Climate Leadership and Community Protection 2030 Target Feasibility

On July 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).  It is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.  I maintain that not only is the general public unaware of the ramifications of this legislation but I doubt that very few of the legislators who voted and sponsored it understood that provisions in this law will require draconian limitations on the use of fossil fueled appliances very soon.

I am following the implementation of the CLCPA closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker.  Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels, I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern.  In addition, I think that the CLCPA’s mandate to electrify home heating will be deadly when an ice storm knocks out power for days.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Background

The CLCPA establishes an implementation schedule for compliance with its targets.  One year after the effective date of the law, the CLCPA mandates that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) establish the 2030 and 2050 statewide emission limits (Part 496) and that the Climate Action Council (CAC) be organized and start meeting.  DEC has proposed the emission limits and the CAC has been meeting since early this year albeit they just have started meeting regularly.  The CAC has another year after the effective date of the law to develop a scoping plan that will outline a plan to meet the limits. After a year’s review the CAC submits the final scoping plan to the Governor.  Four years after the effective date of the law the DEC is required to promulgate regulations implementing the scoping plan recommendations.  I document the CLCPA specifics of the timeline requirements in the rest of this section.

Section § 75-0103 in the CLCPA establishes the New York CAC. The CAC is charged with planning responsibility:

“The council shall on or before two years of the effective date of this article, prepare and approve a scoping plan outlining the recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits in accordance with the schedule established in section 75-0107 of this article, and for the reduction of emissions beyond eighty-five percent, net zero emissions in all sectors of the economy, which shall inform the state energy planning board’s adoption of a state energy plan in accordance with section 6-104 of the energy law. The first state energy plan issued subsequent to completion of the scoping plan required by this section shall incorporate the recommendations of the council. “

It goes on to state that:

On or before three years of the effective date of this article, the council shall submit the final scoping plan to the governor, the speaker of the assembly and the temporary president of the senate and post such plan on its website.

Section § 75-0107 states that statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits will be promulgated:

No later than one year after the effective date of this article, the department shall, pursuant to rules and regulations promulgated after at least one public hearing, establish a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit as a percentage of 1990 emissions, as estimated pursuant to section 75-0105 of this article, as follows:

2030: 60% of 1990 emissions.

2050: 15% of 1990 emissions.

 

Section § 75-0109 in the CLCPA mandates promulgation of regulations to achieve statewide greenhouse gas emissions reductions:

No later than four years after the effective date of this article, the department, after public workshops and consultation with the council, the environmental justice advisory group, and the climate justice working group established pursuant to section 75-0111 of this article, representatives of regulated entities, community organizations, environmental groups, health professionals, labor unions, municipal corporations, trade associations and other stakeholders, shall, after no less than two public hearings, promulgate rules and regulations to ensure compliance with the statewide emissions reduction limits and work with other state agencies and authorities to promulgate regulations required by section eight of the chapter of the laws of two thousand nineteen that added this article.

Status Analysis

Because New York has dramatically reduced CO2 emissions I thought that it would be difficult but not impossible to meet the ambitious goal of a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030. The CLCPA includes specific emissions inventory requirements that differ greatly from the assumptions used in previous New York inventories.  As a result, the CLCPA Part 496 inventory is nearly double the previous inventories.  The question is what level of emissions reductions from each sector will be needed to meet the CLCPA inventory that increases the effect of methane.

The 2030 emissions limit is based on a percentage reduction from 1990 so the first information needed is the emissions in 1990.  The proposed Part 496 regulation includes an inventory of 1990 emissions as shown in the Part 496 Total Statewide GHG Emissions in 1990 table.  This table consolidates tables in the Part 496 Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) to provide as much detail as possible on the components of the emissions.  Part 496 establishes the statewide emission limit for 2030 as 240.83 million of metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMtCO2e) gas as a 40% reduction from the total 1990 emissions of 401.38 MMtCO2e.

New York has yet to release a more recent update of GHG emissions using the new methodology so we don’t know the level of effort needed to meet the 2030 limit.  In order to make a projection of what will be needed to make the 2030 limit, we need a detailed current annual inventory as well as the activity data and emission factors.  That is not available at this time so I am forced to use an estimate of the emissions from another source and fuel use from other sources to make my estimate.

Projection Analysis

The Climate Action Council is required to prepare a scoping document over the next couple of years that will outline how each sector could meet the CLCPA targets.  The 2030 target is a single number representing a 40% reduction of 1990 emissions.  Reductions will be easier in some sectors and more difficult in others so we can expect that some sectors will reduce more than 40% and others less.  For the purposes of this exercise I want to estimate what will be required if the each of the three sectors  has to meet the 40% goal on its own.

In the absence of “official” CLCPA annual inventories I can use other data to make an estimate of the current state of emissions.  Howarth (2020) includes a table that lists estimates for CO2 and CH4 for both 1990 and 2015 for all the coal, petroleum and natural gas combusted in New York State.  Unfortunately, it does not provide sectorial information. I assume that those emissions include the upstream emissions required by the CLCPA.  The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Patterns and Trends document lists the total amount of coal, petroleum and natural gas combusted in the state as a whole and for each of the three sectors.  I combined these two data sources and calculated the sector emissions in 1990 and 2015 by assuming that the sector emissions equal the emissions from all sectors multiplied by the residential fuel burned divided by the fuel burned by all sectors.

TheCLCPA 2030 Emissions Target for Residential Sector,CLCPA 2030 Emissions Target for Electricity Sector, and CLCPA 2030 Emissions Target for Transportation Sector tables show the input data and calculated emissions for each sector.  I estimate that the 1990 residential emissions were 60.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMtCO2e).  The results for all three sectors are shown in the CLCPA Emissions and Targets for Electricity, Residential and Transportation Sectors table.  Overall because emissions have increased since 1990 the emissions in these three sectors all have to be reduced over 40%.

Discussion

Given the crude approach there is no sense trying to get sophisticated estimating what will be needed necessary to get the reductions needed to meet the 2030 limits.  The electricity sector needs a more involved estimate but we can get some idea of the scale of the task looking at the residential and transportation sectors.

Howarth (2020) provides notes that

“To meet the CLCPA 2030 target of a 40% emissions decrease will require a focus on greatly reducing the use of natural gas in the residential and commercial sector and petroleum products in transportation. To date, the State has focused little attention on GHG emissions from these sectors, and has instead prioritized reducing the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity.”

He goes on to claim:

“Electrification of heating (ground- and air-sourced heat pumps) and transportation (electric vehicles) provides a pathway to meeting the GHG-reduction mandates of the CLCPA (Jacobson et al. 2013). Heat pumps extract energy from the environment, allowing the delivery of far more heat energy than the electrical energy used to power the pumps.  As a result, converting from the use of natural gas to a modern heat pump will reduce GHG emissions even if the heat pump is powered by electricity generated from fossil fuels (Hong and Howarth 2016).”

In order to determine the GHG emissions reductions necessary from the complete residential sector we would have to determine how many homes have gas stoves, hot water heaters and furnaces.  In this example I will only consider heating.  The NYS Occupied Housing Units by Type of Space Heating Fuel table is an excerpt from the 2001-2015 Patterns and Trends document Appendix D-1.  Roughly speaking about half the over 6 million housing units currently burning natural gas, bottled tank or LP gas, and fuel oil or kerosene will have to convert to electricity before 2030 to meet the 46% target.  According to the internet, the average service life of a gas furnace is about 15 years.  If that is true then it won’t be enough to require installation of a heat pump furnace when a gas furnace dies.  Instead somehow, someway furnaces with useful life will have to be replaced.

In order to determine the GHG emissions reductions necessary from the transportation sector we have to determine how many vehicles are registered in New York.  According to the Department of Motor Vehicles there were about 9.4 million NYS vehicle registrations on file in 2016. In order to meet the CLCPA target 4.3 million vehicles will have to have no GHG emissions presumably by replacement with electric vehicles.  According to NYSERDA’s electric vehicle registration website as of August 2, 2020 there are 53,859 electric vehicles on the road.

 

Conclusion

My biggest problem with the CLCPA is that the authors, sponsors, and politicians who voted to approve the law presumed that their political will was sufficient to make it work.  I maintain that a feasibility study to determine technical practicability, implementation logistics and cost is a necessary first step because no jurisdiction anywhere has successfully implemented a similar energy transition.

The projection numbers for the residential and transportation sectors speak for themselves.  I cannot imagine any way that the State can meet the 2030 40% reduction in GHG emissions CLCPA target without extraordinary regulatory reach into the homes and cars of every New Yorker.  It is time for all New Yorkers to wake up to the potential ramifications of this law.

Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Methane Obsession

On July 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) It is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.  I maintain that not only is the general public unaware of the ramifications of this legislation but I doubt that very few of the legislators who voted and sponsored it understood the overt anti-natural gas biases included in the language of the act.  This post addresses the methane obsession reflected in changes to the emissions inventory requirements and what that means to New Yorkers.

I am following the implementation of the CLCPA closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker.  Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels, I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern.  In addition, I think that the CLCPA’s mandate to electrify home heating will be deadly when an ice storm knocks out power for days.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Background

The CLCPA sets its limits based on emissions in 1990.  This inventory of all sources of greenhouse gas emissions therefore becomes an important component of the law.  I have done a couple of more technical posts on the emissions inventory.  I addressed the emissions report timing contradictions that I think preclude meaningful public input to the final numbers developed and looked at the effect of four key considerations imposed by the CLCPA.  In my other post I documented changes with the new CLCPA inventory relative to past inventories. According to the latest edition of the NYSERDA GHG emission inventory (July 2019) Table S-1 New York State GHG Emissions 1990–2016 the New York State 1990 GHG emissions were 205.61 MMtCO2e The proposed Part 496 regulation 1990 emissions inventory total is 401.38 MMtCO2e for an increase of 195.77 MMtCO2e.

There are two primary reasons for the near doubling of the emissions inventory. The CLCPA inventory adds a requirement to include not only direct emissions but also emissions associated with getting the fuels to New York.  The second change modified the potential effect of methane on global warming by changing the time horizons.

Methane Obsession

It is becoming increasingly clear that the politicians and those who helped draft the CLCPA had a bias against methane emissions from natural gas use and they were aided and abetted in their quest to outlaw its use in New York by Cornell professor Bob Howarth.  According to the Cornell Chronicle:

Cornell professor Bob Howarth played a key role – reckoning methane as a carbon dioxide equivalent – in New York state’s historic, environmentally comprehensive Climate Leadership and Communities Protection Act (CLCPA), which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law July 18.  “It’s the most progressive legislation designed to avert climate change that any state has put out there,” said Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology.

“New York has done what no other state has done, and that is to account properly for methane as a major atmospheric greenhouse gas contributor,” Howarth said. “It’s all in the way you figure methane into the global warming equation. That’s a significant part of this new law and this puts New York in a leadership role.”

Importantly, Howarth said, for the first time a state legislature has defined a “carbon dioxide equivalent” – for which methane now qualifies. That legal definition is the amount of another greenhouse gas by mass that produces the same global-warming impact as the given mass of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. Simply put, methane can now be compared to carbon dioxide, at a time scale appropriate for addressing the urgency of climate change.

Also, the new state law accounts for greenhouse gases produced outside of New York for the energy used within New York. “The new law says that when we use natural gas in New York, and if that natural gas came from Pennsylvania, then we have to take into account the methane emissions from Pennsylvania,” he said.

Most natural gas consumed in New York is fracked shale gas from Pennsylvania, and much of the unburned methane from that gas is emitted in Pennsylvania at well sites and compressor stations, long before the natural gas reaches the New York border. But by the time the natural gas gets to New York, its greenhouse gas emissions are undercounted and may seem small, said Howarth.

“Under the old accounting in New York, methane seemed trivial,” he said. “Under this new law, the new accounting means that methane is now larger than carbon dioxide – about 1.3 times larger than carbon dioxide for consumption of natural gas. That’s pretty powerful when you add it up.”

Dr. Howarth not only had a hand in the drafting of the CLCPA but now he is a prominent member of the Climate Action Council that will   “identify and make recommendations on regulatory measures and other state actions that will ensure the attainment of the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits” (§ 75-0103).  During the emission inventory discussion at the August 24, 2020 Climate Action Council meeting he said that the State had done a good job with some of their proposed inventory but he thought that his recent paper did a better job in other parts of the inventory.  That paper includes the following statement:

A growing body of literature has suggested that methane emissions can contribute significantly to the GHG footprint of natural gas, including shale gas (Howarth et al. 2011; Howarth 2014; Alvarez et al. 2018). Some evidence indicates that shale-gas development in North America may have contributed one-third of the total global increase in methane emissions from all sources over the past decade (Howarth 2019).

I had never heard of the journal where the Howarth 2020 paper was published.  The Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences “provides a stimulating, informative and critical forum for intellectual debate on significant environmental issues. It brings together perspectives from a wide range of disciplines and methodologies in both the social and natural sciences in an effort to develop integrative knowledge about the processes responsible for environmental change, the impact of environmental change on nature and society, and possible solutions.”  Frankly this paper is very similar to a blog post argument supporting the CLCPA.  But it does carry the imprimatur of a peer-reviewed article for the standard article publishing charge of $1200 for research and reviews articles and essays.

There are several instances where the language implies inside knowledge of the motives of the authors of the CLCPA.  When describing the change to account for associated indirect emissions it says: “The goal of this change is to make sure that the citizens of New York State have a tool by which to judge their full climate footprint, acting locally but thinking globally to reduce emissions.”  In the discussion about the changes for the global warming potential time scales (GWP) he states that:  “A GWP that uses a shorter time frame for methane, and separately reporting methane and carbon dioxide emissions, may be appropriate if the concern is with the rate of global warming over the next few decades (Howarth 2014). The political leaders in New York who passed the CLCPA were influenced by this logic in their choice of the 20-year time frame; note that the CLCPA mandates a 40% reduction in GHG emissions within 10 years and an 85% reduction within 30 years.”  Finally, he concludes: “For New York State, our political leaders chose to include methane emissions from outside of the State that are associated with energy use within the State and to weigh methane emissions over the 20-year time period, given the COP21 targets and the current rate of global warming.”

The Other Side of the Story

Recall that the Howarth 2020 paper claims “Some evidence indicates that shale-gas development in North America may have contributed one-third of the total global increase in methane emissions from all sources over the past decade (Howarth 2019).”  This paper and other similar papers claim that “methane emissions can contribute significantly to the GHG footprint of natural gas, including shale gas”.  There is a problem however, the claims are contradicted by other work.

In Howarth et al, 2011 he claims that 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a high-volume hydraulic fracturing well in a paper arguing that natural gas was not a good substitute for coal.  Natural gas is composed primarily of methane so the first red flag warning is the expectation that a well owner is going to accept that level of loss of the product he wants to sell.  Cathles et al., 2012 found serious flaws in Howarth paper noting that “they significantly overestimate the fugitive emissions associated with unconventional gas extraction, undervalue the contribution of “green technologies” to reducing those emissions to a level approaching that of conventional gas, base their comparison between gas and coal on heat rather than electricity generation (almost the sole use of coal), and assume a time interval over which to compute the relative climate impact of gas compared to coal that does not capture the contrast between the long residence time of CO2 and the short residence time of methane in the atmosphere.”

Lewan in review 2020 evaluates the claim in Howarth 2019 that “shale-gas development in North America may have contributed one-third of the total global increase in methane emissions from all sources over the past decade”.  The abstract states:

“The ideas and perspectives presented by Howarth (2019) on shale gas being a major cause of recent increases in global atmospheric methane are based on his notion that stable carbon isotopes of methane (δ13C1) of shale gas are lighter than that of conventional gas based on a meager and unrepresentative data set. A plethora of publicly available data show that the δ13C1 values of shale gas are typically heavier than those of conventional gas. This contradiction renders his ideas, perspectives, and calculations on methane emissions from shale gas invalid.”

Although I have been involved with emissions inventories for over 45 years, I do not have specific experience with natural gas production emissions.  However, over that time I learned early on that the gold standard check on any emissions inventory is comparison of the inventory estimate with observed ambient monitoring.  If there is a high quality, long-term monitoring network that measures the pollutant in the inventory and those measurements do not reflect the trend in the inventory then the inventory is wrong.

Lan et al., 2019 evaluated data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network and determined trends for 2006–2015.  This covers the period when Pennsylvania shale-gas production increased tremendously.  According to the plain language summary for the report:

In the past decade, natural gas production in the United States has increased by ~46%. Methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas productions have raised concerns since methane is a potent greenhouse gas with the second largest influence on global warming. Recent studies show conflicting results regarding whether methane emissions from oil and gas operations have been increased in the United States. Based on long‐term and well‐calibrated measurements, we find that (i) there is no large increase of total methane emissions in the United States in the past decade; (ii) there is a modest increase in oil and gas methane emissions, but this increase is much lower than some previous studies suggest; and (iii) the assumption of a time‐constant relationship between methane and ethane emissions has resulted in major overestimation of an oil and gas emissions trend in some previous studies.

As a result of the fact that the relevant high quality, long-term monitoring network did not show a trend consistent with the work of Howarth I believe that unequivocally supports Dr Lewan’s conclusion that his ideas, perspectives, and calculations on methane emissions from shale gas are invalid.

Finally, there is an even more fundamental problem with the methane obsession as it relates to global warming due to the greenhouse effect.  As more greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere, they reduce the amount of upward thermal radiation or heat from the surface that an escape the atmosphere.   The effect of each greenhouse gas depends on the properties of each greenhouse gas relative to thermal radiation and their concentration in the atmosphere.  A recent report explains that “For current concentrations of greenhouse gases, the radiative forcing at the tropopause, per added CH4 molecule, is about 30 times larger than the forcing per added carbon-dioxide (CO2 ) molecule”.  That is the rationale that the CLCPA used to incorporate the mandates for changes to the inventory.  However, when you consider the concentration in the atmosphere the potential effect is much less significant.  The paper notes: “The rate of increase of CO2 molecules, about 2.3 ppm/year (ppm = part per million), is about 300 times larger than the rate of increase of CH4 molecules, which has been around 0.0076 ppm/year since the year 2008. So, the contribution of methane to the annual increase in forcing is one tenth (30/300) that of carbon dioxide.”  The report concludes “Proposals to place harsh restrictions on methane emissions because of warming fears are not justified by facts.”

Conclusion

If this were only a disagreement about a scientific controversy that had no direct effect on society, then the obvious errors could be ignored by the general public.  However, the errors introduced by this irrational obsession with methane from natural gas has been incorporated into the CLCPA such that I think it will bring this issue to the attention of everyone far sooner than I expected.

Howarth’s 2020 paper includes estimates of 2015 emissions that indicate draconian limits on fossil fuel use will be necessary to meet the 2030 targets. That paper notes: “To meet the CLCPA 2030 target of a 40% emissions decrease will require a focus on greatly reducing the use of natural gas in the residential and commercial sector and petroleum products in transportation.” Perhaps you have heard of the slogan “no new fossil fuel infrastructure” in the context of blocking pipelines but it will literally hit close to home soon.  I bet that when the CLCPA control requirements are developed, “no new fossil fuel infrastructure” will mean that you cannot replace your current natural gas fired stove, hot water heater or furnace and that they will also have to come after your gasoline powered automobile.  Everything will have to be replaced by electric alternatives because electrification of heating and transportation is the only way to meet those targets.

Advocates for the CLCPA claim that renewables are cheaper and more resilient.  I don’t think that the costs of replacing all the existing fossil-fired infrastructure are included in the cost estimates and while solar and wind energy may be free, the cost to collect that energy and provide it when and where it is needed is far from free.  Increased resiliency is a joke.  Over-reliance on electricity will end badly when the inevitable ice storm knocks out power.  People will literally freeze to death in the dark when the alternative fossil fuels that can provide the energy needed to survive when the electricity is out are no longer available.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the general public is told that the concept that they can no longer use fossil fuels becomes reality.  I have to believe that questions will be asked about the value and rationale for that requirement and I hope that the politicians who mindlessly voted for this law are voted out.

Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Kick-Start the Economy

On July 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).  It is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. This post looks at claims that using the green energy projects needed to meet the CLCPA goals will get the economy moving after the COVID pandemic.

I am following the implementation of the Climate Act closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker.  Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels, I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Problems with a Green Energy Kick-Start

Advocates for the CLCPA claim that we should use clean energy projects to get the economy moving again.  For example, at the August 24, 2020 Climate Action Council meeting Co-Chair Doreen Harris said this summer’s large-scale renewable project solicitations will kick-start the economy.  In this post I evaluate Gail Tverberg’s post “Why a Great Reset Based on Green Energy Isn’t Possible” at her blog Our Finite World with respect to those claims.

Ms. Tverberg gives ten reasons why re-starting the economy after the Covid pandemic is not simply like resetting your computer.  She explains some of the misunderstandings that “lead people to believe that the world economy can move to a Green Energy future”.  I encourage readers to read her post. Despite her emphasis on the world’s economy there are important lessons for New York.

Her first point is that the “The economy isn’t really like a computer that can be switched on and off; it is more comparable to a human body that is dead, once it is switched off.”  Ms. Tverberg argues that the economy and energy system are inextricably interconnected.  She explains that the economy is only able to “grow” because of energy consumption.  As resources change businesses change.  A key point is that as energy sources are taken away systems like the economy fail quickly.  While in this instance the economic collapse was not because of energy input it still cannot simply be turned back on.

Tverberg’s blog originally explored how oil limits affect the economy but, in my opinion, oil is only a surrogate for energy.  In the “Getting Started” section on her blog she explains how limits to minerals and energy sources should be incorporated into economic modeling.  This is related to her second point “Economic growth has a definite pattern to it, rather than simply increasing without limit”.  Of particular interest to New York is that one of the economic limits ignored by economic modelers is “an energy supply that becomes excessively expensive to produce”.  We are still waiting for an estimate for the cost of the CLCPA but experience elsewhere does not bode well.

Her post addresses the world’s economy but her third issue “Commodity prices behave differently at different stages of the economic cycle. During the second half of the economic cycle, it becomes difficult to keep commodity prices high enough for producers”, should be a direct warning for New York.  In particular, we are waiting for the Climate Action Council to develop their scoping plan that will include an energy plan for New York.  We can only guess at how many wind turbines, solar panels, and energy storage systems will be needed when heating and transportation are electrified.  Given that energy storage is expensive, one cost minimization approach is to over-build wind and solar to minimize the periods when a lot of energy storage is needed.  The peak demand periods occur rarely but they are also the most impactful – think the coldest and hottest periods.  However, if you over-build, the electricity commodity price will be very low most of the time when solar and wind output is greater than the load needed.  Tverberg explains that too low oil prices make it more difficult for oil producers to survive and this will also be a likely problem for New York’s energy producers.

Her next point specifically addresses coal and oil prices.  She is concerned that the low prices since mid-2008 seem to be leading to both peak crude oil and peak coal.  In both cases she claims that investments in new oil wells and unprofitable coal mines are not occurring.  Consequently, there will be less energy available for the economy.

Tverberg believes that economic “modelers missed the fact that fossil fuel extraction would disappear because of low prices, leaving nearly all reserves and other resources in the ground”.   Importantly she points out that these “modelers instead assumed that renewables would always be an extension of a fossil fuel-powered system”.  The following quote is directly applicable to New York’s CLCPA:

“Thus, modelers looking at Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) for wind and for solar assumed that they would always be used inside of a fossil fuel powered system that could provide heavily subsidized balancing for their intermittent output. They made calculations as if intermittent electricity is equivalent to electricity that can be controlled to provide electricity when it is needed. Their calculations seemed to suggest that making wind and solar would be useful. The thing that was overlooked was that this was only possible within a system where other fuels would provide balancing at a very low cost.”

The CLCPA assumes that political will is sufficient to over-come this problem but no one has shown how they plan to do it.

Tverberg makes the same point that I have been making that her concerns apply to other aspects of the economy: “The same issue of low demand leading to low prices affects commodities of all kinds. As a result, many of the future resources that modelers count on, and that companies depend upon as the basis for borrowing, are unlikely to really be available.”  If New York continues down this path, then our only hope is that jurisdictions outside of New York won’t, so that future resources will be available elsewhere.

 The following two issues addressed by Tverberg reveal fundamental flaws in the CLCPA.  First, she notes that “On a stand-alone basis, intermittent renewables have very limited usefulness. Their true value is close to zero.”  Recall that the CLCPA plans to replace almost all fossil fuels with intermittent renewables.  I am sure she would agree with me that the CLCPA will likely end badly.

 I could not agree more with the second applicable issue: “The true cost of wind and solar has been hidden from everyone, using subsidies whose total cost is hard to determine.”  A common trope is that wind and solar are cheaper but those comparisons always include the cost of construction and exclude the costs to make the intermittent and diffuse renewable power available when and where it is needed.  When those costs are included wind and solar are far more expensive.  If subsidies are needed to make intermittent renewable viable then how can New York afford to maintain the subsidies indefinitely?  She notes that the “ability to subsidize a high cost, unreliable electricity system is disappearing.”

 Tverberg points out that “Wind, solar, and hydroelectric today only comprise a little under 10% of the world’s energy supply” so we have a long way to go to reach a “green” energy system.   According to the New York Independent System Operator wind, solar and hydroelectric in New York totaled 25.8% of New York’s energy supply mostly because New York is in the unique geographical position to get 22.4% from hydro primarily at Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River.  In my opinion the hydro capability for New York is tapped out so future renewables will have to come from wind and solar.  Additionally, she makes the point that None of these three energy types is suited to producing food. Oil is currently used for tilling fields, making herbicides and pesticides, and transporting refrigerated crops to market.”

 I also agree strongly with Tverberg’s final consideration: “Few people understand how important energy supply is for giving humans control over other species and pathogens.”  She ends that section withWe are dealing with COVID-19 now. Today’s hospitals are only possible thanks to a modern mix of energy supply. Drugs are very often made using oil. Personal protective equipment is made in factories around the world and shipped to where it is used, generally using oil for transport.”

Conclusion

Tverberg concludes:

“We do indeed appear to be headed for a Great Reset. There is little chance that Green Energy can play more than a small role, however. Leaders are often confused because of the erroneous modeling that has been done. Given that the world’s oil and coal supply seem to be declining in the near term, the chance that fossil fuel production will ever rise as high as assumptions made in the IPCC reports seems very slim.”

I conclude that two of the concerns raised in her article are fundamental flaws in the CLCPA. She explains that intermittent renewables have a true value close to zero and that the total cost of the subsidies needed to support wind and solar are hidden and hard to determine.  The CLCPA mandates reliance on intermittent renewables which will inevitably eventually cause problems.  I also believe that those flaws undermine the concept that the technologies will kickstart the economy.  That can only appear to work until the subsidy money runs out.  At a time when there isn’t enough money for basic services throwing money away on intermittent renewables is sheer folly.

Carbon Price Needed to Fund Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Reductions

I have been following the concept of carbon pricing for quite some time.  While I agree that the theory that setting a carbon price could lead to the least-cost decarbonization, I also believe that there are a whole host of practical problems that mean it won’t work as suggested by the theory.  One of the problems I have noted is that the actual costs of decarbonization are very large and that means a carbon price would also have to be high.  In this post I try to estimate the carbon price needed to fund the CO2 reductions necessary to meet New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) goal to eliminate fossil-fired generation by 2040.

I first became involved with pollution trading programs nearly 30 years ago and have been involved in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon pricing program since it was being developed in 2003.  During that time, I analyzed effects of these programs on operations and was responsible for compliance planning and reporting.  I write about the issues related to the energy and environmental interface from the viewpoint of staff people who have to deal with implementing these programs.  This represents my opinion and not the opinion of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with.

Background

In a post at Watts Up With That, Carbon Pricing is a Practical Dead End,  I noted that carbon pricing proponents have convinced themselves that somehow a carbon price is different than a tax but, in my experience working with affected sources, it is treated just like a tax simply because the affected sources have no options to cost-effectively reduce emissions.  As a result, they just add the carbon price to their cost of doing business – just like a tax.  As a result, the over-riding problem with carbon pricing is that it is a regressive tax raising the price to those least able to afford it.  In that article, I described a number of other practical reasons that cap-and-invest carbon pricing, or any variation thereof, will not work as theorized: leakage, revenues over time, theory vs. reality, market signal inefficiency, control options, total costs of alternatives, and implementation logistics.  In addition, The Regulatory Analysis Project (RAP) recently completed a study for Vermont, Economic Benefits and Energy Savings through Low-Cost Carbon Management, that raises additional relevant concerns about carbon pricing implementation.

In this post I will estimate a cost for decarbonizing the electric sector by 2040, project the CO2 emissions between the present and 2040 and calculate the carbon price needed to make those reductions.

Decarbonization Costs

The first step is to estimate how much electric capacity will be needed in 2040 so I can figure out how much additional wind and solar energy will be needed when fossil fuels are eliminated from New York’s electric generation fuel mix in 2040.  Until I see a convincing argument otherwise, I believe that distributed solar, utility-scale solar, on-shore wind and off-shore wind will provide nearly all the additional energy needed to decarbonize New York’s electric generating sector.  The Citizen’s Budget Commission not only provided a great summary of the CLCPA but also made estimates of the renewable capacity needed as shown in the Forecast of 2040 Capacity (MW) Resources to Meet CLCPA Goals table.

The second step is to estimate the cost of replacement power.  A recent blog post at the edmhdotme blog determined the excess cost of weather dependent renewable power generation in the EU provided a technique and a reference to calculate those costs.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2020 published Cost and Performance Characteristics of New Generating Technologies in January 2020.  The document includes a table with Total overnight capital costs of new electricity generating technologies by region that includes development costs for New York City and Long Island (NYCW) and Upstate New York (NYUP).

The Estimated CLCPA Cost for Wind and Solar Additional Capacity Needed for Citizen’s Budget Commission Projected Load table lists the estimated costs for each category.  For the grand total I assumed all the renewables would be in the Upstate New York region.  I could not find an EIA estimate for installed costs for residential solar but I did find a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) comparison of the 2018 costs which found that residential PV $2.17 per watt and that utility-scale PV with a one-axis tracker was $1.13 per watt.  I estimated the residential solar costs in the table by using the 2.17 to 1.13 ratio from the NREL presentation. The grand total is $169.5 billion.

In 2019 New York electric sector CO2 emissions were 24,866,404 tons.  In 2040 they are supposed to be zero.  If the annual reduction is 1,184,115 tons this goal will be met.  The sum of all the CO2 emitted with that annual reduction is 273,530,329 tons between now and 2040. If the carbon price is set so that the money obtained for the cumulative emissions is sufficient to pay for the $169.5 billion needed for the additional wind and solar capacity, then the carbon price would have to equal $619.54 per ton as shown in the Projected CO2 Emissions through 2040, Total Costs, and Revenues table.

This is an initial estimate of costs.  The $169.5 billion capacity cost does not include the cost to provide storage when the intermittent solar and wind are unavailable, the cost to modify the transmission system to move the diffuse solar and wind where needed, or the cost to provide additoinal transmission support so that the grid can deliver power where needed.  Nor does it include the cost to replace generation because the expected life-time of these renewable resources is on the order of 20 years.  This is also an estimate of the costs only for power generation so the costs to electrify heating, cooking, and water heating needs and the transportation sector are not included.  On the other hand, there should be some reduction of the costs for renewable generation development over time but the scale of that reduction likely is much lower than these unincluded costs.

Conclusion

I have previously stated that market signal inefficiency, the total costs of alternatives, and decreasing revenues over time were three practical reasons that carbon pricing is a practical dead end.  This post quantifies these issues.  This estimate only considered the installed costs of residential solar, utility-scale solar, on-shore wind and off-shore wind but estimates that the carbon price would have to be $681 per ton to provide enough money to build those facilities.  This is an inefficient market signal because the Obama-era Interagency Working group social cost of carbon with a discount rate of 3% and considering global benefits is $50 in 2020 which is an order of magnitude less than the projected carbon price.  Also note that in the Projected CO2 Emissions through 2040, Total Costs, and Revenues table the revenues go down significantly over time.  Because the expected lifetime of the wind and solar resources is on the order of 20 years there will be a continuing need for funding these projects and there won’t be any carbon price revenues available.

My fundamental problem with the CLCPA is that it presumes that the target reductions mandated by the act are technically and financially feasible.  No other jurisdiction remotely approaching the size of New York has reduced its emissions anywhere near the CLCPA targets so there are technical challenges.  This analysis of carbon pricing feasibility projects enormous costs even without including storage and transmission requirements.  Besides the fact that these costs are far above the purported negative externality cost in the social cost of carbon, they are so large that I cannot imagine a scenario where they would be willing accepted by the citizens of the State.  Pielke’s Iron Law of Climate, “While people are often willing to pay some price for achieving climate objectives, that willingness has its limits”, surely will be the inevitable result of these programs.

Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Climate Action Council Power Generation Advisory Panel

In the summer of 2019 Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) which was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country when Cuomo signed the legislation.  This is another in a series of posts on the feasibility, implications and consequences of the CLCPA.  This post addresses the power generation advisory panel that is supposed to help implement the CLCPA scoping plan.

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40-years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations. I believe that gives me a relatively unique background to consider the potential quantitative effects of energy policies based on doing something about climate change.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

My biggest concern with the CLCPA is that I am convinced that the general public has no idea what is going on with these energy policies and the possible ramifications.  Moreover, I do not believe that the CLCPA implementation process includes sufficient provisions for the general public to find out what this law will mean to them until it is too late to prevent the inevitable higher costs of energy.

Background

Section § 75-0103 in the CLCPA establishes the New York state climate action council (CAC). The CAC is charged with planning responsibility:

“The council shall on or before two years of the effective date of this article, prepare and approve a scoping plan outlining the recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits in accordance with the schedule established in section 75-0107 of this article, and for the reduction of emissions beyond eighty-five percent, net zero emissions in all sectors of the economy, which shall inform the state energy planning board’s adoption of a state energy plan in accordance with section 6-104 of the energy law. The first state energy plan issued subsequent to completion of the scoping plan required by this section shall incorporate the recommendations of the council. “

In order to develop this scoping plan that will transition New York’s entire energy economy, the CAC has a membership strongly weighted with Cuomo administration appointees.  The CAC consists of 22 members: twelve agency heads, two non-agency expert members appointed by the Governor, six members appointed by the majority leaders of the Senate and Assembly, and two members appointed by the minority members of the Senate and Assembly.  All twelve agency heads and two non-agency expert members were appointed by the Governor so the majority of the CAC is directly beholden to him.

In order to “provide recommendations to the council on specific topics, in its preparation of the scoping plan, and interim updates to the scoping plan, and in fulfilling the council’s ongoing duties”, the CAC (§ 75-0103, 7) “shall convene advisory panels requiring special expertise and, at a minimum, shall establish advisory panels on transportation, energy intensive and trade-exposed industries, land-use and local government, energy efficiency and housing, power generation, and agriculture and forestry”.

Section § 75-0103, 7 (b) states that “Advisory panels shall be comprised of no more than five voting members. The council shall elect advisory panel members, and such membership shall at all times represent individuals with direct involvement or expertise in matters to be addressed by the advisory panels pursuant to this section.”  Note, however, that all the advisory panels had more than five members nominated: transportation (15), energy intensive and trade-exposed industries (12), land-use and local government (10), energy efficiency and housing (13), power generation (14), and agriculture and forestry (17).  It is not clear how any issues will be resolved given the voting member requirement.  When the issue was raised at the August 24 CAC meeting there was a waffling discussion of building a consensus to resolve issues.

This post describes the power generation advisory panel approved at the Climate Action Council meeting on August 24, 2020.

Advisory Panels Description at CAC Meeting August 24, 2020

I suspect that I am not the only one who does not really understand how this is all supposed to work.  The discussion at the CAC meeting offers some insights.

According to the CAC presentation each advisory panel is expected to “Identify a range of emissions reductions, consistent with analysis and in consultation with the CAC, for the sector which contributes to meeting the statewide emission limits.”  According to the slide presentation, they are supposed to:

      • Present a list of recommendations for emissions reducing policies, programs or actions, for consideration by the Climate Action Council for inclusion in the Scoping Plan.
          • Recommendations should identify the estimated scale of impact, knowable costs to achieve, ease of deployment or commercial availability, potential co-benefits to emissions reduction, advancement of climate justice outcomes, and impacts to businesses.
          • Recommendations may be informed by quantitative analysis or qualitative assessment.
      • Seek public input to inform the development of recommendations to the Council for consideration.
          • Panels may seek input from selected expertise in a subject area, as determined necessary by the members.
          • Panels shall, during the next six months, hold at least one forum to receive broad-based public input.
          • Provide transparency by making meetings open to public viewing or/and publishing minutes of deliberations.

The CLCPA recognizes that this is a significant undertaking and provides process support:

      • Each advisory panel will be supported by:
            • Access to consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics (“E3”) to provide economic and technology assumptions, understanding of market development as based on literature research, some quantitative analysis of higher impact recommendations.
            • A working group comprising staff from contributing state agencies or authorities to assist with research and less-detailed analytical work.
            • Completed state technology or market studies and other research resources as available.
            • Where initiated, current state agency technical analysis or market development assessments that may serve as a foundation for recommendations or as reference material for development of recommendations.

Power Generation Advisory Panel

The Climate Action Council approved 14 members, a chairman and a co-chair to the power generation advisory panel but left open consideration to add more people.  It is not clear to me how choosing members worked.   I think that the panel members were nominated by CAC members to some core group from the DPS, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority who provide supporting services but those folks did not make the decisions.  I believe that the decision-making role is entirely within the Cuomo Administration and given the tendency for the Governor to micro-manage I suspect that all decisions are made by high-level staff if not the Governor himself.

There are six advisory panels but because my primary concern is the electric system, I will concentrate on the power generation advisory panel.  I researched the membership of the Power Generation Advisory Panel.  The CLCPA Power Generation Advisory Panel attachment summarizes each member with a link to their organization including, where appropriate, a brief description of their organization’s mission, along with a summary of the individual named to the panel.  Note that most of the people nominated are senior-level staff presumably with extensive obligations.  As a result, I believe that most of their input will be based on work by others within their organizations.  One final note, during the webinar one of the themes of the introductions was the importance of diversity within the membership.

I categorized the organizations represented by the 14 non-state agency members: three members work for generating companies, two renewable and one fossil oriented; one member is from the New York Independent System Operator, the state’s grid operating company; one member is a consultant for energy and sustainability issues; and the remaining eight members were from advocacy organizations representing either renewable technologies, the environment, or trade unions, with one representing ratepayers.

 

Discussion

The CLCPA states that the “council shall convene advisory panels requiring special expertise”.  It is no simple matter understanding how the New York electric system works and I believe that it requires a hard science education or electric sector experience.  In my opinion, only five of the Power Generation panel members have the special expertise necessary.  How in the world can the public expect that this panel will provide meaningful recommendations to the CAC on the electric power system?  The most glaring omission is that there is no one from the electric utility sector included so transmission expertise is unavailable.

I find it telling and troubling that reliability was not mentioned in the CAC presentation on the advisory panels.  There are extensive electric system reliability requirements in place.  The New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO), New York State Reliability Council (NYSRC), and New York Department of Public Service (DPS) all have responsibilities related to maintaining the reliability of the electric system. The CLCPA mandates a complete transition of the system away from fossil fuels by 2040.  It is not clear how differences between the reliability needs and CLCPA mandates will be resolved.

New York State has an existing energy planning process.  The State Energy Plan is a comprehensive roadmap to build a “clean, resilient, and affordable” energy system for all New Yorkers.  It focuses on “reliably meeting projected future energy demands, while balancing economic development, climate change, environmental quality, health, safety and welfare, transportation, and consumer energy cost objectives”.  Importantly that process was integrated with the responsibilities of the NYISO, NYSRC and DPS.  In my opinion, the agency staff who have prepared this plan in the past should provide primary support to all the advisory panels if only to circumvent re-inventing the wheel.

The Energy Planning Board has 13 voting members and one non-voting member.  Eleven of the members are appointed by the Governor and most also are members of the CAC.  The CAC’s scoping plan “shall inform the state energy planning board’s adoption of a state energy plan in accordance with section 6-104 of the energy law”.  The CLCPA explicitly states that “The first state energy plan issued subsequent to completion of the scoping plan required by this section shall incorporate the recommendations of the council”.  It is not clear whether any exceptions to the ideological agenda of the Cuomo Administration will be considered, much less incorporated into the scoping plan.

Among the mysteries of the CLCPA implementation is how the scoping plan and energy plan are to be reconciled. It is not clear to me how the Climate Action Council’s scoping plan will be integrated with the all the planning functions and reliability rules of the NYISO, NYSRC, and DPS that are incorporated into the Energy Plan.  If there is a difference does the scoping plan trump the energy plan?  That would be dangerous in my opinion.

Conclusion

My fundamental problem with the CLCPA is that it presumes that the target reduction of emissions beyond eighty-five percent net zero emissions in all sectors of the economy is technically and financially feasible.  I think that needs to be proven first.  Within the power generation sector, a feasibility plan could determine how much renewable energy is available relative to how much energy is needed, describe different approaches to meet the targets with the renewable availability constraints, and explain the strengths and weaknesses of the options.  Once that is complete then the scoping plan would have a basis for its recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits.  I think the CLCPA process essentially precludes doing this right.

I am not aware of any jurisdiction of any size approaching New York State that has successfully made a complete transition to non-fossil electric generation so this will truly be an unprecedented endeavor.  The makeup of the power generation advisory panel does not engender confidence that New York’s transition will be successful.  The majority of the members have insufficient background and experience to do anything other than rubber stamp whatever they are given to review.  Coupled with the fact that the majority of the members also have a bias towards the belief that the transition is simply a matter of political will, it is not clear whether inconvenient facts will be considered or simply dismissed.

In August 2020, California grid operators had to impose rolling electric blackouts to maintain grid reliability standards.  The basic problem was that power demand peaks as people turn on their air conditioning in the late afternoon just as the solar power supplies cut off as the sun goes down.  So little power was available the California grid operator had to reduce load to prevent an uncontrolled, much wider scale blackout in the event of a problem at an operating power plant.  The scale of that problem pales compared to the scale of the situation when the CLCPA requirements to electrify heating and transportation increase winter load and the elimination of fossil generation increases the dependency upon wind and solar electricity generation.  In the winter at New York’s latitude the days are short and the solar panels could be covered by snow.  When there is a prolonged cold snap accompanied by light winds both renewable resources will be unavailable and the only question is for how long[1].  This worst-case availability scenario has to be considered by the CAC scoping plan to prevent a 2040 New York blackout that could result in people freezing to death in the dark unable to flee.  Will the Power Generation Advisory Panel and the Climate Action Council address this issue or simply brush these concerns aside?

[1] The need for a feasibility study was emphasized in my comments to the Department of Public Services resource adequacy proceeding.  I described my initial comments submitted on 9/16/19 and summarized my reply comments submitted on 1/23/20.

 

 

24 August 2020 New York Climate Action Council Meeting

On July 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“Climate Act”). It is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. The law creates a Climate Action Council (CAC) charged with developing a scoping plan of recommendations to meet these targets.  This post summarizes the third meeting of the Council.  Summaries of other meetings are available here.

I am following the implementation of the Climate Act closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker.  Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels, I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

According to the Climate Action Council website: “The New York State Climate Action Council is a 22-member committee that will prepare a Scoping Plan to achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  The co-chairs and ten of the members are representatives of state agencies and authorities.  The remaining ten members were chosen by politicians. Advisory panels and the Just Transition Working Group will help develop the scoping plan.

The meetings provide insight to the direction of the massive energy transition required by the Climate Act.  The meetings are run formally with a role call at the beginning, approval of minutes, and votes on any decisions.  The following is a description of the meeting and my impressions.  Meeting materials are provided here:

Co-Chair Remarks and Reflections

These remarks start at the 10:20 mark in the meeting recording. The political nature of this meeting is nowhere more evident than in this agenda item which included five slides: Isaias: A call for resilience, Going Big on Large-Scale Renewables, Investing nearly $1 billion in energy efficiency for low- to moderate-income households, Cleaning New York’s vehicle fleets, and Ensuring climate justice.  Clearly these remarks are scripted for the co-chairs to read and are crafted to reflect well on Governor Cuomo’s energy agenda.

The meeting was held soon after the remnants of Isaias passed through the state and Co-Chair Doreen Harris said that: “As the Governor himself stated, the worst of this situation was avoidable”.  This slide concluded with a clarion call: “We must be better prepared and adapt/improve our overall resilience”.        As is usual for the Cuomo administration, the impacts of this weather event were attributed to climate change.  The reality is that even if it was possible to tease out the potential effect of climate change on the storm’s wind and rain impacts, the impacts without climate change would have caused power outage problems.  It is unclear how the worst of this situation could be avoided.  If your goal is to reduce power outages as much as possible then you could place power lines underground but those costs are on an order of magnitude greater than the costs of overhead wires.  There is no possibility that GHG emission reductions made in New York will affect power outages because the possible effect on global warming is immeasurable.

The next three slides glowingly described progress on the energy initiatives of New York.  The real meat of this meeting started with a description of the startup of the Climate Justice Working Group.  This is one of the support committees for the CAC.  This particular one will consult with the Council on climate justice.

Advisory Panels and Working Groups

In addition to the Climate Justice Working Group, the council has a mandate to convene advisory panels “requiring special expertise and, at a minimum, shall establish advisory panels on transportation, energy intensive and trade-exposed industries, land-use and local government, energy efficiency and housing, power generation, and agriculture and forestry”. The panels will provide “recommendations to the council on specific topics, in its preparation of the scoping plan, and interim updates to the scoping plan, and in fulfilling the council’s ongoing duties”.  The members for the mandated working groups were announced at this meeting.  I will not comment here on the members proposed.

The transition to a new energy system is complex and clearly special expertise is needed.  The concept that the CAC would need this support when defining the plan for the transition is obvious.  However, it is not clear who decided on the proposed membership.  Based on the discussions I got the impression that people were nominated either by members of the CAC or by other stakeholders.  It was also clear that some people who were nominated did not get included.  The promise by the co-chairs that someone would take another look does not give me confidence that everyone will be satisfied.

There is another procedural issue.  The Climate Act specifies that there will be “no more than five voting members” in each advisory panel.  The nominated members for the advisory panels were larger: transportation (15), energy intensive and trade-exposed industries (12), land-use and local government (10), energy efficiency and housing (13), power generation (14), and agriculture and forestry (17).  It appears that there is a wide variation in the backgrounds of the members and I suspect that will result in differing opinions for recommendations.  How that will play out with the voting member criterion is not clear.

The presentation discussed how the advisory panels are expected to operate and their work products.  Frankly, the commitments to do this work are so significant that my expectation is that the process support staff described will do most of the work.  For example, in the “next steps for the advisory panels” slide they have been asked to organize a meeting in the first half of September to develop a work plan that includes:

      • A Scope of Work, identifying topics and issues of the panel discussions, breakdown of sub-issues as needed, potential initial identification of needed research or analysis.
      • A timeline for conducting work and reaching recommendations. The timeline should include:
        • Projected schedule of meetings and public engagement opportunities and
        • Points of consultation with the Climate Justice and Just Transition working groups;
      • Identify any other processes or milestones that may inform the development and submission of recommendations.

Just getting something all down on paper for consideration of the work plan is more than I would expect any individual member to have the time or expertise to do.  Presumably agency staff will to that preparation work.  However the initial draft certainly guides the direction of the work plan.

The presentation also noted that the panels shall “seek public input to inform the development of recommendations to the Council for consideration”, “provide transparency by making meetings open to public viewing or/and publishing minutes of deliberations”, and make available information regarding advisory panel public meetings and comment opportunities on the climate.ny.gov webpage”.  While I hope they follow through on that promise, considering public input adds to the work load of panel members.  Moreover, there is no apparent mechanism with the CAC process to handle public input.  For example, there isn’t any reference to public input documentation.  Later in the meeting this issue was raised and Commissioner Seggos backed off public viewing for all meetings.

The timeline for the draft scoping plan is ambitious.  The work plans are supposed to be completed in mid-October.  Recommendations, development and outreach follow in five months so that the panels can make their proposals to the CAC in mid-March.  All the work is supposed to be integrated in three months for a target integrated draft in mid-June 2021.  Three months of draft review are followed by three months to “Prepare to issue draft scoping plan” ending in December 2021.

At the conclusion of this section of the meeting, after giving the CAC members a list without any documentation of the members other than their affiliation they were asked to approve the memberships.  I hope this rubber stamp approval approach is not a taste of what is to come in this process.

Discussion: Waste Management Decisions

The Climate Act does not specifically mandate an advisory panel for waste management even though it historically represents 8% of statewide emissions.  Commissioner Seggos from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposed setting up a core team at DEC (air resources and material management) to operate like an advisory panel rather than setting up another advisory panel.  CAC members were worried that there would not be as much opportunity for public input.  I am not sure how much practical difference this will make because agency staff will do much of the work anyway.

CLCPA Implementation

A couple of progress reports on state activities were described.  Of more interest to me was the discussion of DEC’s proposed Part 496.  A key part of the Climate Act is defining the baseline 1990 emission inventory and I have posted a couple of times on it:  one post looked at the emissions report timing by looking at the effect of four key considerations imposed by the CLCPA, and another post discussed the implications of two key requirements in the Climate Act.

The presentation noted that upstream emissions from fossil fuels and using a 20-year Global Warming Potential as mandated by the Climate Act were responsible for most of the increase from the prior NYS GHG Inventory baseline: 236.19 million metric tons (MMT) CO2e to 401.38 MMT.  During the development of the regulation DEC assumed that the emission limits should be based on 1990 gross emissions not net emissions because the 2050 target is an 85% reduction and net zero goal.  DEC had to use a bottom up inventory for 1990 because there wasn’t a top down inventory available.  CAC member Robert Howarth said they should use top down.  DEC and NYSERDA are working on the annual inventories now.

Conclusion

I sensed that there was some frustration amongst the CAC members that they might not be able to manage what they see as their charge.  I sympathize with some of their concern because it is not clear how decisions will be made.  Nobody explicitly said how the members were chosen for the advisory panels but if I had to guess I would bet a lot of money that it was made by Cuomo’s minions.  Clearly putting the future of our energy system in the hands of people chosen more on political optics than their expertise is a recipe for problems.

On the other hand, some of the whining about lack of input was made by people with agendas.  That makes the situation even worse.  Decision making with an over emphasis based on environmental ideology is certain to end badly.  I will address this concern more in a future post.

 

 

RGGI Response to Investment of RGGI Proceeds 2018 Letter

On August 3, 2020 I submitted a letter to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative describing the issues raised in my article Investment of RGGI Proceeds Report for 2018.  This post documents their response, my thoughts about that response, my follow-up letter and their final response.  I really appreciate the fact that RGGI responded to my letters.

I have been involved in the RGGI program process since discussion started on it sometime in early 2004.  I blog about the details of the RGGI program because very few seem to want to provide any criticisms of the program. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Background

RGGI is a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.  According to a RGGI website: “The RGGI states issue CO2 allowances which are distributed almost entirely through regional auctions, resulting in proceeds for reinvestment in strategic energy and consumer programs. Programs funded with RGGI investments have spanned a wide range of consumers, providing benefits and improvements to private homes, local businesses, multi-family housing, industrial facilities, community buildings, retail customers, and more.”  Note that New Jersey has re-joined RGGI and Virginia will be joining in 2021.

The latest update was released on July 29, 2020.   The Investment of RGGI Proceeds in 2018 report tracks the investment of the RGGI proceeds and the benefits of these investments throughout the region. According to the report, the lifetime benefits of RGGI investments made in 2018 include:

      • $2 billion in lifetime energy bill savings
      • 4.6 million short tons of CO2 emissions avoided

RGGI notes that “The largest share of the investments was directed to energy efficiency, with 38% of the 2018 total. Greenhouse gas abatement programs, which include carbon-reducing beneficial electrification projects, received 20% of 2018 investments. 19% of investments were directed to clean and renewable energy programs, with direct bill assistance receiving 16%.”

The original letter was sent on August 3 and received a prompt reply on August 10 as documented in RGGI August 10 Response to Investment Proceeds Letter from Caiazza.  My thoughts on the response are shown below.  Caiazza – RGGI correspondence August 21 2020 documents my follow-up letter and the response received.  I appreciate Fred Hill responding to these letters.

Issues Raised in August 3, 2020 Letter

In the following I will summarize the concerns raised in my letter, followed by the RGGI bullet response and with my thoughts in italics.  The RGGI reply is in the bullets and my response italicized below.

I brought up the claim that “As a whole, the RGGI states have reduced power sector CO2 pollution over 50% since 2005, while the region’s gross domestic product has continued to grow”. The first year of the RGGI program was 2009, when the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont emitted 108,487,823 tons of CO2.  The report’s comparison starting date was 2005 when the emissions from those nine states equaled 147,032,069 tons.  The 50% reduction is attributed to the RGGI program but the reduction between 2005 and the start of the program was 26% so clearly something else has been going on.

    • While the report spotlights the impact of RGGI investments on reducing carbon emissions, these investments are part of a broader story about the leadership of the RGGI participating states in showing it is possible to grow the economy while reducing emissions.
        • The ultimate problem supposedly is climate change caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, I believe that the report should include documentation describing the efficacy of the program to reduce carbon emissions.
    • Concentrating on only the emissions reductions attributed directly to RGGI proceeds investments would be ignoring the effects of the RGGI regional cap and the market signal of a CO2 allowance price, as well as other policies in each RGGI state.
        • There is a major disconnect between the theory of RGGI described here and its practical effect on affected sources. I believe that the fuel switch from coal and oil to natural gas occurred because natural gas was the cheaper fuel and is the primary driver of the observed CO2 emission reductions.  This had very little to do with the RGGI market signal because the CO2 allowance cost adder to the plant’s operating costs was relatively small.   The affected sources treat the RGGI cost as tax and have not done anything else to meet the cap requirements. There is no evidence that any affected source in RGGI installed add-on controls to reduce their CO2 emissions.  The only other option at a power plant is to become more efficient and burn less fuel.  However, because fuel costs are the biggest driver for operational costs that means efficiency projects to reduce fuel use means have always been considered by these sources.   Because the market signal from the additional cost of the RGGI carbon price was small I do not believe that any affected source installed an efficiency project as part of its RGGI compliance strategy. 
    • The emissions reductions achieved in the RGGI states from 2005 to 2009 can be attributed to a variety of factors, as examined in a 2010 draft white paper available on the RGGI website.
        • The referenced white paper states:

The analysis concludes that three categories of factors are the primary drivers of the decreased CO2 emissions over this period: 1) lower electricity load (due to weather; energy efficiency programs and customer-sited generation; and the economy); 2) fuel-switching from petroleum and coal to natural gas (due to relatively low natural gas prices); and 3) changes in available capacity mix (due to increased nuclear capacity availability and uprates; reduced available coal capacity; increased wind capacity; and increased use of hydro capacity).

        • In your report describing the results of RGGI I believe that the statement in question, “the RGGI states have reduced power sector CO2 pollution over 50% since 2005” suggests that RGGI was the cause of the 50% reduction and the white paper clearly indicates that from 2005 to 2009 it was not.
        • The true value of RGGI would be clarified if the reductions since the start of RGGI were compared to a period before the program started. My preference is a three-year baseline of 2006 to 2008 data.

I noted that the document and press release both state:

In 2018, $248 million in RGGI proceeds were invested in programs including energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance. Over their lifetime, these 2018 investments are projected to provide participating households and businesses with $2 billion in energy bill savings and avoid the emission of 4.6 million short tons of CO2.

While it is appropriate to document the lifetime energy bill savings from RGGI investments, it is mis-leading to provide the lifetime avoided emissions value.

    • Assessing program effectiveness by totaling the “annual benefits” in prior reports would be discounting the fact that most investments continue to accrue benefits after the year in which the investment was made. (For example, a weatherization investment completed in 2015 would continue to result in avoided CO2 emissions not only in 2015 but in years to come.) The report does not include a figure for “cumulative annual emissions reduced” because taking the sum of in-year reductions in each annual report would not be an accurate figure for the lifetime CO2 reductions resulting from investments.
        • As I noted reporting lifetime energy bill savings is appropriate but the RGGI cap is an annual number. In order to assess the efficacy of the investments relative to meeting the cap I believe the RGGI investment proceeds report should also report cumulative RGGI investments and cumulative annual emissions reduced.

Until this report the Benefits of RGGI Investments table listed the annual and life-time benefits of that year’s investments for eight categories.  The 2018 report only lists the benefits for two categories: energy bill savings and total CO2 avoided.  Is there a reason for the change?

    • In terms of the change in the report in 2018, CO2 emissions avoided and energy bill savings are the metrics that are relevant across all categories of program investment. Additional metrics associated with more detailed categories continue to be reported for relevant program categories. The reason for this change is to better tailor the metrics for relevancy. (For example, “avoided MWh” would not be a relevant metric for a program funding electric vehicles.)
        • Now I that know the rationale I understand why the change was made.

Although from your perspective, the annual investment proceeds report is to inform the public about the investments and benefits I think that RGGI is a pollution control initiative and this report should also provide sufficient information to determine its effectiveness as a control program

    • Since 2015, the reports have focused on the investments made in a single year rather than the cumulative investments. This type of reporting is more accurate given that many states continue to refine and evolve their reporting methodologies over time. As the report notes, “All-time benefits metrics may be best understood as a general indication of the cumulative benefits of RGGI-funded investments since the program’s inception. Table 6 shows that the track record from all RGGI investments includes benefits on the order of billions of dollars in customer bill savings, and tens of millions of short tons of CO2 avoided. Note that as the program’s track record grows longer, all-time numbers may include changes in states’ methodologies from year to year.”
        • From my perspective, RGGI is a pollution control initiative and the report should provide sufficient information to determine its effectiveness in that regard. If the states have refined their estimates and reporting methodologies such that their annual investment and reduction estimates have improved then the historical data should be updated to provide the best estimate of the program investments relative to the RGGI cap.  The cap is an annual number so lifetime numbers are irrelevant.

I conclude that in order to accurately reflect the value of RGGI as a GHG emissions reduction program that this emissions proceeds report should provide the cumulative annual reductions from RGGI because that is the “apples to apples” comparison to policy emission targets.

    • Please note that the scope of the Investment of RGGI Proceeds report is to provide information to the public about how participating states invest RGGI proceeds and the benefits from those investments. Investment of RGGI proceeds is one of the policy mechanisms available to achieve participating states’ carbon reduction or other policy goals.
        • Even though I think I understand the perceived purpose of the report now the question becomes where should the cumulative annual investment and reductions numbers needed to calculate cost effectiveness numbers be presented? The ultimate goal of RGGI is to provide a template so other states will join the program and that parameter is needed to justify participation.

Conclusion

My reply letter to the RGGI response focused on the need to include cumulative annual investment and reduction estimates so that the cost effectiveness of the program’s investments can be determined. Despite RGGI’s intent in the report to inform the public about the investments and benefits ultimately this is still is a pollution control program and this report should provide sufficient information to calculated its effectiveness in that regard.  The Proceeds report always include a caveat that the states refine their estimates update their methodologies, but the annual numbers are not updated.  Therefore, in order to get the best estimate of the cumulative value RGGI should update the annual numbers and provide the cumulative total in future editions.

I am very appreciative that Fred Hill responded to my letters.  The promise to pass my comments on to the RGGI states for consideration is a first step.  It remains to be seen whether the states will provide this information in the future.

Comments on the DEC Webinar on the CLCPA Value of Carbon

Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) in 2019 and planning for the transition of New York’s energy system is underway.  Because I am convinced that the general public has no idea what is going on with this energy policy and the possible ramifications, I have been preparing posts on this process.  This post addresses a webinar (slides and recording) by DEC on the value of carbon and the comments I submitted about the webinar.

The Citizens Budget Commission has developed an overview of the CLCPA and its targets, Green in Perspective: 6 Facts to Help New Yorkers Understand the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, that provides good background information.  The CLCPA was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country when Cuomo signed the legislation.  Unfortunately, the politicians that passed this law assumed that their political will was sufficient to make it happen and included no provision to determine whether it can work or how much it will cost.  I have written a series of posts on the feasibility, implications and consequences of this aspect of the law based on evaluation of data.

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40-years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations. I believe that gives me a relatively unique background to consider the potential quantitative effects of energy policies based on doing something about climate change.  My posts on New York energy policy are here.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Background

The Climate Action Council is charged with developing a scoping plan to implement the CLCPA requirements.  When developing the plan, they are supposed to take into account the “economic and social benefits of greenhouse gas emissions reductions” taking into account the value of carbon. In a previous post, I described the requirement, the social cost of carbon, and concerns I have about this parameter.

The law states that “The social cost of carbon shall serve as a monetary estimate of the value of not emitting a ton of greenhouse gas emissions”. The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is the present-day value of projected future net damages from emitting a ton of CO2 today.  The idea is that New York will calculate the dollar-value of the Climate Act’s effect on climate change due to changes in greenhouse gas emissions.

In order to fulfill their required response to this requirement the DEC is in the process of developing guidance to establish the social cost of carbon that will be used in New York.  The webinar presentation on July 24, 2020 provided the public an opportunity to learn and ask questions.  DEC noted that comments and questions can be sent to ClimateAct@dec.ny.gov and this post describes comments I submitted on August 6, 2020.

The automatic response I received when I submitted the comment was interesting.  The automatic reply stated: “Thank you for your message. Your message will be directed to the Climate Action Council or one of the Advisory Panels, as appropriate.”  I thought the message would be directed to the staff at DEC responsible for the webinar not the Climate Action Council.  This illustrates one of the problems I have with the CLCPA.  For all the talk about best available science and consultation with the public in CLCPA presentations, there isn’t any clear description of how public input will be considered, indication that public comments will be documented, or whether there will be responses to comments.

Comments Submitted

The webinar gave an overview of valuing carbon and included questions on specific topics.  I sent Comments on the DEC Guidance for Establishing a Value of Carbon Webinar to the email address listed on the DEC website.  I will summarize those comments below.

I had two general comments.  DEC has decided that the value of carbon will be established as guidance not as a regulation.  While I agree with that in general, it also means that DEC has no obligation to provide documentation responding to comments or justify the choice of the value used.  I also commented that given the importance of this parameter and its inherent complexity that the guidance document should include a layman’s summary that explains how the parameter is developed, used and provide the full range of potential values along with the justification for the value chosen.

I also called attention to the fact that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is mis-using the SCC in its press releases touting the benefits of their carbon reduction programs.  The CLCPA value of carbon is supposed to define the economic and social benefits of greenhouse gas emissions reductions so it is important that it be done correctly.  NYSERDA applies the SCC to the lifetime value of avoided carbon emissions.  However, the SCC is the present-day value of projected future net damages from emitting a ton of CO2 today so it should not be used with lifetime emissions.

One of the key considerations in calculating the SCC is the choice of the discount rate used.  The webinar attempted to explain how it is used but I believe a more general and more complete explanation is needed.  Another item for discussion is whether the state’s value of carbon should address global impacts or, for the sake of argument, just state-wide impacts.

The webinar presentation asked how the social costs of pollutants other than CO2 should be addressed.  I found a reference that I believe made a persuasive argument that using directly calculated societal values should be used.

Another question asked was “How can state agencies use the damages-based value of carbon?”.  The webinar slides explicitly stated “This is not a carbon price and will not impose any fees” but I think that will be the inevitable outcome at some date.  The webinar slides notes that the Federal government uses it in regulatory benefit-cost analyses and environmental reviews and I believe that it should be used the same way for the Climate Act.

Conclusion

The primary purpose of this post was to document my comments made on the value of carbon webinar.  The value chosen and the venues where it is used will have important implications for the CLCPA.  I will continue to monitor this and report on the social cost of carbon.

My RGGI Testimony to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Environmental Resources & Energy Committee

On August 6, I tuned into the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) webinar titled “RGGI 101 How it Works and How it Benefits Pennsylvanians” because I have a long-standing interest in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  I prepared a https://wp.me/p8hgeb-slpost describing my impression of the presentation against the reality of my experience with it that caught the attention of Daryl Metcalfe, the Chair of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Environmental Resources & Energy Committee who asked me to provide testimony at the August 25, 2020 committee meeting regarding RGGI.  This post summarizes my testimony.

I have been involved in the RGGI program process since it was first proposed prior to 2008.  I blog about the details of the RGGI program because very few seem to want to provide any criticisms of the program. I have extensive experience with air pollution control theory and implementation having worked every cap and trade program affecting electric generating facilities in New York including the Acid Rain Program, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and several Nitrogen Oxide programs.  Note that my experience is exclusively on the industry side and the difference in perspective between affected sources trying to comply with the rules and economists opining about what they should be doing have important ramifications.  I think this background served me well providing the testimony presented.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Background

RGGI is a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.  According to a RGGI website: “The RGGI states issue CO2 allowances which are distributed almost entirely through regional auctions, resulting in proceeds for reinvestment in strategic energy and consumer programs. Programs funded with RGGI investments have spanned a wide range of consumers, providing benefits and improvements to private homes, local businesses, multi-family housing, industrial facilities, community buildings, retail customers, and more.”

RGGI started in 2009 and the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont have participated ever since.  New Jersey was included at the start of the program, dropped out and re-joined in 2020.  Virginia recently announced that they would join in 2021.  According to this presentation Pennsylvania is planning to join in 2022.

According to the DEP’s RGGI website,  “Governor Wolf recently signed an Executive Order that directed DEP to begin a rulemaking process that will allow Pennsylvania to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), with the goal of reducing carbon emissions from the electricity sector”.  I know very little about Pennsylvania politics but I did figure out that the Governor is not planning to go through the legislature to have Pennsylvania to join RGGI.  Because Pennsylvania not only has significant coal-fired generation but also mines it, there are significant concerns about the impact of joining RGGI on the continued viability of those resources.

I have never presented testimony before so this was a new experience.  The web page for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Environmental Resources & Energy Committee lists the transcript and presentations for the witnesses who presented testimony on August 24, 2020.  If you are very bored there is even a video of the testimony of the six presentations.

Testimony

I will summarize my main points in the remainder of this post.  For more detail you can go listen to the presentation or read the  testimony and  slides I submitted.

The first discussion point addressed carbon pricing because ultimately RGGI is a carbon pricing scheme.  I admit that the theory of putting a price on carbon is attractive but there are very real problems associated with implementation.  Unless the carbon price is set across the globe and covers all energy sectors pollution leakage, where a pollution reduction policy simply moves the pollution around the globe rather than actually reducing it, is an inevitable short-coming.  Within the electric generating sector there is a very real problem because power plants have limited control options: switching fuels or operating less.  As a result, generating companies simply treat it as an added cost to doing business which is pretty much the same as a tax.  While proponents call this a cap and dividend program I call it a cap and tax program and because all energy taxes are regressive this will impact those who can least afford additional energy costs.

RGGI proponents claim that it is a success and often cite the observed emission reductions.  As shown in my testimony and previous post, both the PA DEP and RGGI accurately claimed that regional CO2 emissions are down on the order of 50% since 2005, but RGGI had very little to do with it.  The vast majority of the reductions were due to fuel switching from coal and residual oil to natural gas. Because the RGGI price adder is small relative to the fuel cost differential RGGI itself had very little to do with the observed fuel switching.  I believe that the only reductions that RGGI can claim are those that result from the investment of RGGI proceeds.  Using that criterion, RGGI is only responsible for on the order of 5% of the observed reductions.

I also showed that the emission reductions would have a negligible effect on global warming itself.  I found there would be a reduction, or a “savings,” of approximately 0.0011°C by the year 2050 and 0.0023°C by the year 2100 if all Pennsylvania CO2 emissions were eliminated.  To give an idea of how small this temperature change is it is the same as a change in elevation of nine inches or change in latitude of two tenths of a mile.

Finally, I compared the emissions and operational changes of Pennsylvania relative to the nine states in RGGI since 2009 when RGGI started.  Pennsylvania without RGGI has accomplished nearly as much as the nine RGGI states in terms of maintaining fossil generation levels while reducing emissions, improving efficiency, and switching to cleaner fuels.

I concluded that despite the claims made by its proponents, upon close examination RGGI is an inefficient method for reducing CO2 emissions.  The affected sources will treat it simply as a tax.  As a result, that means that the primary impact to the public is a regressive tax.  Fuel switching to Marcellus Shale gas created by Pennsylvania’s fracking revolution was the primary cause of the observed decreases in emissions.  Clearly, Pennsylvania has done more to reduce CO2 in the RGGI states than the RGGI itself and that will continue whether or not Pennsylvania joins RGGI.

Media Coverage of Clean Energy

I had other plans for today but I have to post on this topic.  I came across two separate articles that stated that the costs of renewables are cheaper than power from existing alternatives which reminded me that I have to do a post on that topic.  However, the thing that prompted this post was buried at the bottom of the Christian Science Monitor article Power pivot: What happens in states where wind dethrones King Coal?

Background

In particular at the bottom of article was the statement: “This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.”  That link leads to a June 29, 2018 page that notes that “the Energy Foundation has given a grant to support the Monitor’s distinctive approach to climate change coverage”.  It goes on to say:

The Monitor believes the solution to climate change doesn’t come from speaking more loudly or citing even more peer-reviewed science, but from recognizing why people come to climate change from such vastly different perspectives – and meeting them where they are. Changing minds to find paths forward starts with a deep commitment to humanity and respect, not from frustrated finger-pointing.

That perspective has drawn the attention of some philanthropists interested in supporting media outlets bringing light to this divisive topic. The Monitor’s science desk is the proud recipient of a special grant from the Energy Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to “serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.” You can read more about the Energy Foundation here. These funds are specifically to bolster the Monitor’s approach to coverage of climate, energy, and the environment during the coming year.

Presumably, the grant was extended to continue support since it has longer than a year since this description appeared and the August 21, 2020 publication of Power pivot: What happens in states where wind dethrones King Coal?

Energy Foundation

I had never heard of the Energy Foundation.  Their mission statement makes their motivation clear: “Our mission is to secure a clean and equitable energy future to tackle the climate crisis.”

The following is their vision statement:

We envision a healthy, safe, equitable economy powered by clean energy. We believe a thriving clean energy economy can create sustainable opportunities, spur innovation, and protect our climate—for today and future generations.

Energy Foundation supports education and analysis to promote non-partisan policy solutions that advance renewable energy and energy efficiency while opening doors to greater innovation and productivity—growing the economy with dramatically less pollution. For nearly 30 years, Energy Foundation has supported grantees to help educate policymakers and the general public about the benefits of a clean energy economy. Our grantees include business, health, environmental, labor, equity, community, faith, and consumer groups, as well as policy experts, think tanks, universities, and more.

We are a complex, multi-site, multicultural nonprofit organization with big plans for the future. Under the leadership of our CEO, Energy Foundation has embarked on a major strategy refresh, a prioritized commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), and rapid geographic expansion.

Our comprehensive approach advances energy efficiency and renewable energy in the power, transportation, and buildings sectors. Our programs focus on developing innovative policies and campaigns to help propel clean energy development in these sectors. The Venues team is a cross-disciplinary team of policy, communications, and campaign experts dedicated to advancing strong state and regional climate and clean energy policies. The Policy team works to deliver strategy and network support services to our issue-focused grantees and funding partners. And the Strategic Communications team develops powerful narrative and communications strategies designed to build support for our work regionally and nationwide.

Energy Foundation’s founding office is in San Francisco, CA, with regional offices in Raleigh, NC; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; and Las Vegas, NV.

Energy Foundation funds do not support legislative lobbying or electoral activities.

The Energy Foundation is not a small organization courageously fighting the noble cause against “Big Oil”.  Their 2017 IRS Form 990 claims total revenues in 2016 of $118.9 million and $110.2 million in 2017; total expenses of $113.6 million in 2016 and $114.1 million in 2017; and net assets of $62.4 million at the close of 2017.  The Form 990 is worth a read if only to see the large number of organizations that receive grants to “promote education and analysis” to support a clean energy future.  I was surprised to see universities among the grantees –           three California state universities received on the order of $2 million alone.  Missing from their web page is any description of who funds the Energy Foundation itself.

Conclusion

I wrote this post because this particular quote caught my eye: “We’ve reached a point where it is now cheaper to build and operate a wind farm or solar plant than it is to operate a coal plant,” says Joe Daniel, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “And that trend is going to continue.”  I see that often and get exasperated every time I see it because, like most people, I don’t care what it costs to build a power plant.  The only thing I care about is how much it costs me to get electricity when and where I need it.  When those considerations are added to the costs of any renewable source of electricity the price sky rockets.

I have long thought that any journalist that does not caveat such a statement either lacks understanding in general or does not understand the energy system well enough.  After finding out that there is a foundation that provides funding to news organizations I have to add a less flattering reason for not providing the full explanation.  The Christian Science Monitor has a motivated reason to continue to receive funding from an organization dedicated to “serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.”  In that light even the possibility that a “clean energy economy” may have flaws and that overall it may not be in the best public interest is not going to be incorporated in any reporting.