EDITORIAL: Energy Standards are hopeful sign

THE BIG NEWS last week was Governor Cuomo’s announcement of a plan to make it possible for everyone in the state, no matter where you live, to receive a high-speed internet connection. What made this broadband internet plan seem more serious than some of the big ideas periodically emitted from the state Capitol is the timing.

The governor wants the whole state wired within two years, which would mean voters should expect to reap the benefits of 21st century communications technology in 2018, when New Yorkers will elect a governor.

Mr. Cuomo hasn’t said whether he’ll run for a third term two years from now, but if he does he’ll want to be sure we can all watch the campaign unfold online and nod approvingly when he reminds us that he made broadband accessible in rural areas. If the system is up and running he’ll deserve credit for making it happen. If the plan falls short, voters will blame him.

Broadband access is–or should be–a short-term goal that delivers something tangible and easy to measure. It raises expectations here especially because we have some of the worst internet service in the state. That’s why the governor made his broadband upgrade announcement in Hudson. A two-year wait won’t strain our limited long attention span.

But what about a promise of something 14 years from now? Are you interested? Would it matter if what’s being promised is unlikely to improve your life in ways you’ll notice? It doesn’t sound like an attractive political proposition.

Last week, two days before the broadband announcement, the state Public Service Commission ruled that by the year 2030 half of all the state’s supply of electricity should come from “renewable energy sources like wind and solar.” The governor promised that the plan, called the Clean Energy Standard, would include “an aggressive phase in schedule over the next several years,” beginning with requirements that utilities and other energy suppliers purchase “new renewable power resources.”

There is a price tag. The governor’s office says that “The Clean Energy Standard will cost less than $2 a month to the average residential customer’s bill.”

The idea behind the Clean Energy Standard is to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and air pollution. It might also lead to fewer power lines like the ones proposed for Columbia County by putting the sources of power closer to where the power is needed.

By itself, this new standard won’t reverse the damage New Yorkers are doing by warming our atmosphere, a process that’s happening at an alarming pace. And the timing was such that the PSC’s decision and the governor’s initiative were all but drowned out by the noise of the presidential campaign and other important activities, like Pokemon Go.

What the governor’s Clean Energy Standard does do is to give residents of this state a place to start. The governor didn’t tell us we had to give up our cars or–heavens forbid–unplug the appliances we’re not using. He said the state is going to act on behalf of the people he and the legislature are elected to serve. And we’re going to pay for it.

We’re not supposed to like this deal. But the governor is betting that residents will understand a few basic points about climate change: 1. the price of inaction is greater than the risk of pursuing an untried remedy; 2. we can make adjustments and learn from mistakes but we can never recover time lost to hesitation; 3. big ideas spawn new, better, bigger ideas, which makes room for hope.

We can’t escape it. Towns around the county are already wrestling with how to regulate “solar farms,” commercial ventures that cover whole fields with solar panels. It makes sense to protect open land and make sure the operator has plans for removing or replacing obsolete equipment. It’s also essential that local governments find ways accommodate these and other carbon-neutral power generation systems. That too is a way ordinary people can participate.

There’s no scientific reason why the human race must continue or why it must continue to consume and pollute so much in order to thrive on this marvelous planet. The best scientific knowledge we have tells us that we’ve miscalculated our impact and we need to make changes. But science can’t make the changes by itself. For that we need effective political leadership. This state’s new Clean Energy Standard is an example of that leadership. We’d be wise to support it while we can.

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