New York State passed one of the most sweeping and comprehensive climate action laws with the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act). The Act set aggressive goals for the State to reduce its carbon footprint and eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels.
The Climate Act sets the State on a path to be a national leader in combating climate change with a goal of utilizing 70% renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% zero emission energy production by 2040.
“I think the schedule is what changes the game,” said Dennis Elsenbeck, head of energy and sustainability, Phillips Lytle Consulting Services and New York State Climate Action Council member. “We are rebuilding the entire generation structure, the supply structure and the electric system, to move from a gas economy to an electric economy.
“It’s when we evolve to the demand side of the electric system that the challenges will start to increase. But along with those challenges, the opportunities.”
Some challenges that have been noted since the passage of the Climate Act include the steps required to effectively reduce emissions. Finding effective transportation solutions will play a major role in reducing the source of one-third of the State’s emissions. Whether through the wide adoption of electric vehicles or right-sized public transit, reducing the total number of vehicle miles traveled throughout the state on an annual basis will be a key facet of the plan.
Additionally, the need to retrofit buildings and homes with heating systems that aren’t reliant on natural gas is another hurdle that will need to be cleared. The State estimates approximately one million to two million homes will need to be outfitted with heat pumps by 2030 to aid in meeting the goals set by the Climate Act. The work needed to meet the goals doesn’t just impact individual consumers either. Corporate and industrial energy consumers will need to adopt new systems and practices as the State shifts to an essentially all-electric energy based economy.
Elsenbeck noted that while the goals of the Climate Act will require a massive transformation across the state, the steps don’t differ much from what has been done by other countries and states (to varying degrees of success) in their attempts to combat climate change. He added that buy-in and execution will be some of the most essential factors in reaching the goals set by the Act. That includes the cost and how the transition will be funded if the state is to balance economic and environmental sustainability.
“It’s one thing to put dates out there, it’s one thing to be incredibly aggressive in setting goals, but you can’t lose sight of the fundamentals,” Elsenbeck said. “Because it’s the fundamentals that will bring opportunity to disadvantaged communities. It is the fundamentals that will allow us to do what our plans are wishing that we do in a timely manner. It is those fundamentals that will make the difference between being cost effective or not.”
Addressing green energy supply chain development, smart growth and overall economic growth focused on disadvantaged communities can help bring jobs back to those neighborhoods. Additional opportunities that exist in the wake of the short- and long-term work, which will be done as part of the Climate Act, are hardly limited. In fact, they have the potential to have economy-wide impacts on not just individuals, but commercial and industrial consumers as well.
Elsenbeck suggests that instead of simply looking at the impact on individuals from the perspective of potential rate increases, to look at individuals as investors. Through this lens, the return on that investment can be viewed in terms of how it can positively affect the workforce.
As the Climate Act places a particular focus on serving disadvantaged communities, individuals in those communities have the opportunity to greatly benefit from the impacts of this legislation. The benefits can be widespread as key improvements to infrastructure and delivery in addition to downstream impacts to the workforce.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is workforce,” he said. “If we don’t just look at the Climate Act from the perspective of energy, and look at it from the perspective of the workforce development and then we start to see that, oh we could have a return as part of this process. And it’s not just a cost. It could actually be an investment.”
That sort of workforce development can result in a long-term benefit to corporate and industrial energy consumers throughout the state. An expanded workforce creates growth opportunities for companies in virtually every sector of the economy. Further, the added buy-in to climate action can create opportunities within the climate market globally.
“What if (companies) look at it in the context of ‘Can I see myself? Can I repurpose my manufacturing process so I’m actually participating in climate change?’” Elsenbeck said. “Not just to achieve New York’s goals but to impact the global climate market. Which is a significant market. Almost $10-15 trillion depending who you reference.”
The opportunities created by the Climate Act are plentiful, and taking an active role in achieving the goals set by the Act can benefit individuals and corporations alike. As the next steps of the process near completion, opportunities will begin to arise for consumers who are prepared to capitalize on them.
“This is a time to be an active participant,” Elsenbeck said. “I know it’s not exciting to look at the regulatory process, to look at legislation, but in reality, you’re looking at the impact on yourself and you need to start engaging. Why? Because I think it’s the biggest opportunity I’ve seen in my entire life.”