequality. Extreme weather, such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, is predicted to become more the norm, not the exception. These recent extreme weather events highlighted New York’s deep inequality: some could afford to leave the city or move into hotels when their residences flooded while others were left stranded.

Adopting a bold and aggressive plan to invest in climate-addressing infrastructure can be an important step towards simultaneously addressing the crises of inequality and climate change head on and position New York as a national leader in charting the path to a low-carbon, equitable economy. The recommendations presented below aim to create good, high-road jobs that provide familysustaining wages and benefits for communities across the state. These proposals could also result in meaningful emissions reductions and put New York on the path to building an equitable clean-energy economy that can work for all New Yorkers. The authors hope this report helps spark additional research and policy development on how to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse inequality by protecting workers and creating good, family-sustaining jobs in new lowcarbon sectors. Future research, in particular, could perform a detailed analysis of the cost of job creation strategies in low-carbon sectors, how to finance these strategies, and a cost-benefit analysis that includes the cost of potential job loss and reduced economic activity in high-carbon sectors.

Read the Report (Link).

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse

From the Introduction:

Desperate to avoid climate regulation that may affect profits, polluting corporations are working hand-in-hand with governments, presenting a dizzying array of false solutions that deepen inequalities in our societies. There is a clear agenda: Manage the climate crisis without compromising profits, the power structures or the economic system that got us here, even if that means exacerbating the problem. Wall Street financiers, the synthetic biology industry, “green” venture capitalists and a host of others are jumping on the “we care about the climate, too!” bandwagon.

These actors have reduced one of the clearest consequences of an unsustainable system into a mere technical problem that can be “efficiently” dealt with through market-based solutions. This market fundamentalism diverts attention away from the root causes of the problem, encouraging us to imagine a world with price tags on rivers, forests, biodiversity and communities’ territories, all in the name of “dealing with the climate crisis.” At the heart of all false solutions is an avoidance of the big picture: the root causes.

False solutions are constructed around the invisible scaffolding that maintains the dominant economic, cultural and political systems—the idea that economic growth is both desirable and inevitable; that progress means industrial development; that Western science and technology can solve any problem; that profits will motivate and the markets will innovate. Most of us in the Global North, whether sensitized to it or not, are participants and, at times, even take comfort in this world view. Sadly, many find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of a globalized economy built upon the unsteady legs of expanding empire, ecological erosion and exploitation of workers and communities.

We can take steps, large and small, to stop the climate crisis. What we cannot afford to do is go down the wrong road. Hoodwinked in the Hothouse is an easy and essential guide to navigating the landscape of false solutions—the cul-de-sacs on the route to a just and livable climate future.

--Gopal Dayaneni, Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project

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