How the Home County of the Environmental Movement is Questioning NY’s Climate Mandates

New York’s Dutchess County is widely seen as the birthplace of the modern environmental movement. It remains a big part of its beating heart today. But new testimony submitted by Dutchess County’s government in a utility rate case suggests that local leaders are no longer singing kumbaya with their hometown non-profits like Scenic Hudson and the late Pete Seeger’s Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

An environmental juggernaut on the Hudson

Some of the most ferocious green attacks against power plants and electrical infrastructure have been launched from the shores of the Hudson River in Dutchess County’s Beacon, Rhinebeck, and Poughkeepsie, preserving a state of arrested development just 60 miles north of New York City. Scenic Hudson and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater maintain their headquarters in Dutchess County, and parts of the county have been represented by environmentalist firebrands like Congressmen Richard Ottinger, Maurice Hinchey, and State Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha, a proponent of socialist degrowth via the Build Public Renewables Act. Pete Seeger was famously spurred into action about the Storm King plant because he didn’t want to look upon an “eyesore” from his cabin on Mount Beacon.

In 2019, New York State passed “landmark climate legislation” called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which mandates that the state use 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% carbon-free energy by 2040. To actually implement the bill, it will cost taxpayers, ratepayers, taxpayers and utilities will have to spend somewhere between $44B and $3T, and the people that wrote the bill say that their estimate is a “spitball.” 

Dutchess County commented on the scoping plan of the CLCPA, concluding, “What must be done to implement the plan is gargantuan, and state government will need to grow in a gargantuan fashion to accommodate all the Plan implementation requirements. New York will become the most-regulated State in the Nation and the most overburdened with Climate commitments. At the end of the day how much balance is there in a $3 trillion dollar price tag to reduce carbon in the atmosphere by approximately .3 ppm over the next 30 years costing every New York State man, woman and child approximately $150,000 in new State costs alone?”

People looking for an answer to that question could look to a quote from Scenic Hudson attorney Dale Doty in 1963’s Storm King pumped storage plant lawsuit. From Embattled River: The Hudson and Modern American Environmentalism:

“In his brief, Doty questioned whether cheap electricity better served the public interest than “preserving the beauty of one of America’s great scenic and historic landscapes.”

While the Scoping Plan of the CLCPA was finalized in early 2023, the plan is in a state of limbo while a carbon tax scheme called “Cap and Invest” is being drafted, with the goal of a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and and 85 percent by 2050. The emissions math was crafted by Cornell University climate wonk Robert Howarth, who the Biden Administration tapped in to make the case that natural gas is worse for the climate than coal.

While Cap and Invest looms, the battle over the future of the electrical grid is being fought over at the state’s Public Service Commission, where regulated electrical utilities like Central Hudson and Orange & Rockland are making the case to pay for the mandated green infrastructure upgrades by increasing ratepayer bills by 6-16%. Dutchess County is primarily served by Central Hudson.

Predictably, a hydra of green organizations are testifying to have their cake and eat it too. Alliance for a Green Economy, Beacon Climate Action Now, Communities for Local Power, Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, Shrestha, Ulster County Government’s Jen Metzger (who helped pass the CLCPA as a State Senator) and more all testified in some way that Central Hudson should eat the cost of mandated green infrastructure upgrades, and some suggested that they should not maintain gas infrastructure for the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on it. It should be noted that, already, utilities in New York State earn some of the lowest returns in the United States. This is part of the time-honored anarchist method of using regulations and mandates to “monkeywrench” critical infrastructure and capture it or shut it down.

You can learn more about our analysis of the rate cases here.

This is where Dutchess County is fighting back.

Dutchess County: “Extreme societal risk” from replacing reliable infrastructure with renewables

Dutchess County is responsible for roughly 41% of Central Hudson’s electric revenues and 44% of its natural gas revenues. They retained Poughkeepsie-based energy consultant Allan Page to testify on their behalf at the Public Commission’s Central Hudson hearing.

Here are some of the quotes from his testimony, which matches other testimonies in decrying Central Hudson’s flawed billing system, but actually addresses the root causes of why the utility is seeking such a large increase in ratepayer fees:

  1. In commenting on the Draft Scoping Plan, the County points out the economic pain being imposed on individuals and businesses and the extreme societal risk created by replacement of reliable, secure energy infrastructure with intermittent renewables. 
  1. The feasibility of meeting arbitrary timing mandates is slim to none… the State will require that residents help fund trillions of dollars of unproven energy systems.
  1. Up until the middle of the 1990s, Central Hudson arguably had the lowest electric rates in the Northeast… [it] controlled its organizational destiny… under a vertically integrated corporate structure. 
  1. Electric customers have carried much of the load for reducing carbon in the State of New York… which ranks as the lowest per capita carbon producing state in the nation.
  1. For this 39% increase in carbon reduction costs, what can the Central Hudson customer expect as a tangible direct return? The answer is a worldwide amount of carbon reduction… Central Hudson’s efforts are expected to reduce ambient CO2e emissions globally and the effects will not necessarily be limited to any area… on a global basis, the impacts are too small to be meaningful. 
  1. Not only will the Dutchess County Central Hudson customer receive no benefit from CO2 reduction, but in fact, if you believe the projects of the IPCC, ambient carbon in the atmosphere will continue to increase over time from now until 2050 and beyond. Such projections are based upon the fact that all nations are not committed to reducing national carbon generation. 
  1. In between the current state of the hydrogen industry, understanding and expending customer funds on accelerating such understanding on the part of Central Hudson operations, comes at a cost with limited customer benefits. The proposal to reduce EV acceptance barriers through education and reducing potential customer EV anxiety at a price tag of some $1.5M in customer funding is better performed by competitive entities looking to market EV’s… carbon reduction in the fossil fueled vehicular segment of the New York economy does not fall under the Commission’s list of responsibilities.
  1. From the current day to 2050 the state measures success through partnerships, outreach and education, and workforce and economic development. Implementing the plan produces no measurements of… cost savings, or reducing climate change threats, or reducing carbon in the atmosphere in Dutchess County.
  1. Up until the present rate cases, the focus of the County has been to seek win-win rate orders in which Central Hudson gains as well as the County by serving a customer of Central Hudson and a County citizen. 
  1. Implementing the CLCPA has compounded the complexity of electric billing in the state, with DERs, community solar, PSC climate affiliated orders layering in more changes to customer billing which must conform to not easily understood tariffed language… one such way of reducing complexity is to be most deliberate and thoughtful in regard to implementing the CLCPA.
  1. There are voluntary and regulatory investments proposed or required to facilitate and support carbon reduction and environmental justice objectives as established within the CLCPA. The voluntary investments ($4M+) should be held in abeyance until required by regulation.

Across the Hudson River from Dutchess County is the much more liberal Ulster County, Central Hudson’s other territory. Few other places in New York State are more ridden with foundation-funded doomsday climate NGOs and politically aligned with the CLCPA and other climate mandates (Ithaca and parts of Brooklyn, perhaps). To a person, letters from Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger, the Ulster County Legislature, State Senator James Skoufis, State Senator Michelle Hinchey, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble, agreed the rate increases were unconscionable, but the cause was solely attributed to bad billing practices and Central Hudson’s corporate shareholder greed. Only in testimony from Dutchess County (as well as State Senator and former Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison) did anyone surmise as to how climate mandates are the main cause of the coming unconscionable rate increases.

A Brave Statement on Behalf of Everyday Citizens

While dozens of articles have been written about liberal Ulster County politicians beating a dead horse about greedy Central Hudson and their incompetent billing practices, none have been written in the region about how the potentially trillions of dollars of “landmark legislation” mandates and nudging have been piled onto Central Hudson, by extension, the working class of ratepayers and taxpayers. If Roger Caiazza of Pragmatic Environmentalist had not highlighted Dutchess County’s testimony, and their hard break with the local environmentalist organizations holding the state hostage, it’s hard to know if anyone would have seen it.

The truth of their statement is especially brave knowing that the threat of chaos from nearby organizations like Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, Clearwater, Food and Water Watch, Communities for Local Power, Sierra Club of the Mid-Hudson Valley, Partners for Climate Action Hudson Valley, NYPIRG, Indivisible and more is forever looming.

We at New York Energy Alliance stand with the Dutchess County government in their advocacy for everyday Hudson Valley residents’ checkbooks.