The cost of carbon
The Times Union
The operator of New York’s power grid is considering a pricing system that accounts for the “social cost of carbon.”
The step is one among many needed to stave off a looming global catastrophe.
The drumbeat of distressing climate-change news keeps coming. The latest: a report saying the Himalayan mountain range will lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100 if carbon emissions continue at the current pace.
The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, as the report released Monday is known, is another reminder of the need to address climate change in real and meaningful ways. We do not have the luxury of inaction.
So New Yorkers should be encouraged by a proposal by the nonprofit in charge of the state’s power grid that would attempt to build the “social cost of carbon” — in other words, the harm it causes to infrastructure and public health — into the price consumers pay for power. New York would be the first state to adopt the approach.
The idea behind the New York Independent System Operator plan is simple: By adding to the cost of electricity from fossil fuels, the state would make it less competitive and would speed the shift to renewable energy sources such as wind and sun.
Yes, the plan stings consumers a bit, at least in the short term.
In 2022, the average New York power bill could increase by about $20 annually — a modest cost, given the severity of the climate change threat. But by 2030, if the adoption of cleaner technologies goes as planned, the program could actually cut power costs.
Lower bills and a reduced climate impact: What’s not to love?
Slowing the planet’s warming will require other changes, of course, and a solution won’t come from government alone. Addressing the problem requires a broad reassessment of consumer habits and the climate-damaging choices we casually make.
The fight against climate change requires national action too, including implementation of a federal carbon tax that will, like the NYISO plan, encourage the transition to renewable energy by punishing use of fossil fuels. Such a plan must include dividends to cover any increased costs to American households.
As a so-called “Green New Deal” takes shape, there’s another idea to consider: import fees that charge foreign manufacturers for the carbon impact of their products. The adjustments would leverage American buying power to force global changes and reduce concern that fighting climate change domestically puts the county at a competitive disadvantage.
There is some bipartisan support for these ideas and other market-based solutions. But it is also true that the Trump administration has been hostile to even conceding that the climate is changing, let alone addressing the crisis. That’s not going to change.
But as polls show rising voter concern about climate change, Republicans should know that inaction puts them in political peril, including in the 2020 presidential election.
There’s a greater worry: Continued inaction is likely to costs us the planet as we know it. Our children and grandchildren will wonder why we couldn’t be bothered to do more — even shell out just a few bucks a week to pay for the shift to cleaner energy.