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Citizens Guide to the Climate Act

Originally Published December 14, 2021 and Updated April 9, 2022

Update April 22, 2022: I gave verbal comments on the Draft Scoping Plan at the April 26, 2022 Draft Scoping Plan Public Hearing in Syracuse.

Update November 15, 2022: Status update

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) a legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the lofty net-zero by 2050 goal. It is very likely that implementation of the technology necessary to meet that goal will adversely affect energy sector affordability and risk current reliability standards.  Unfortunately, most New Yorkers are unaware of it and only a handful understand the implications.  While the Climate Act has been a frequent subject for articles on this website, many of those articles are overly technical for the general public.  In order to address the need for a concise resource of the potential impacts of the Climate Act I have developed the Citizens Guide to the Climate Act.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I have written extensively on implementation of New York’s response to that risk because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that it will adversely affect reliability, impact affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, and will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York.  New York’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are less than one half one percent of global emissions and since 1990 global GHG emissions have increased by more than one half a percent per year.  Moreover, the reductions cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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 Act became effective on January 1, 2020.  It mandates that the Climate Action Council prepare the Scoping Plan that outlines how to meet its targets. Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  That analysis was used to develop the Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment on December 30, 2021.  The comment period ended in early July.  Since then, the Climate Action Council has reviewed comments and is now working on a final draft of the Scoping Plan to meet the end of the year deadline.

The Citizen Guide is intended to provide an introduction to the Climate Act and potential ramifications.  A one-page summary has been prepared that can be printed out.  There is an annotated summary reproduced below that includes links to more detailed information on particular topics.  The Guide is a work in progress so feedback is encouraged.

Annotated Citizens Guide to the Climate Act

The Climate Act is an ambitious attempt to reduce New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the currently fashionable net-zero by 2050 goal.  The implementation plan boils down to electrify everything and rely on wind and solar to provide the electricity needed.  In order to reach the aspirational goals changes to personal choice are needed, significant risks to reliability are likely, substantial energy costs increases will occur, but there will be no measurable effect on global warming itself and significant environmental impacts from the massive wind and solar deployments.  The bottom line is that we don’t have the technology today to meet the ambitions of the Climate Act and maintain current reliability standards and affordability.  Until we do, we should reconsider the targets and schedule of the law.

Climate Act

The actual name of the Climate Act is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It was signed on July 18, 2019 and establishes targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable electricity production, and improving energy efficiency.  The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended policies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Their strategies were converted into specific strategies by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority over the summer of 2021.  The integration analysis implementation strategies was used to develop the Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment on December 30, 2021. 

Implementation Strategy Risks and Effects

In order to meet the net-zero goal of the Climate Act, risky emission reduction strategies from all sectors will be required and personal choices limited. All residences will have to be completely electrified despite the risks to safety in the event of an ice storm.  In the transportation sector electric vehicles will be required and zoning changes to discourage the use of personal vehicles implemented. 

Reliability Risks

The New York electric gird is a complex system that has evolved over many years.  It is highly reliable using proven hardware and procedures.  Relying on unprecedented levels of wind and solar that are not proven on the scale necessary and energy storage system technology to account for intermittent wind and solar that has not been tested for the proposed use is an ill-conceived plan that will likely end in a reliability crisis.

Costs and Benefits

The Climate Act did not determine the greenhouse gas emission targets based on a feasibility analysis. The scoping plan claims that “The cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action by more than $90 billion”.   That statement is inaccurate and misleading.  The claimed benefits are all societal and do not directly offset consumer costs. The plan claims $235 billion societal benefits for avoided greenhouse gas emissions, but I estimate those benefits should only be $60 billion.  The Scoping Plan gets the higher benefit by counting benefits multiple times.  If I lost 10 pounds five years ago, I cannot say I lost 50 pounds but that is what the plan says.

The cost estimates are poorly documented but I have figured out that the costs of action used for the claim misleadingly exclude the costs in the transportation investments category needed to make the necessary reductions. The semantic justification is that the program is already implemented.  Adding $700 billion for that and using the correct avoided cost of carbon means that costs are at least $760 billion more than the benefits.

Effect on Global Warming

When the Climate Act eliminates New York’s greenhouse gas emissions the effect on global warming will not be measurable.  The expected impact on global warming is only 0.001°C by the year 2100.  More importantly, New York emissions are less than one half of one percent of total global emissions while global emissions have been increasing on average by more than one half of one percent per year.  Consequently, anything we do will be displaced in a year by countries in the developing world building their energy systems with reliable and affordable fossil fuels.  To deny those countries the benefits of plentiful electricity is immoral.

Zero-Emissions Environmental Impacts

The Climate Act only accounts for fossil fuel life-cycle costs and environmental impacts while ignoring the life-cycle impacts of wind, solar, and energy storage technologies.  These “zero-emissions” resources may not have emissions when generating electricity but the volume of materials needed to access dilute wind and solar energy and the rare earth elements necessary for those technologies certainly have environmental impacts when mined and processed.  The large number of wind turbines and solar panels will also create massive amounts of waste when they are retired.  Furthermore, the cumulative environmental impacts of thousands of wind turbines and square miles of solar panels has not been compared to the environmental impacts of current fossil fuel technology.  Finally, it is unreasonable to expect that there will be any changes to environmental impacts due to climate change because the New York effect on global warming is too small to measure.

What You Can Do

The Final Scoping Plan will be released at the end of the 2022.  Next year the Climate Act requires DEC to complete a public comment and consultation process before it can promulgate the implementing regulations.  At least two public hearings and a 120-day public comment period must be provided before the Department of Environmental Conservation can propose implementing regulations.  I encourage everyone to comment on the proposed rules next year. I have listed all the comments here that I submitted for your information.

References

The official New York State Climate Act webpage describes New York State climate news and developments.  Links to articles on the Climate Act at the Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York website, implementation overviews, background technology references and background information are provided in the references.

Conclusion

My colleagues in industry and I all agree on a few things.  We believe that most New Yorkers are unaware of the potential impacts of the Climate Act.  We are convinced that the costs will be eye-watering.  We don’t think that technology is available to maintain current reliability standards and replace fossil fuel sources of energy.  The goal of the Citizens Guide is to educate New Yorkers on the law, the costs, and the risks.  Any feedback on this attempt to responds to that goal is encouraged at nypragmaticenvironmentalist@gmail.com.

Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Zero Risk Motivations

The last several years I have spent an inordinate amount of time evaluating the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and its legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050.  As the implementation outline for the transition to a net-zero evolves I have been struck by the number of people involved with the transition that insist on reducing their perceived priority risks to zero.  That is the antithesis of a pragmatic approach and I have tried to understand where those folks are coming from.  This post describes some recent articles at the Risk Monger blog that address the motivations of those who want zero risks.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  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.

Climate Act Background and Risk Management

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it will finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year.  Climate Action Council meetings have included discussions about revisions to the Draft Scoping Plan that emphasize the need for zero risk that is the opposite of a pragmatic approach to the risks of climate change.

I addressed risk management for the Climate Act in August 2020.  That article and this one relies on work done the Risk Monger, a blog “meant to challenge simplistic solutions to hard problems on environmental-health risks”. The author of the blog, David Zaruk, is an EU risk and science communications specialist since 2000, active in European Union (EU) policy events and science in society questions of the use of the Precautionary Principle. He is a professor at Odisee University College where he lectures on Communications, Marketing, EU Lobbying and Public Relations. In my opinion, he clearly explains the complexities of risk management and I recommend his work highly. 

Zero Risk Motivations

Zaruk has argued that the Precautionary Principle, a strategy to cope with possible risks where scientific understanding is incomplete, has led many to rely on the idea that to be safe we have to eliminate all risks as a precaution.  Zaruk explains that the problem is that policy-makers and politicians have confused this uncertainty management tool with risk management.  In the August 2020 article I described his analysis and conclusion of the failures of risk management of the COVID-19 response.  While fascinating on its own, it also provides a cautionary tale relative to New York’s energy policy and implementation of the Climate Act. 

This article describes some of his recent work and its relevance to the Climate Act implementation process.  Over the last couple of months, he has published four relevant articles that I will summarize below:

THE Science, THE Environment, THE Climate… Abusing the “The” in Risk Issues

This article makes the point that the definite article has been “abused by activists needing definite truths to win policy debates on complex problems.” When someone describes, for example, “The” science they are claiming certainty on issues that are anything but certain. Zaruck writes:

Improperly using “the” in front of an abstract noun is part of a game to claim authority, isolate dissenters, simplify an issue and close dialogue. In declaring: “This is the science on XYZ” an activist is attempting to own the issue and shut down any discussion or analysis. In a policy framework where there may be uncertainty or grey areas, imposing a “the” provides a wedge between others’ false opinions and “the” truth. It is staking a claim to colonise a debate. Interestingly, it cannot be applied to issues that don’t allow for simplification or are too broad and complex. We do not speak of “the” food or “the” health without qualifications.

In reality, science is a continuous process where hypotheses are constantly challenged and confirmed.  Zaruk notes that it refers to “a process – a method – not some body of truth”.  When Climate Act proponents invoke “the” science, they are referring to is a consensus view.  Zaruk notes that arguing consensus is “a politicized pronouncement of the state of scientific research” and points out that “A consensus abhors sceptics (ostracizing them as deniers)”.  In reality a scientist must always be skeptical.

Zaruk addresses the definite article related to the environment:

When it is used with a definite article, it implies that the environment is a place … perhaps where biodiversity is being “stored”.  Is it in some location, outside of urban areas, in “nature”? But nature is a proper noun (personified in Mother Nature). As a construct, “the” environment appears to be in peril since we are being told how we can save it by polluting less, using natural products, having fewer children… Saving “the” environment means we all get to go to some Shangri-La, living longer and more harmoniously with nature. With simple views comes simplistic polarisation: natural = good (part of “the” environment); synthetic = bad (part of man).

Oversimplifying humankind in the world relative to nature turns issues into a simple dichotomy. Good vs. bad. safe or unsafe, or us-vs-them. He notes that: “For them, industry, corporations, conventional farmers… are against the environment and they are for it.”  In reality, however the environment is everywhere and affects everything in a complex, unpredictable manner. He explains that activists are playing a divide and conquer approach for their own interests.  He notes that:

Worse, hard-core activists have separated the environment from humanity and potentially beneficial technological solutions. In other words, the only way to “save” the environment is to keep humans away from “it”, to stop doing what we have been doing and let it heal itself (see Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet). These misanthropes welcome any environmental events as fuel for their hatred but their anti-technology solutions are simply “failure by design”.

He also addresses the climate consensus:

But what is a consensus and what does it mean? Formally, a consensus is anything above 50% but that lacks political impact. 100% agreement is impossible but as close to 100% is desirable. Certain scientific facts are rarely disputed and widely accepted (Newton’s laws are not considered theories, certain human limitations are self-evident…) but it is not so much whether a position has been tested and retested, but that the scientific method is a mindset: Always be prepared to question and re-evaluate. By arguing for a consensus – “the” science – the scientific method is being suppressed by some political interest.

If we spoke outside of the definite article – not of “the” science, “the” environment or “the” climate but of scientific issues on environmental concerns and climate evolutions, such transcendence would not be possible. Our discourse would shift from the dogmatic beliefs to pragmatic solutions and ridiculous conclusions would be rightfully challenged. This is not something that activists would want and we have not taken much notice of their linguistic deception.

Zaruk concludes:

I suppose what gets to me the most about these manipulative ideologues making claims on behalf of “the” truth (on subject matters which most science-minded people are struggling to find pragmatic solutions to complex problems) is their sanctimonious moral elitism. That their righteous condemnations were built on an illegitimate consensus, arbitrary divisions, linguistic deceptions and simplification just adds to their hypocrisy. They are pompous zealots cloaked and choked in their own false piety and any respect or trust they will have manufactured from their manipulative wordplay will be short-lived.

The Industry Complex (Part 1): The Tobacconisation of Industry

This essay is the first chapter of his analysis of the vilification of industry by activists that don’t want to weigh the benefits, risks, and costs of alternatives.  He notes that in Europe industry lobbyists are just going through the motions and have given up on the policy process.  This is also evident in New York.  All of the electric generating companies and delivery companies know that there are major challenges associated with the net-zero transition but have not stood up and publicly rebuked the current plans.  The New York Independent System Operator and the New York State Reliability Council have carefully fashioned their comments and reports to not offend the Hochul Administration’s pursuit of what the experts know very likely won’t work on the schedule proposed. 

Zaruk explains that the tactic of not strongly engaging in the policy process will only work for so long before it is too late to salvage their business.  The electric utility companies are going along with all the risks hoping someone will speak up and demand accountability.  For their part they continue their public sustainability campaigns supporting doing something about climate change and keep their concerns about the transition buried in industry comments that no one reads and the Climate Action Council ignores.  The ultimate question is will be anyone be willing to be the bad guy?

This essay explains how the policy process that has been corrupted by activists demonizing industry will eventually cause problems. Zaruk notes that corporations “do not consider the ramifications – that the constant media assault, reputation, and trust destruction and political denormalization of industry are an existential threat.”  In New York the utility companies publicize their sustainability programs and their own net-zero plans and seem to think that the public will embrace their actions and not treat them like Big Tobacco pariahs.  Unfortunately, Zaruk argues that is not the case.

In Europe Zaruk points that that:

The last decade has seen a rather audacious move by activist NGOs (and some policymakers particularly in Brussels) to ostracise most industries from the public policy dialogue process, create public revulsion and denormalise companies as stakeholders and social actors. This proved to be a successful strategy during the war on tobacco and many of their campaign tools are now simply being copy-pasted to other industries. Some, particularly in the financial industry, have bought into the activist campaigns and are courting public favour by considering a degrowth strategy or a capitalism reset. But can such a beast seriously hide its stripes?

This is exactly what has happened with the Climate Action Council.  Of the 22 members on the Council only two represent industry interests and their input is constantly disparaged.  More importantly, the Hochul Administration has ignored industry expert concerns about all the technical challenges of the net-zero transition.  The Scoping Plan drafts may refer to reliability a lot but there hasn’t been any suggestion that reliability concerns might slow the schedule.

Zaruk describes the concept of industry vilification:

I came across the word “tobacconisation” while reading an American activist conference report, Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control, masterminded by Naomi Oreskes, the Union for Concerned Scientists and the Climate Accountability Institute in 2012 in La Jolla, California. This meeting of lawyers, activists and scientists argued that the tobacco industry lobby did not capitulate in the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement because of the science, regulatory restrictions or public outrage. They gave in because of the insurmountable financial costs of endless waves of tort litigation that threatened to wipe out the industry. So the La Jolla Plaintiff Playbook was to take that same strategy and apply it to the petroleum industry – to destroy public trust and then litigate the hell out of oil companies for damages due to climate change until they either go bankrupt or change their business model.

Zaruk describes three key activist tobacconisation strategies being applied against most industries.  The first is adversarial regulation.  This is a strategy where regulatory scientists effect change not through the democratic policy process but through the courts. With respect to the Climate Act at least the legislation was passed by the state legislature, albeit it was written by activists and I doubt that very few supporters understood the risks, costs, and challenges. 

The second strategy is to limit communications and ban advertising.  Activists have a key role in this playbook to raise public outrage against targeted companies.  With respect to the Climate Act, they are aided by a compliant media that parrots the main talking points without any challenges.  If anyone dares to suggest anything that does not hew to the narrative then the activists demean those remarks and smear the speaker.  Zaruk explains that “they need to ostracise the company or industry and exclude them from any role as a societal actor.”

The final strategy is public outrage trumps bad science.  Zaruk describes it as follows:

Public outrage against Big Tobacco meant that poor science (on the health risks of second-hand smoke or vaping) could be glanced over with little scrutiny in the policy process. People were fed up with the industry and just wanted to believe the research claims were accurate.

Opportunistic public officials wanting to play to the loud activist mobs need simply reach for the precautionary safety pin to gain favour without any risk of data or evidence interfering with this strategy. For policymakers, it is a no-brainer to play the precaution card (demanding that the substance is proven with certainty to be 100% safe prior to acting) rather than lock horns with angry activist groups with friends in the media.

Zaruk describes three approaches to fight the zero-risk mentality.  He suggests: “demand a White Paper articulating a rational strategy on the use of the precautionary principle within a clear risk management process.”  His primary concern is the EU policies but New York is following the same approach.  He states that “the hazard-based policy approach has to branded for what it is: irrational.”

His second approach is to call out the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that drive much of this policy.  They “break rules, act without respect for moral principles (unlike industry, very few NGOs have an ethical code of conduct that guides their behaviour) and ignore evidence and data in their campaigns.”  This is problematic with respect to the Climate Act because there are members of the Climate Action Council and the advisory panels who are from prominent climate activist NGOs.

Finally, he points out that the rules of engagement need to apply to all. There is evidence that the NGOs actively supporting the Climate Act have had access to material not available to all.  In no small part that is probably because some Council members are from these NGOs.  The end result is that the regulatory process has become biased.

The Industry Complex (Part 2): The Hate Industry

Zaruk’s second essay on the industry complex describes the business of demonizing industry.  He says:

The last two decades of relentless anti-industry attacks in the media, cinema and policy arenas have taught industry actors to be quiet in public, but they should not be ashamed of what their innovations and technologies have brought to humanity. We are living longer with a better quality of life, direct access to better food while feeding a growing global population, enjoying amazing personal communications devices, travelling faster and safer and accessing information in seconds. But all we hear about industry in the public sphere is resentment and animosity. This is the “Industry Complex.”

Zaruk describes one of the ironies of the professional hatred of industry.  He notes that:

Most of the people throwing brown beans at artwork or spray painting corporate offices are from a privileged class that have never experienced want. The tragic consequence of such “altruistic” zealot demonstrations is that the victims from the policy decisions they are forcing through are the most vulnerable in society, and will never be heard.

In New York primary funding for the ideological war on natural gas comes from trust funds controlled by the ultra-rich who have never experienced work.  I think one of the problems with the privileged and ultra-rich classes is that they have very little experience dealing with real-world problems associated with making things work.  For example, people who have not done much gardening may want to ban pesticides but they haven’t had a bug infestation wipe out a crop.  They have no experience with the fact that reality bats last.

Zaruk points out that the definition of industry has expanded beyond manufacturing.  In particular:

 “Industry” is now an umbrella term referring to any capitalist venture that may involve risk, inequity, and unequal access to markets. This definition makes targets because of shared social justice tenets of anyone associated taking risks. All perceived problems are blamed on “industry” all the while ignoring all the benefits derived from their activities.  The vilification of fossil fuels is a perfect example.  Despite the fact that all metrics show improvements in all quality-of-life metrics with increased use of fossil fuels, their continued use is attacked.

Zaruk gives an example of violence in France related to farming practices and states:

We can’t simply brush these people off as confused and frightened Luddites. Opportunistic activists have twisted reality, converting fear and uncertainty into a dangerously powerful political force. As one commentator on BFM decried: “This is the collapse of rationality “. Not only do they believe their hateful bullshit, they are relentlessly spreading it with a missionary zeal via an unaccountable social media propaganda tool (while the rest of us remain tolerant or uninformed).

This is entirely apropos of the ideologues pushing the net-zero transition in New York.  They can say just about anything and get away with it.  Activist organizations claim that the public is in favor of net-zero but the question is whether that support is limited to a loud minority of activist ideologues? Will the majority be heard when they lose their jobs while their energy and food costs go through the roof?  I have always thought that would be inevitable conclusion but as long as people only listen to what they want to, then they will likely not speak up or place blame incorrectly.

Zaruk explains that many irrational policy decisions are justified by activist anti-industry objectives.  For example, consider the European decisions to shut nuclear reactors even though there is an energy crisis looming.  Zaruk notes that:

In the face of an energy crisis, ecologists are holding firm in Germany and Belgium against keeping some nuclear reactors from being decommissioned arguing that such a move would be supporting big business. Greenpeace claimed shutting down these reactors would give energy production back to the people. Renewables like wind and solar have the image of small, locally produced energy (from nature), enjoying a virtuous halo that belies the big companies making these technologies or managing the big wind parks and solar farms.

I believe that Zaruk’s conclusions of the European solution is consistent with what is happening in New York relative to the net-zero transition.  He notes:

These decisions are not based on issues of cost, efficiency, and benefits, but only on an ideology built on the hatred of industry. Thus, the pro-renewables and pro-organic policies dominating the European Commission Green Deal strategy are not based on facts or research but ideology. They are, in a word, irrational.

The Industry Complex (Part 3): A Return to Realpolitik

In this essay Zaruk argues that it is time for regulators to “start doing their job: making the hard decisions and managing risks rather than promising a world of zero risk to a public that has come to expect simple solutions to complex problems.”  He argues that it is time for a return to Realpolitik: “making the best choices from a finite list of options and circumstances rather than continuing the current approach of false promises that someone else will have to pay for”.

Zaruk explains the concept of Realpolitik:

It is not a new concept. The term “Realpolitik” was in use several decades before Bismarck (commonly referred to as the father of Realpolitik). It was developed by Ludwig von Rochau who tried to introduce Enlightened, liberal ideas, post 1848, into a political world that was embedded in less rational cultural, nationalistic and religious power dynamics (much like the green dogma pushing many Western political spheres today). Realpolitik is often best understood by what it is not: it refers to decisions not made solely on issues of ideology and morality. In other words, Realpolitik refers to pragmatic decisions based on best possible outcomes and compromises (something done when leaders have to face unpleasant realities). Ideologues can easily ignore scientific facts when imposing their power but Realpolitikers will follow the best available science while appealing to reason.

He explains that in Europe as in New York, politicians shutdown nuclear facilities to placate the loud, activist minority but did not consider “pragmatic alternatives or a rational transition plan.” He said “a Realpolitiker would not have shut down the nuclear power stations until the energy transition was safely achieved.”  It gets worse in New York because the Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing regulations that require existing fossil-fired generating plants to consider compliance with the Climate Act as part of their operating permit extensions.  It is possible that they could shut down those facilities before alternatives consistent with the Climate Act are operating.

Zaruk argues that “we should aim for safer rather than safe.”  He points out:

Safer is something risk managers in industry measure and continually strive for while safe is an emotional ideal that cannot be measured or, for that matter, reached. We will never have safe, but we can always strive for safer. This is where a more pragmatic, Realpolitik approach would be more successful than any arbitrary risk aversion.

Realpolitik accepts that a perfect world is a pipe dream. Freed from the shackles of seeking the totally safe, they get to work on risk management, reducing exposures to as low as reasonably possible (achievable) and making the world (products, substances, systems…) better – safer. They seek a world with lower risks for more people, not zero risks for all people. We need to turn away from the fundamentalist activist mindset and adopt a more industrial, scientific approach (as seen in product stewardship): of continuous improvement, constant iteration, and technological refinement.

Conclusion

Zaruk provided a good summary of his work and if you replace Brussels with Albany, it is apropos to New York:

It is patently clear industry actors in Brussels cannot continue to do what they have been doing. Brussels has far too many activists with special interests solely dedicated to seeing industry and capitalism fail. They have money, passion and limited ethical constraints as they execute their objectives with missionary zeal. This series on the Industry Complex has tried to show how anti-industry militants have worked to destroy trust in all industries (excluding them from the policy process and equating the word “industry” with some immoral interpretation of lobbying) and using the same tactics that worked with the decline of the tobacco industry. Using the emerging communications tools to create an atmosphere of fear and hate, these activists have successfully generated a narrative that the only solution to our problems is to remove industry, their innovations and their technologies. And their solutions are getting even more extreme (with, for example, 6000 environmental militants recently attacking an irrigation pond project on a farm in France for being too “industrial”). Policymakers, perceiving these loud voices as representative, have adopted the path of virtue politics rather than Realpolitik (of policy by aspiration and ideology rather than practical solutions relying on the best available evidence).

The Climate Act and the transition plan embodied in the Draft Scoping Plan is full of examples where the perceived risks of fossil fuels are comprehensively addressed but none of the risks of the proposed alternatives are addressed.  The most glaring Climate Act example is the requirement that the full life cycle and upstream emissions associated with fossil fuels must be considered to eliminate those risks.  Those considerations are not applied to wind, solar, and battery technologies.  The benefits of the current energy system are ignored and the risks of the net-zero future system minimized.  This approach will not work out in the best interests of New York.

Champlain Hudson Power Express Construction Begins

Richard Ellenbogen and I have been corresponding about Governor Hochul’s announcement that the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission project has started construction. According to the press release this “accelerates progress to achieve New York’s goal of 70 percent of electricity statewide from renewable sources by 2030 on path to a zero-emission grid”. Unfortunately, Richard and I agree that there is more to the story than appears on the surface.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that it will do more harm than good.  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.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the control strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it will finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year.  I maintain that there are two underlying issues with the Climate Action Council approach for the transition plan: the Draft Scoping Plan does not include a feasibility analysis and the Council has not developed an implementation plan.

The ultimate problem for the future electric grid that is dependent upon wind and solar are weak when the load peaks in the winter because space heating is electrified.  Wind lulls can reduce wind resources for days and solar resources are inherently low availability because the days are shorter, the sun is lower in the sky, and areas downwind of the Great Lakes are obscured with lake-effect clouds. The experts responsible for electric system reliability at the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and the New York State Reliability Council (NYSRC) both highlighted (here and here) the importance of Dispatchable Emissions-Free Resources (DEFR) to address future winter-time wind lulls in their Draft Scoping Plan comments.  The Draft Scoping Plan also includes DEFR as a necessary component of the future grid to address this problem.  I am particularly concerned that the Hochul Administration has not confronted the feasibility of DEFR.  What options are there, how likely are they to be available when needed to meet the schedule of the Climate Act and how much will they cost should be a priority but the Council has essentially ignored the challenge and has not responded to NYISO and NYSRC comments.  Furthermore, if an implementation plan was in place, it could encourage zero-emissions resources availability during future winter-time wind lulls, for example by discouraging utility-scale solar development where lake-effect snow is heavy.

Champlain Hudson Power Express

The Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) project is a 339-mile underground transmission line capable of bringing 1,250 MW from the Province of Quebec to Astoria Queens in New York City.  According to the press release it “accelerates progress to achieve New York’s goal of 70 percent of electricity statewide from renewable sources by 2030 on path to a zero-emission grid.  It also is touted as bringing zero-emissions hydro electricity from Hydro Quebec directly into New York City so it can displace fossil-fired generating units. 

I have published two previous articles about the project.  The first described the residential cost impacts of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) contracts with H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc. (HQUS) for the CHPE project.  A year ago on November 30, 2021 Governor Hochul announced that the finalized contract for CHPE was awarded as part of the Tier 4 Clean Energy Standard that is intended to increase the penetration of renewable energy into New York City.  My focus was on Department of Public Service petition: “The costs of program payments for the purchase of Tier 4 Renewable Energy Credits from the projects are projected as $5.9 – $11.6 billion, equating to an estimated increase in customer electric bills of 2.1 – 4.1% (or $2.08 – $4.08 per month for the average residential customer) on average across the State for the 25-year period of the Tier 4 contracts.”  This is one of the few admissions of potential costs by the Hochul Administration.  I estimated that if those costs represent subsidies needed for all the Integration Analysis renewable resources that the annual ratepayer cost increase range would between $168 and $359 for the average residential customer. 

The second article described the comments submitted by Nuclear New York to the Department of Public Service on the Tier 4 contracts.  Their comments pointed out that the contract payment formula treats CHPE like baseload power sources but without actually getting baseload service:

Quebec and NYC often experience the same weather. Consequently, CHPE will deliver electricity during low or moderate demand periods. But Hydro Quebec will keep all power at home during grim winter weeks, such as on January 22 of this year: Exports to ISO-NE (the New England grid) were reduced to the contracted minimum, and, instead of exporting power to New York, Quebec needed to import power from New York. On really cold days in the Northeast, NYC will get no power via CHPE and will again rely on fossil-fueled “peaker plants”. Yes, CHPE will get paid little for their electricity in the wholesale market if they fail to serve NYC in times of most desperate need. However, New Yorkers are still going to pay plenty for the Renewable Energy Credits generated during “nice weather” hours.

The lack of an implementation plan directly relates to this problem.  As noted above the ultimate problem is getting as much zero-emissions electric energy as possible in order during the low renewable resource periods that are also expected to the highest load periods.  Without an implementation plan in place, New York State committed to paying CHPE for capacity that is not guaranteed when we need it the most. 

Implementation Issues

Three implementation issues concern me: the schedule, the costs, and jobs.

One of the most challenging aspects of the Climate Act is the schedule.  As part of their planning responsibilities the New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO) recently released the  2022 Reliability Needs Assessment (RNA) that highlighted this concern concluding “while there is not an immediate reliability need, changes in the economy, new generation technology, extreme weather and policy drivers are creating challenges for the future grid that may require actions to avoid interruptions in electric service.”  NYISO specifically referenced the CHPE project in the RNA findings:

The summer reliability margins improve in 2026 with the scheduled addition of the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) connection from Hydro Quebec to New York City but reduce through time as demand grows within New York City.  While CHPE will contribute to reliability in the summer, the facility is not obligated to provide any capacity in the winter. The NYISO is expected to be a winter peaking system in the next decade as vehicle fleets and buildings electrify.

While transmission security within New York City is maintained through the ten-year period in accordance with current design criteria, the margins are very tight and decrease to approximately 50 MW by 2025. With the addition of CHPE project in 2026, the margin improves but reduces to near 100 MW by 2032.

The reliability margins within New York City may not be sufficient even for expected weather if the CHPE project experiences a significant delay.

Richard Ellenbogen and I share this concern.  Richard described the project timeline.  The project was proposed in 2011 and the PSC authorized it on 4/18/13.  It has been 11.5 years since it was proposed, 9.5 years since it was authorized, and construction just started a year after the funding contract was signed.  The likelihood of additional delays seems high.

The Draft Scoping Plan does not include detailed control strategy costs but from what I have been able to ascertain, it is clear that the potential costs are minimized.   The record of this project reinforces my concerns.  Ellenbogen points out that the CHPE website has an entry from 11/1 noting that financing for the $6 billion project had been obtained but it was originally $2 billion when it was proposed ($2.65 billion in 2022 dollars). That cost is 2.3 times the original cost.  We agree that these projects are rarely ever completed on budget and with all the issues with supply chains and worldwide inflation I think this one will not be completed anywhere near the budgeted cost.

The Hochul press release said “the clean energy line is an example of how officials in the state are working to “confront climate change challenges and energy challenges together, in the meantime, creating great jobs for a cleaner, healthier New York.”  It is notable that the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority press release for the construction start announcement emphasized a “major project labor agreement”:

The construction of this green infrastructure project, which begins following the execution of a major union labor agreement between the developer and New York State Building and Construction Trades, is expected to bring $3.5 billion in economic benefits to New Yorkers while creating nearly 1,400 family-sustaining union jobs during construction.

I recently addressed the State’s Clean Energy Industry Report and its handling of these “great” jobs.  One point overlooked by Hochul is that while there may be “1,400 family-sustaining union jobs during construction” the number of permanent jobs is miniscule.  Furthermore, the project will provide 1,250 MW of power to New York City but this is a fraction of 2,000 MW of power lost due to the shutdown of Indian Point.  That shutdown meant the loss of over 1,000 permanent union jobs.  While this project may “confront climate change challenges and energy challenges together” it does not replace the loss of Indian Point that was more effective in that regard.

Conclusion

I agree that this line is needed to maintain New York’s electric grid reliability and that the start of construction is encouraging.  However, there are associated reliability and affordability feasibility concerns.  The latest NYISO RNA report emphasizes that there could be reliability problems if there are further delays to completion of this project.  The Climate Act transition plan schedule is ambitious and the Council has not considered a “Plan B” if there are unavoidable implementation delays for any of the components of the plan.  This project is expensive equating to an estimated increase in customer electric bills of 2.1 – 4.1% (or $2.08 – $4.08 per month for the average residential customer) for just one component of the total resources needed.  The Climate Action Council has not disclosed the total expected costs of the Integration Analysis transition plan or expected ratepayer impacts.

In addition to the feasibility issues this project exposes failures of the state’s lack of an implementation plan. The biggest challenge for the future zero-emissions electric grid is the winter-time lull when renewable resources are low.  This project is not obligated to provide any capacity during those periods.  Consequently, it is likely that more DEFR will be required. Unless the Hochul Administration comes to its senses and starts encouraging the development of the only scalable proven dispatchable emissions-free resource, nuclear power, this increases the risk that DEFR won’t be available as planned because the alternative technologies are speculative at this time.

New York Clean Energy Industry Report

One problem I have when I am writing a blog post is that there is a target rich environment.  In this case I was working on a post about Governor Hochul’s announcement concerning the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) transmission project starting construction.  One topic I wanted to address in the post concerned jobs and another Hochul announcement about a record number of clean energy jobs came up in our discussion that needed to be addressed..  This post describes the 2022 New York Clean Energy Industry Report.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that it will do more harm than good.  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.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it will finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year.  There are two underlying problems with the Climate Action Council approach for the transition plan: the Draft Scoping Plan does not include a feasibility analysis and the Council has not considered the need for an implementation plan.

A major emphasis in the transition planning is on clean energy industry jobs.  The Climate Act required a Just Transition Working Group Jobs Study to “provide a robust understanding of the impacts of climate change mitigation, to assess potential effects on the job market, and to understand impacts to training, education, and workforce development.”  The creation of clean energy jobs has been a point of emphasis as an advantage of the net-zero transition and the Climate Act mandated regular updates on the number of clean energy jobs in the state.

Clean Energy Industry Report

On the day before the CHPE announcements Hochul announced a record level of clean energy jobs in New York.  That claim was based on the NYSERDA New York Clean Energy Industry Report 2022 that found:

More than 165,000 New Yorkers had clean energy jobs at the end of 2021, up from 157,686 in 2020.

New York’s clean energy employment grew 5% from 2020 through 2021 – gaining over 7,000 jobs in 12 months.

Employment met or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in almost all technology sectors. Renewable electric power generation, alternative transportation, renewable fuels, grid modernization, and energy storage all reached or surpassed their pre-pandemic employment levels by the end of 2021.

The alternative transportation technology sector saw unprecedented growth between 2020 and 2021 and employment expanded by almost 26% or 2,318 jobs in just 12 months.

Solar accounted for the largest share of job gains in the renewable electric power generation technology sector.

The industries with the largest job growth were labor and civic organizations, software publishers, durable goods merchant wholesalers, and machinery, equipment, and supplies wholesalers

There are times when I read something that is a “You have to be kidding me” moment.  For example, the claim that the largest clean energy job growth was in the in the labor and civic organizations sector was one of those.  The Climate Act mandates that the Just Transition Working Group estimate “the number of jobs created to counter climate change, which shall include but not be limited to the energy sector, building sector, and working lands sector”.  I am sure that labor and civic organizations sector was not necessarily what the authors of the Climate Act had in mind.

Discussion

I had been talking to Richard Ellenbogen about the CHPE announcement and the topic of jobs came up. Richard and I both critiqued the Clean Energy Industry Report that had been mentioned.  He pointed out that out of the 165,000 employed on their list, 87% (124,000) work in “Energy Efficiency” (page 15), so that could include anyone that installs insulation.  Those jobs existed before renewable energy was a thing.  He used two different insulation installers on his house in 2004 and a different one on his factory in 2000.  It appears to both of us that there is an opportunity to inflate numbers depending upon the classification of building contractors.

I dug a little deeper into the report and confirmed plenty of opportunities for NYSERDA to inflate numbers.  I found out that they use something called “clean energy employment intensity” that are “used to identify the concentration, or intensity, of clean energy activities”. The claim that there are 165,000 employed in the clean energy sector (Figure 2 from the document page 12) “includes all workers that dedicate any amount of their labor hours or work week to clean energy goods and services. As such, an electrician who spends only a quarter of their work week installing or servicing solar panels would be counted as a clean energy worker”.   For emphasis it does say any amount of their labor hours counts as a clean energy job.

My first thought was that they include the intensity-adjusted clean energy employment metric because even they admit that the 165,000 employed in the sector claim is a stretch when anyone who spends any amount of time is counted.  Upon further review I am not convinced that is the case.  The document states (page 16):

The metric weights each job according to how much time workers were reported to spend on clean energy activities: the categories include less than half of their labor hours, half to the majority of their labor hours, or all of their labor hours. These categories correspond with the following delineations: 0 to 49 percent of labor hours, 50 to 99 percent of labor hours, and 100 percent of labor hours.

The description goes on to say:

An increase in total employment would indicate that there are more workers in the labor market overall servicing clean energy technologies, while an increase in intensity adjusted employment indicates that these workers are dedicating a larger proportion of their work week and labor hours to clean energy-specific activities; this could be the result of increased policy support or financial incentives spurring market demand for clean energy goods and services. For instance, a traditional HVAC worker might have spent only a third of their work week installing or maintaining energy efficient HVAC technologies in 2016. If a state began offering rebates in 2017 for efficient heat pumps, that traditional HVAC worker would likely be spending more of their labor hours or work week installing high-efficiency heat pumps. This increase in activity per worker would not necessarily result in overall job growth in Figure 2 but would be captured as an increase in intensity-adjusted clean energy employment in Figure 8.

The last statement in this section leads me to believe that this metric is not supposed to address the dis-information that any time whatsoever spent on clean energy work qualifies the job to be a clean energy job. It says that an increase in activity per worker would not necessarily result in overall job growth in the total numbers.  Instead, it “would be captured as an increase in intensity-adjusted clean energy employment”.  What I had hoped that the State would do was to report the clean energy jobs as full-time equivalents using the fractional time spent.  In other words, two employees that work 50% of the time on clean energy projects are equivalent to one full-time equivalent position.  The fact that they don’t do it that way and instead conjure up an intensity adjustment metric shows, as Richard Ellenbogen explains, that while they are trying to do something to explain the employment opportunities “this looks more like a political document for the non-thinking”.  

The document states that there is a full description of their methodology in Appendix A. However, there is no meat to that documentation.  The appendix is titled Clean Energy Technology List. It only includes the following text:

A clean energy job is defined as any worker that is directly involved with the research, development, production, manufacture, distribution, sales, implementation, installation, or repair of components, goods, or services related to the following sectors of the clean energy economy: Renewable Electric Power Generation; Grid Modernization and Energy Storage; Energy Efficiency; Renewable Fuels; and Alternative Transportation. These jobs also include supporting services such as consulting, finance, tax, and legal services related to energy.

The remainder of the Appendix only lists sub-sector jobs for each of the sectors of the economy listed above as shown below.  I believe that ay time spent on any job on the clean energy technology list qualifies the employee to be a clean-energy job holder.

According to the numbers, the clean energy industry jobs are an increase of 18,200 since 2016, 13,400 of those in “Energy Efficiency”.  New York State employment is at 57% of 19.5 million people or about 11.1 million.  The 165,000 is 1.4% of the state’s total workforce.  The increase in what they call “Clean Energy Jobs” is 0.0012 or about 1/10 of 1% of the state workforce over the past five years. 

The following figure from the report lists the industry sectors that had employment gains.  Keep in mind that if a labor organization changes the job description for any staff to include weekly updates of renewable energy developments that counts as one of these jobs because the claimed jobs “includes all workers that dedicate any amount of their labor hours or work week to clean energy goods and services”.  Moreover, I am not sure why any rational person would count jobs at a software publisher as a clean energy job.

Another area for misleading information is construction jobs.  A New York Daily News article about the CHPE project states: “An agreement between the developer tasked with completing the line and New York State Building and Construction Trades means the project will lead to about 1,400 union jobs.”  If one of the CHPE contractors was building a non-clean energy project but now sends his workers to build the transmission line I suspect they are counted as new clean-energy jobs.  There are two issues.  The first is that the construction jobs are temporary and this approach does not seem to take that into account.  The second is that if the contractor goes to work on another non-clean energy project after this project ends but a year later puts them to work on a new clean-energy project I am sure the State will count those as new jobs.

Ellenbogen and I talked about the issue of finding people to work.  We both have talked to contractors that told us they cannot find enough people to work.  What does that say about the future increase in these numbers?  To do what they want to do, they will have to increase that number to about 250,00 – 300,000, at least a third of that in Renewable Electric Power Generation and Grid Modernization.  The increase in those two categories over the past five years is 3,300, so at the current rate of increase it will take 50 years to reach the number that they need.  That is about 25 years after they expect to complete their plan.

Finally, there is one other aspect of the report that concerns me.  The New York Daily News article about the CHPE project notes that the project will lead to about 1,400 union construction jobs.  It will provide 1,250 MW or power to New York City.  This report does an inadequate job addressing the loss of jobs from other New York State policies.  For example, the shutdown of Indian Point meant the loss of over 1,000 permanent union jobs and 2,000 MW of New York City power.  In other words, the unknown number of permanent additional jobs in the report numbers probably means that that there has been a net loss in New York due to the Indian Point shutdown and CHPE will not replace the loss of Indian Point capacity.


Conclusion

Whenever I have evaluated any component of the Climate Act, I have found that there is no acknowledgement that issues are more complicated, uncertain, and costly than portrayed by the State.   Unfortunately, there is a bigger issue because there are instances where the documentation provided is misleading and inaccurate.  In my opinion the Clean Energy Industry Report is misleading.  It would be more appropriate to provide the impact of clean energy jobs as a function of full-time equivalents instead of counting clean energy jobs as any that “dedicate any amount of their labor hours or work week to clean energy goods and services.”  In addition, the reporting of that metric is likely high because there is a bias towards more emphasis on clean energy goods and services.  As it stands there is a clear bias towards higher numbers supporting the narratives of the Climate Act.

Skeptical Overview of the Climate Act Presentation

This is a summary of the presentation I gave to the Central New York Chapter Air & Waste Management Association on November 29, 2022 explaining why I believe that the risks, costs, and impacts of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) exceed the protections, savings, and benefits.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted 23 comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have published over 250 blog posts on  New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease.  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.

Introduction

I explained that given the time constraints it was only possible to give sound bites to describe why I am skeptical of the ultimate impacts of the Climate Act.  This blog post gives an overview of the presentation and, more importantly, a link to detailed information supporting my arguments.  Everything presented draws on my blog posts and Draft Scoping Plan comments.

I discussed three primary concerns: reliability, affordability and environmental impacts.  In every instance, my evaluation of the components of the transition plan has found that issues are more complicated, uncertain, and costly than portrayed by the State.   Moreover, they have not provided a feasibility analysis to document whether their list of control strategies could work.  In addition there is no implementation plan.  The Climate Act is simply too fast and too far.

Overview of the Climate Act

I described the transition plan for New York’s Climate Act “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050.  The Climate Action Council has been working to develop plans to implement the Act.  The 22 members of the Council were chosen for their ideology and not their expertise and the lack of clear direction by the Hochul Administration led to misplaced priorities.  Instead of focusing on overarching policy issues there has been inordinate attention to personal concerns of Council members. 

Over the summer of 2021 the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultant Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) prepared an Integration Analysis to “estimate the economy-wide benefits, costs, and GHG emissions reductions associated with pathways that achieve the Climate Act GHG emission limits and carbon neutrality goal”.  Integration Analysis quantitative implementation strategies were incorporated into the Draft Scoping Plan when it was released at the end of 2021.  Since the end of the public comment period in early July 2022 the Climate Action Council has been addressing the comments received as part of the development of the Final Scoping Plan.  Most recently they have been revising the Scoping Plan to come up with a final document.  The intention is to release the Final Scoping Plan by the end of the year.

I expressed my disappointment with the public stakeholder process associated with the Draft Scoping Plan comments. Seven hundred people spoke at Climate Act Public Hearings and around 35,000 comments were received.  However, on the order of 25,000 comments were “potentially the same or substantially similar”, i.e., form letters.  That still left 10,000 unique comments that the Council promised would be “acknowledged”.  In my opinion, the comment process was treated as an obligation not as an opportunity to improve, correct, or clarify the scoping plan.

Of course it is unreasonable to expect that the Council members could be expected to review all the comments themselves.  Agency staff categorized the comments and then filtered them in presentations to the Climate Action Council that described themes with very little specificity.  I think there was a clear bias in the presentations.  Anything inconsistent with Administration’s narrative was disparaged, downplayed, or ignored.  I was most disappointed that no comments on the fundamental basis of the Draft Scoping Plan, that is to say the Integration Analysis, were mentioned, much less discussed.

I also addressed the Climate Act mandates for 2023.  The expectation is that the regulations that implement policies that force the transition away from fossil fuels will be implemented by the end of 2023.  However, the Climate Act also mandates a public comment and consultation process before promulgating regulations.  It requires the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to complete a public comment and consultation process before it can promulgate the 2024 Implementing Regulations.  This process includes public workshops and consultation with the Climate Action Council, the Environmental Justice Advisory Group, the Climate Justice Working Group, representatives of regulated entities, community organizations, environmental groups, health professionals, labor unions, municipal corporations, trade associations and other stakeholders. At least two public hearings and a 120-day public comment period must be provided. Only after this extensive stakeholder process concludes is DEC authorized to propose the implementing regulations.  When the regulations are formally proposed the State Administrative Procedures Act requires a 60 day public comment period, public hearings, and that the agency respond to all comments.  I think this is a very ambitious plan.

Electric Grid Risks

Many of the most vocal supporters of the Climate Act believe that existing renewable technology is sufficient to transition the New York electric grid to zero-emissions resources by 2040 and that suggestions that may not be true are misinformation.  In order to address that fallacy my presentation concentrated on my concerns about the reliability risks of an electric grid that is dependent upon intermittent and diffuse renewable resources.  The electric grid is crucial to New York’s energy future because the primary de-carbonization strategy is to electrify everything possible using those resources.  I described the existing grid, generation resource planning, the current New York State system, and the projected New York State system.  Electric grid reliability requires that generation resources match electric load at all times and the challenges associated with wind and solar in this regard are ignored by those who believe that existing technology is sufficient.

I made the point that failure to adequately plan will mean an inevitable catastrophic blackout like the Texas February 2021 blackout.  In short, weather related issues due to freezing rain, snow and then an extended period of cold weather led to periods when the generating resources did not match the load necessary.  The storm was the worst energy infrastructure failure in Texas history.  Over 4.5 million homes and residences were without power, at least 246 people died, and total damages were at least $195 billion. 

In order to illustrate the basic electric grid I included the following diagram.  It shows that generating station provide power using turbine generators that convert mechanical energy into electric energy using water, steam, or other means to spin the turbines.  I have heard the argument that the grid is inefficient because there are power losses between the generating station and the users but the fact is that New York will always be dependent upon a transmission system because there is insufficient space in New York City for sufficient renewable resources to provide the energy needed to keep the lights on.  Power output from generating plants is stepped up at substation transformers for long distance transmission and then substation transformers step down the power for the distribution system for use by consumers.

I included the following diagram to make the point that New York is in the Eastern Interconnection which is the largest machine in the world.  Incredibly all the fossil, hydro, and nuclear generating stations in the Eastern Interconnection work together.  In order to provide 60 Hz power the generating turbines are synchronized to run at 3600 revolutions per minute.  Operators keeps the voltages as constant as possible in the entire area but have the advantage that those turbines provide inertia and they can dispatch generating resources as necessary.  Unfortunately, wind and solar resources are inverter based and cannot be dispatched as needed.

New York State has its own regional operator – the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO).  Within Power the Eastern Interconnection system operators match the load with the generation in smaller regional systems. Regional system operators manage imports and exports between neighboring systems.  New York has unique system constraints related to New York City and Long Island that warrant its own system operator.

NYISO operates the electric grid for New York State.  There are 11 control areas with specific load, interconnection, and generation characteristics that must be addressed on a six-second basis to keep the lights on.  New York State’s major challenge is that there are limits to transmission to the highly populated New York City and Long Island control areas.  The NYISO has to address different time scales for load management:

  • Sub-minute fluctuations are addressed automatically
  • Hourly and daily fluctuations are handled by operators
  • Annual peaks require planning so that operators can respond

New York’s high reliability performance standards are the result of decades of experience working with dispatchable resources and implementation of specific metrics developed after blackouts in 1965 and 1977.

In order to educate those who believe that existing renewable resources are sufficient for maintaining current reliability standards I described generation resource planning.  The following load duration curve is a key concern of load management planning.  There are three general resources.  Baseline resources ideally are dispatched so they can run at a constant rate which enables the resource owners to tune the units to run as efficiently as possible.  Daily load variations require some resources to follow load during the day.   The biggest planning challenge is capacity and energy for peak loads that occur when temperatures are highest or lowest.  Before deregulation, each utility was responsible for meeting all these resource needs.  In New York City the solution for the peak load problem was a fleet of simple-cycle turbines dedicated for use to provide peaking power when and where needed.

The problem with existing renewable resource technology is matching load when the system is dependent upon renewable resources that cannot be dispatched and provide variable energy.  This is a new and difficult challenge.  It is exacerbated by intermittent renewable energy availability associated with peak loads. Load peaks with the coldest and hottest weather but those conditions typically are low wind resource periods.  Wind lulls in the winter when solar is low availability is the critical reliability issue.

The NYISO 2022 Power Trends Report  includes this description of the capacity (power available in MW) for the existing system.  It shows that 70% of installed capacity is fossil fueled and 25% is zero emissions. Wind and other renewables (solar energy, energy storage resources, methane, refuse, or wood) account for only 6% of installed capacity.  Note that NYISO does not measure distributed solar directly.  In their accounting it reduces the load so less generation is needed.

The NYISO 2022 Power Trends Report  includes this description of Energy Production (MWh).  Note that 50% of New York’s generated electricity is zero-emissions.  There is a Climate Act target to “Increase renewable sources to 70 percent by 2030” that does not include zero-emissions nuclear. One reason that I am skeptical of the Climate Act is because 24% of renewable source energy produced is hydro and hydro pumped storage.  Wind and other renewables (solar energy, energy storage resources, methane, refuse, or wood) account for 5% of energy produced.  The 29% of the energy produced  from renewable sources is far less than the 70% by 2030 target. I don’t think that it is feasible to develop over 29GW of renewable resources between now and 2030 with supply chain issues, constraints on permitting, procurement, and construction when development of supporting infrastructure is also needed for off-shore wind development.

The capacity factor is a useful metric to understand electric generation resources.  The annual capacity factor equals the actual observed generation (MWh) divided by maximum possible generation (capacity (MW) times the 8,760 hours.  In New York nuclear is a key contributor but the Administration recently shut down 2,000 MW at Indian Point.  At this time the simple-cycle peaking turbines are being phased out and peaking power is produced by oil-fired units and spare capacity in the gas and dual fuel units.  Note that oil is a unique New York resource.  Imagine the difficulty replacing that capacity with a resource that would only need to run 1% of the time.  Note that in 2021 New York land-based wind only had a 22% capacity factor.

It is commonly argued that renewables are the cheapest type of new electric generating resources.  For example, that was the claim in a Dave Davies interview on National Public Radio Fresh Air: “A new climate reality is taking shape as renewables become widespread” with New York Times staff writer David Wallace-Wells.  Wallace-Wells said: “In fact, according to one study, 90% of the world now lives in places where building new renewable capacity would be cheaper than building new dirty capacity. And indeed, in a lot of places, it’s already cheaper to build new renewables than even to continue running old fossil fuel plants.” He went on to say “…we should be going all in on renewables here. We shouldn’t be building new coal or new oil or new gas capacity.”

The key to this claim is the reference to capacity.  If that were the only factor involved in getting the electricity when and where it is needed 24-7, 365 days a year without losing load due to extreme (one in ten year) conditions then his argument that we shouldn’t be building new coal, oil, or natural gas capacity” would be valid.  It is not.  Obviously electric users want power even when the wind is not blowing at night.  Electric system innumerates under-estimate the challenge of the energy storage requirements for extreme renewable resource lulls which correlate well with weather events that are safety threats because of extreme cold and heat. 

Given time restraints I could not fully describe all the NYISO’s planning responsibilities.  I did not include the following slide but made the point that their modeling analyses incorporate all of the complexities of the New York electric system.  I did not describe the three primary components of their responsibilities: comprehensive system planning which examines near-term and longer-term issues impacting reliability, economic, and public policy transmission planning; interconnection planning to evaluate the reliability implications of resources interconnecting and deactivating from the grid; and inter-regional planning with neighboring grid operators. One of the primary functions of the NYISO is electric system planning.  NYISO modeling incorporates all the complexities of the eleven control areas in the New York energy system.

I included the following summary of the NYISO Comprehensive System Planning Process to show all the components and to highlight the recent addition of a new component.  In order to address the Climate Act NYISO added “Develop the System & Resource Outlook” component that looks at a longer planning horizon that was included previously. 

The first report for the resource outlook component was released a couple of months ago.  The 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook can be downloaded from NYISO and a datasheet summary of key takeaways of the Outlook report is also available.  The summary describes the four key findings: an unprecedented buildout of new generation is needed, load will increase when we electrify everything, transmission is necessary and must be expended to get diffuse renewables to New York City and a new resource has been identified: Dispatchable Emissions-Free Resource (DEFR).  That resource is essentially a fossil-fueled turbine without any emissions. 

I compared the NYISO Resource Outlook modeling analysis with the Integration Analysis modeling.  The Outlook analysis was based on three scenarios.  In order to evaluate the effects of different policy options, this kind of modeling analysis projects future conditions for a baseline or business-as-usual case.  The evaluation analysis makes projections for different policy options, and then the results are compared relative to the business-as-usual case.  NYISO ran two policy scenarios: one based on their estimates of future demand and one that tried to simulate the Integration Analysis projections.  I compared their scenario 1 to the Integration Analysis in the presentation.

The Integration Analysis modeling was used to develop the Draft Scoping Plan.  It is important to note that contrary to usual practice the Integration Analysis baseline was a reference case that included “already implemented” programs.  In other words there are some programs incorporated into the Reference Case that only exist to reduce GHG emissions.  This definition of the Reference Case instead of a Business-As-Usual case is different practice and motivated to get a specific answer. The Integration Analysis considered four different policy projections.  The first considered the Advisory Panel recommendations for control measures, but the modeling showed that they did not meet the Climate Act targets.  The Integration Analysis came up with three mitigation scenarios that did meet the targets.  The model used for the analysis is not as sophisticated as the NYISO model.  Modelers plugged in a set of control measures at varying efficiencies until they met the targets.  Note, however, they have not claimed that the scenario measures as scoped out will provide electricity that meets current reliability standards.  In my opinion this approach gave the impression to the Council that meeting the targets would be relatively easy.  Council members requested scenarios that considered a faster implementation schedule and more reductions that the 85% target.   The cost/benefit results claim that those more stringent scenarios provide more benefits primarily because of reduced costs.  I think that is a counter-intuitive result so my comparison was against Scenario 2: Strategic Use of Low-Carbon Fuels.

I compare the installed capacity for the two models in the next table.  As noted by the NYISO, an extraordinary development of renewables by 2030 is required and both models agree on that.  There also are some key differences.  The NYISO modeling projects more onshore wind, less offshore wind, less solar, and more DEFR.  The NYISO model simultaneously optimizes resource capabilities and costs to come up with a least-cost solution. I think the wind differences are due to cost and availability differences.  The two modeling approaches handle distributed solar differently.  NYISO does not measure generation from distributed sources and only considers it as a way to reduce the load needed.  The Integration Analysis explicitly includes distributed solar capacity and generation as an output.  Note that existing storage is pumped hydro but any new storage will be batteries.  Finally, it is notable that both modeling analyses project that 2040 DEFR will be comparable to existing fossil capacity albeit NYISO projects significantly more and Integration Analysis a little less.

I compare the energy produced (GWh) for the two models in the next table.  The largest difference between the models is that NYISO projects that DEFR generates ten times more energy.  It turns out that NYISO has DEFR generating 14% of the total energy in 2040 but Integration Analysis projects only 1%.  NYISO projects more onshore wind than offshore wind and the Integration Analysis projects the opposite.  There is huge difference between solar but I believe that is related to the fact that NYISO does not explicitly include distributed solar.   Clearly the two models handle storage differently.

I noted earlier that I was disappointed that the Hochul Administration ignored my comments on the Integration Analysis.  The capacity factor table shows one of the points I made in my comments.  I pointed out that the Integration Analysis land-based wind capacity factors were unrealistically high.  The model projected the 2020 generation with a capacity factor of 29% but the 2021 observed capacity factor was only 22%.  As a result the Integration Analysis projections for the land-based wind needed to meet the load is too low.  For all renewable resources the Integration Analysis capacity factors are higher than the NYISO projections.  I prefer the projections from the organization responsible for New York reliability to those from the unelected bureaucrats who have no such responsibilities. 

There is one other point in this table.  The DEFR capacity factors are different.  To this point the extra capacity needed to keep the lights on during peaking periods was provided by relatively cheap sources of energy.  When new peaking resources were needed, cheap simple-cycle turbines were installed.  Currently peak energy resources are primarily from existing old, amortized facilities.  As we shall see, the new DEFR required to keep the system working will use much more expensive resources.  In our deregulated system the NYISO will have to develop a market payment scheme to cover those increased costs.

As noted earlier, I believe that the NYISO projections based on more sophisticated modeling has a much better chance than the Integration Analysis to describe a mix or resources that will maintain current reliability standards.  Nonetheless, I have reservations about any projections because the future electric grid will depend on unprecedented amounts of renewable energy resources.  The following slide lists six of concerns for an electric system dependent upon renewable resources.  For my presentation I only mentioned the first three.  Because wind and solar are intermittent that means you have to have storage for daily, seasonal, and peak load requirements.  The lack of an implementation plan ignores that wind and solar success is location specific.  New York needs a plan that encourages development where the resource is better during the winter lulls.  Specifically, it is not a good idea to offer the same incentives to utility-scale developments on the Tug Hill plateau where over 200” of snow are common as areas where snowfall amounts are lower.  The third concern is reliability services and they are a reason that wind and solar are far more expensive for deliverable energy than fossil.

I found a good summary of the essential reliability services in a paper by National Renewable Energy Laboratory authors entitled Getting to 100%: Six strategies for the challenging last 10%.   It describes ancillary services that must be provided to keep the transmission system going.    Wind and solar do not provide those services so someone, somewhere else has to provide them at some additional cost.

The ultimate reliability problem is illustrated in the following figure.  This graph illustrates the long-duration wind lull problem from an early presentation to the Climate Action Council.  It explicitly points out that firm capacity (DEFR) is needed to meet multi-day periods of low wind and solar resource availability.  The Council has known about the problem all along but have basically pushed it aside as inconvenient.  The thing to remember is that in order to prevent catastrophic blackouts caused because intermittent wind and solar are unavailable, NYISO and the Integration Analysis are both banking on DEFR capacity.  Using wind, solar and storage exclusively makes meeting the worst-case renewable resource gap much more difficult.

There is no doubt that the fate of future reliability is inextricably tied to DEFR success.  The next slide discusses DEFR options.  The Draft Scoping Plan acknowledges the need for DEFR and proposes seasonal hydrogen storage as a placeholder technology.  NYISO, while explaining that the resource is necessary, has offered no recommendations what technology could fill the need.  The NREL authors of Getting to 100%: Six strategies for the challenging last 10% described six DEFR strategies

  • Seasonal storage which could be hydrogen or some other kind of long term storage solution
  • Renewable energy is basically overbuilding with battery energy storage.  I believe this represents the preferred approach of those who claim existing technology is sufficient.
  • Existing technology adherents also claim that demand side resources can flatten the load peaks so much that less DEFR is needed
  • The problem with other renewables (e.g. hydro) in New York is that they cannot be scaled up enough to meet identified needs
  • Nuclear is the only proven and scalable DEFR technology currently available but it is a toxic option for NY politicians
  • Carbon capture is unacceptable to the activists and has technological challenges that make it an unlikely a DEFR option.
  • Because of the challenges of carbon sequestration to net out the 15% net-zero emissions, the Draft Scoping plan mentions the CO2 removal strategy but in my opinion it is unlikely.

There are two approaches advocated by those who believe that existing technology is sufficient to maintain electric system reliability in a zero-emissions electric grid.  Some claim that only minimal storage is needed because renewables are available somewhere else, that is to say, the wind is always blowing somewhere.  Others claim that overbuilding renewables supplemented with battery energy storage systems is a viable solution.

While the concept that the wind is always blowing somewhere else is indisputably true the issue is that in order to keep the lights on we need power at specific times and places from a dedicated source.  New York City’s peaking turbines were located in specific locations to maintain reliability and they were dedicated to that application.  New York’s reliability standards were developed based on decades of experience that showed that a certain installed reserve margin would guarantee that New York reliability standards could be maintained.   Against that backdrop consider the following weather map on February 17, 2021.  The Texas energy debacle was associated with this intensely cold polar vortex huge high pressure system.  Remember that winds are higher when the isobars are close together.  On this day there are light winds from New York to the southeast, west, and north including the proposed New York offshore wind development area.  There are packed isobars in northeastern New England, in the western Great Plains, and central Gulf Coast.  In order for New York to guarantee wind energy availability from those locations, wind turbines and the transmission lines between New York and those locations would have to be dedicated for our use.  Otherwise I think it is obvious that jurisdictions in between would claim those resources for their own use during these high energy demand days.  It is unreasonable to expect that building those resources for a once in a few years situation could possibly be an economic solution.

Another way of looking at this issue is to consider the NYISO fuel mix data available at the NYISO Real-Time Dashboard.  I downloaded four days of February 2021 data to generate the following table.  It shows that a high pressure system reduces wind resource availability across the state.  The data show that less than a quarter of the daily wind capacity is available for this period. Note that the worst-case hour on 2/18/21 at 7:00 AM wind production was only 138 MW out of a New York total of 1,985 MW for a capacity factor of 7%.  If we were to overbuild wind resources to replace the fossil capacity of 7,191 MW on that hour you would need 102,729 MW of wind resources.

Clearly, overbuilding alone is not a viable solution.  You have to have new energy storage and the currently available technology is battery energy storage systems.  Both the Integration Analysis and NYISO Resource Outlook optimized the balance between renewables and storage but still found that DEFR was needed.  Existing technology proponents claim that over-building wind, solar, and storage is viable but have not countered the NYISO or Integration Analysis modeling results.  I am concerned about the risks associated with the current preferred technology: lithium-ion storage battery systems.  The first risk is logistical inasmuch as battery storage footprints are larger than the existing peaking turbine sites so finding space for the batteries is an issue.  Worse is the fact that lithium-ion storage batteries have the risk of thermal runaway fires and explosions that trade an acute health risk for chronic, and speculative, in my opinion, risks.  Paul Christensen, Professor of Pure and Applied Electrochemistry at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom gave a presentation at PV magazine’s Insight Australia event in 2021 that describes the risks. His videos of thermal runaway tests are terrifying.  He is one of the world’s leading experts on battery fires and safety and said global uptake of lithium-ion battery technology has “outstripped” our knowledge of the risks.  He also stated that he is “astounded and appalled that if there is no appreciation of the safety issues involved” with large battery energy storage systems.  This is another feasibility issue that is unaddressed by the Draft Scoping Plan.

Hydrogen storage is the Draft Scoping Plan DEFR placeholder technology.  The plan is to use wind and solar electrolysis to produce “green” hydrogen from water.  The stored hydrogen would either be combusted to power turbines or used in fuel cells.  There are fundamental issues associated with the use of hydrogen that I detail on my blog.  Hydrogen generation, storage and use loses much more energy than alternatives and may not even have a net energy benefit so it is unlikely to be sustainable.  In order for it to provide the necessary peaking power in New York City a colorless, odorless, hard to store explosive gas will have to be stored and used.  I don’t think that the technology will be embraced in the City.  All the infrastructure necessary to produce, store, and use will have to be built and paid for to meet a projected capacity factor of 2%.  I doubt that makes economic sense.

I concluded my discussion of the risks to electric system reliability by summing up the NYISO Resource Outlook Key Findings Datasheet.  According to the organization that is responsible for keeping the lights on, DEFR is necessary for future reliability.  Because a politically acceptable DEFR that can be scaled up to meet the levels needed for reliability is not currently available, a new technology has to be developed, tested, and put on line well before 2040.  The NYISO makes the point that until you have the necessary DEFR technology on line shutting down existing fossil generation is inappropriate.  I am disappointed that the NYISO Resource Outlook has not mentioned any costs.  This is likely to be a particular issue relative to DEFR.  Clearly conditional implementation dependent upon the availability of DEFR would be a rational approach.

There is no documentation that lists the specific costs of control strategies, the expected benefits, or the expected emission reductions making it impossible to estimate the total costs of the Climate Act.  That information is necessary to determine whether the Integration Analysis projections are feasible. The Draft Scoping Plan claims that the cost of inaction is more than the cost of action but a variation of this graph is the only documentation for that claim.  I directly addressed this misleading and inaccurate statement in my comments at the Syracuse public hearing but there has been no response or mention of the issues I raised at any Climate Action Council meeting.  The statement is misleading because costs are given relative to the Reference Case and not a business-as-usual case as explained earlier.  I believe that the Reference Case includes at least the cost of the “already implemented” electric vehicle mandate.  That means that all of the costs for electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, and distribution system upgrades necessary for electric vehicle charging are excluded from the cost of action.  Correcting that “trick” would mean the costs of action are more than the costs of inaction. 

There is another egregious cheat that further undermines the claim.  It is inaccurate because the Draft Scoping Plan counts the societal benefits of avoided greenhouse gas emissions multiple times.  My Draft Scoping Plan comments on benefits documents why I believe that their claim for $235 billion in societal benefits should only be $60 billion.  Their approach is equivalent to me saying that because I lost 10 pounds five years ago, I can say that I lost 50 pounds.  Correcting that error would also by itself invalidate their benefits claim.  Bottom line is that I estimate that the real costs are at least $760 billion more than the imaginary claimed benefits.

In my opinion one of the biggest environmental success stories in my lifetime is the reintroduction of Bald Eagles.  When I moved to Syracuse in 1981 it was inconceivable that it would be possible to see a Bald Eagle from my home but I have seen several in the last few years.  One of the missing pieces of the Climate Act implementation plan is an update of the Cumulative Environmental Impact Statement to reflect the latest estimates of the number of wind turbines and areal extent of solar panels. I worry that the combined effect of all that development will threaten Bald Eagles.

The following table was not included in the presentation but shows the capacity of the resources not considered in the cumulative impact statements. Clearly, much more renewable capacity will be required than has been evaluated.

Comparison of Integrated Analysis Projected Capacity and Cumulative Environmental Impact Statements (MW)

The following table used in the presentation shows the number of wind turbines and areal extent considered in the completed cumulative impact statements relative to the projected numbers in the Integration Analysis.  The Draft Scoping Plan calls for at least 497 more onshore wind turbines, 493 more offshore wind turbines and 602 more square miles covered with solar equipment than has been evaluated in cumulative analysis.

I have considered the avian impact of the Bluestone Wind Project in Broome County New York to show impacts for a single facility. It will have up to 33 turbines and have a capability of up to 124 MW covering 5,652 acres. Over the 30-year expected lifetime of the facility the analysis estimates that 85 Bald Eagles and 21 federally protected Eastern Golden Eagles will be killed. A first-order approximation1 is to scale those numbers to the total capacity projected for the Draft Scoping Plan. This back of the envelope approximation suggests that at least 216 Bald Eagles could be killed every year when there are 9,445 MW of on-shore wind. There were 426 occupied bald eagle nest sites in New York in 2017. In my comments on this topic I stated that the Final Scoping Plan must include proposed thresholds for unacceptable environmental impacts like this.  There has been no response whatsoever to my comment.

When New York’s GHG emissions are considered relative to global emissions I conclude that New York only action is pointless.  In the presentation I compared New York emissions to global emissions in two graphs.  I used CO2 and GHG emissions data for the world’s countries and consolidated the data in a spreadsheet.  I used the New York State GHG data set CO2e AR4 100 year global warming potential GHG values for consistency.   Plotted on the same graph New York GHG and CO2 emissions cannot be differentiated from zero.

When the New York emissions are plotted relative to global emission increases the futility of New York affecting global emissions is shown.  The trend results indicate that the year-to-year trend in GHG emissions was positive 21 of 26 years and for CO2 emissions was positive 24 of 30 years.  In order to show this information graphically I calculated the rolling 3-year average change in emissions by year.  New York’s emissions are only 0.45% of global emissions and the average change in three-year rolling average emissions is greater than 1%.  In other words, whatever New York does to reduce emissions will be supplanted by global emissions increases in less than a year.

Climate Act advocates frequently argue that New York needs to take action because our economy is large.  I analyzed that claim recently and summarized the data here.  The 2020 Gross State Product (GSP) ranks ninth if compared to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries in the world.  However, when New York’s GHG 2016 emissions are compared to emissions from other countries, New York ranks 35th.  More importantly, a country’s emissions divided by its GDP is a measure of GHG emission efficiency.  New York ranks third in this category trailing only Switzerland and Sweden.

Despite the fact that the ostensible rationale for GHG emission reduction policies is to reduce global warming impacts, the Draft Scoping Plan continues an unbroken string of the Administration not reporting the effects of a policy proposal on global warming.   The reason is simple.  The change to global warming from eliminating New York GHG emissions are simply too small to be measured much less have an effect on any of the purported damages of greenhouse gas emissions.  I have calculated the expected impact on global warming as only 0.01°C by the year 2100 if New York’s GHG emissions are eliminated.

Conclusion

My presentation explained why I am skeptical of the value of the Climate Act.  Attempting to get to zero emissions is an extraordinary challenge that is downplayed by the Climate Act, the Council and the Draft Scoping Plan so most people are unaware of the likelihood of success.  The experts say we need DEFR but it has to be developed for New York in less than a decade which I believe is unlikely.  There is no reason to expect that the costs won’t be huge despite the Hochul Administration’s cover up of costs and benefits.  The cumulative impacts of the required renewable developments have not been evaluated and could be unacceptable.  There is no plan for implementation so there are going to be problems. Finally, what is going to happen when we have electrified everything and there is an ice storm?  Extreme weather events can have devastating consequences on a more fragile wind and solar electricity network.  I am particularly worried about ice storms.  On a local level it is not clear how the public will be able to survive a multi-day power outage caused by an ice storm when the Climate Act mandates electric heat and electric vehicles but the bigger reliability concern is that fact that ice storms can take out transmission lines.  The January 1998 North American ice storm struck the St Lawrence valley causing massive damage and required weeks to reconstruct the electric grid.  When everything is electrified how will it be possible to rebuild?

New York City Large Multi-Family Residential Heat Pumps

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) has been the primary focus of this blog since 2019.  I am from Upstate New York so I really have not been following New York City’s equivalent regulation Local Law 97.  This article looks at what it would take to meet the requirement that law’s requirement that “most buildings over 25,000 square feet will be required to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024, with stricter limits coming into effect in 2030”.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written extensively on New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease.  Moreover, many of the implementation requirements are going to increase costs tremendously.  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

Both the Climate Act and Local Law 97 are intended to meet a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050.  Since 2020 the Climate Action Council has been working to develop plans to implement the Climate Act.  Over the summer of 2021 the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultant Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) prepared an Integration Analysis to “estimate the economy-wide benefits, costs, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions associated with pathways that achieve the Climate Act GHG emission limits and carbon neutrality goal”.  Integration Analysis implementation strategies were incorporated into the Draft Scoping Plan when it was released at the end of 2021 for public comment.  The next step is to finalize a scoping plan by the end of the year.  Incredibly the proposed transition plan does not include sufficient feasibility analysis to determine whether it will be affordable, reliable, or what the cumulative environmental impacts will be on the state.

I have intended to write an article since I read an article describing “cutting-edge” climate technology for New York City public housing.  That article describes the first awards of the Clean Heat for All Challenge that I described in an earlier post.  The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), New York Power Authority (NYPA) and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) launched the Clean Heat for All Challenge as “an industry competition directed at heating and cooling equipment manufacturers to develop a new electrification product that can better serve the needs of existing multifamily buildings and hasten the transition to fossil-free heating sources.  While this challenge is laudable the fact is that the Climate Action Council presumes it will be successful and has not established standards for affordability and reliability.  If a reliable system doubles the cost of housing is that acceptable?  If an affordable system risks frequent and severe blackouts is that acceptable?  New York’s approach is to cross their fingers and hope that these implementation schemes will work.

Integration Analysis Residential Heating Costs

Because GHG emissions from buildings is the largest remaining sector in the State, the Integration Analysis proposes to replace all fossil-fired generation with electric options.  As part of my comments on the Draft Scoping Plan I consolidated all the residential heating information in the Integration Analysis in a single spreadsheet.  The Integration Analysis supporting documentation included device costs for Single-Family, Small Multi-Family, and Large Multi-Family residences.  The Bldg Device Cost tab lists all the costs.  A complete table with current building shell, air conditioning, hot water, and heating costs for Large Multi-Family residences is available.  The following table consolidates device costs for three choices of building shells, air source heat pumps, backup electric resistance heat, and electric heat pump storage that I believe represents the costs to replace heating and hot water from the steam boiler systems used in many New York City Large Muti-Family apartment buildings.  There is not enough documentation for me to definitively state that these represent the Integration Analysis best estimate of likely expected costs so I made the following assumptions.  Anecdotally my son’s Brooklyn apartment had air source heat pumps that were inadequate in the winter because the building shell had not been upgraded so I think a basic shell upgrade is appropriate.  I think the costs should include a basic shell upgrade ($26,259), an air source heat pump ($26,873), electric resistance heating because the basic shell is insufficient in the coldest weather (($1,140) and an electric heat pump water heater ($3,267) to provide hot water for a grand total of $57,539.

NYCHA Woodside

Environmental Justice advocates have repeatedly complained that disadvantaged communities have problems heating their homes.  The poster child of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments with heating problems is the Woodside Development in Queens.  After Hurricane Ida damaged the heating boilers in August 2021, Queens lawmakers toured the facility after resident complaints about problems with heat and hot water in January 2022.  The problems are still not resolved because in early October 2022 residents still were having problems. 

According to MYNYCHA “Woodside Houses has twenty, 6-story buildings and was completed December 30, 1949.  The Heating Action Plan states that there are 20 buildings with 1,357 apartments for 2,842 residents.  The heating system has six boilers that provide heat and hot water through a two-pipe steam system.  The plan’s “major challenges” states:

This plant needs to allow all six boilers to individually switch to fuel oil during a gas service disruption. The current setup only allows staff to switch all boilers to either gas or oil. These are old models of the Preferred brand burners which cause difficulty in obtaining parts during an emergency. The boilers at this location have outlived their life expectancies.

The “cutting-edge” climate technology article interviewed Woodside residents in its article about window heat pumps.  The article stated:

In an effort to help public housing residents stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter without resorting to extreme and even dangerous measures, New York announced the winners of its Clean Heat for All Challenge on Tuesday. It awarded $70 million to Gradient and Midea America, a startup and an established HVAC company, respectively. The duo will use that funding to manufacture 30,000 window heat pump units over seven years.

While the technology is relatively new and unproven at scale, proponents of the window heat pump say it could address a number of problems that plague New York’s public housing, which one in 16 New Yorkers call home. Many of those buildings feature outdated and unreliable heating systems as well as poor insulation. A large number of residents also lack access to air conditioning due to the cost of buying window units and the fees for professional installation and added energy use required by the New York City Housing Authority.

The Clean Heat for All Challenge description states:

The challenge calls upon manufacturers to develop a packaged cold climate heat pump that can be installed through an existing window opening to provide heating and cooling on a room-by-room basis. The envisioned product would enable rapid, low-cost electrification of multifamily buildings by reducing or eliminating many of the cost drivers inherent to existing heat pump technologies when used in resident occupied apartments. These include costly electrical upgrades, long refrigerant pipe runs, drilling through walls and floors and other construction aspects which result in high project costs, and significant disruption to residents.

In my post on the Clean Heat for All Challenge I described another NYCHA electrification project where they are testing a Variable Flow Refrigerant heat pump system that I showed was very expensive likely due to the disadvantages of existing heat pumps described in the previous paragraph.  Of the 30,000 window heat pumps NYCHA plans to purchase in the coming years, 10,000 will come from Gradient and 20,000 from Midea. If the project is a success, it could provide a more financially viable alternative.  However, there are very few cost details available. 

The Draft Scoping Plan does not do a very good job explaining that many of the control technology options used in the Integration Analysis are on the cutting edge of technology.  In many cases, the required technologies have not been applied at scale so it is possible that there will be unforeseen issues that either increase costs or threaten the viability of the technology.  Gradient is a San Francisco based startup with a clever window sited heat pump.  Although Midea is an established HVAC company the heat pump offerings on its web site are sparse. The only Midea America heat pump  option that I found that might be appropriate is the Thermal Arctic Series ATW Heat Pump, MHA-V16W/D2RN8-B, HB-A160/CGN8-B, HBT-A160/240CD30GN8-B.  The description states:

Discover the real peace of mind for you right being at home. The eco-friendly, low-noise M Thermal Arctic Series Air-to-Water Heat Pump integrates air heating, cooling, floor heating and domestic hot water into one system, which is specially designed for satisfying all your demands. With the Built-in hydraulic kit and integrated design, the Mono type M Thermal is highly friendly for household installation. High efficiency and wide operating range allows proper selections under numerous utilization conditions according to the actual needs. Intelligent control and flexible maintenance bring convenience both to users and service providers.

The NYCHA Woodside boilers provide heat and hot water.  The Midea option appears to address both needs but it is not clear if the Gradient unit does.  In order to provide hot water plumbing to the water system will have to be installed and that raises questions about the applicability of any window unit.

There is another aspect of the heating application that was glossed over in the Draft Scoping Plan and rarely gets mentioned by heat pump advocates.  For example, consider the following picture from the Gradient website.  In order for heat pump technology to maintain comfortable temperatures when temperatures drop below 20o F the building shell has to be upgraded or resistance heating has to be used.  The efficiency of heat pumps is a great benefit but the inefficiency of resistance heating is a big disadvantage that will likely require upgrades to the distribution service to the housing complex.  In this picture the window is going to have to be replaced with a more energy efficient type and the wall itself would have to be insulated in order for a heat pump to provide all the heat necessary in that room.

Gradient Website Home Page

The press releases do not address total transition conversion costs.  Assuming that the NYCHA housing does not have insulated walls then there is a major problem.  The only ways to provide additional insulation is to add rigid foam insulation over the existing wall or frame a wall next to the existing wall.  In a high rise the only practical way to do this is to add those options on the inside.  As noted previously I believe that in order for a comfortable solution the building shell has to be upgraded to a basic shell.   The unit costs for the window heat pumps are cheaper than the Integration Analysis device costs but it is not clear how many window heat pumps per apartment are needed, whether building shell upgrades will be included in the transition, if backup resistance heat is included and what will provide hot water.

Private Condominium Example

Nearly half of the residences in New York City are in high rise multifamily buildings and on the order of 30% of those are in NYCHA projects. Writing at the Manhattan Contrarian website Jane Menton described the impact of Local Law 97 on her condominium that is representative of the rest. In her article she describes an email sent to the condominium board that said:

“I just wanted to bring this topic to your attention… The Climate Mobilization Act of 2019 will have a big impact on our building. Our emissions must be cut by 60% in the next 10 years or so. If we fail, the fines are in the range of $150k a year. We will be required to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments to upgrade our systems.”

She went on to describe the details for her building:

My colleague’s email was accompanied by the following chart, created by this website, called the NYC LL97 Carbon Emissions Calculator. This site has been endorsed by the City for buildings to use to calculate how much they are supposed to reduce their carbon emissions and how much they will owe in fines if they fail to install “zero-emissions” heating systems by the set deadlines. Here is the chart that my colleague came up with for our building:

According to the chart, about 75% of our carbon emissions result from our natural gas heat, represented in green in the circles in the lower right portion of the chart.  The City’s statute mandates a series of lowering thresholds for building emission per square foot of space. By 2035, supposedly we must reduce our emissions by 60%, or face fines well in excess of $100,000 per year. In order to reduce our emissions by 60% we would have no option but to convert our building away from its current gas heat system – which is quite reliable, only a few years old, and in fine working condition – to an electric heating system.  

Menton’s board has not estimated the costs to electrify their heating system.  She explains:

Assuming that they decide to or are forced to go along with this, how much will it cost the unfortunate co-op owners? We haven’t yet had an estimate done for our building, but here are a few words from Warren Schreiber, board president of another Queens co-op, the Bay Terrace Gardens Co-op Section 1, and co-president of the Presidents Co-op & Condo Council (PCCC):

Converting to (electric) heat pumps will cost [the co-op] $2.5 to $3 million, which does not include finance charges. This expense will result in a 25-30% monthly maintenance increase. Shareholders who have lived here for 20, 30, 40 and 50 years will have to leave Bay Terrace Gardens to find more affordable housing.

Sadly, I would not be surprised that the heat pump conversion price shown does not include the costs for upgrading the building shell, providing hot water, and backup heat.  I do not know how Local Law 97 addresses the inability of heat pumps to provide sufficient heat at temperatures below 20o F.  Given that the costs will likely double I cannot imagine a scenario where building owners will bother to upgrade building shells.  Most likely it won’t be considered until electrified buildings all over New York City start tripping their breakers or, worse, the combined load of all the electrified buildings causes sub-stations to trip off line plunging sections of New York City into blackouts.  Importantly this also means that the Integration Analysis expectations for New York City peak wintertime loads that assume building shell upgrades underestimate likely future loads.

Discussion

I have written over 250 articles about the Climate Act and the implementation plans.  In my opinion the biggest single shortcoming of the whole boondoggle is the lack of a feasibility plan addressing affordability and reliability feasibility.  The Integration Analysis depends on technology that has not been deployed at the scale necessary nor in differing applications necessary for the residential heating electrification.  Fortunately, in this sector the heat pump technology proposed for electrification has a long commercial history. The issue is how effective they will be at low temperatures when there simply isn’t enough energy in the air to keep residences warm in large multifamily buildings without substantive building shell upgrades.  While there are potential solutions the costs and implementation issues are speculative.  The Draft Scoping Plan provides undocumented device costs and the total costs relative to an arbitrary reference case but no breakdown of likely implementation costs per sector. 

The specifics on affordability and reliability should give planners concern.  The Integration Analysis all-in device costs including the “Basic” building shell upgrades for large multifamily residences total $57,539 per residence.  The Integration Analysis states that there are 1,667,493 high rise multifamily residences in New York City alone.  On the face of it that works out to nearly $96 billion for the net-zero transition.  That is just affordability feasability.  When 1.7 million New Yorkers have to turn on their backup resistance heaters it will create a peak load substantially higher than the current peak load.  I believe that will require upgrades to the electric distribution system which if unaddressed will lead to reliability issues.  In addition to this cost, it introduces an unprecedented stress to the electric grid.  While I hope that the electric system planners will anticipate all the potential problems and upgrade the grid accordingly, the inclusion of a large percentage of generating resources that are intermittent and unable to be dispatched on demand makes me very pessimistic that there will not be learning curve blackouts.

Conclusion

In every instance where I have evaluated a component of the New York energy system and the challenge of a net-zero transition I have found that the problems are more complicated and uncertain than presumed in the Integration Analysis and the Draft Scoping Plan.  As a result, I think the costs are underestimated and the potential risks to reliability a significant risk.  The challenge of meeting Local Law 97 is no different.  It is very easy to promulgate an aspirational target but clearly the politicians involved have no clue about the scale of the challenge.  If they did, they would not be so anxious to jump into these laws.  I have shown that New York’s total greenhouse gas emissions are less than one half of one percent of total global emissions and that since 1990 global emissions have increased on average more than one half of one percent per year.  It is not clear what the point of these costs and these risks are when anything the state does is subsumed by what others are doing in a year. 

New York’s Irrational and Unsupportable Methane Obsession

 

One “baked-in” aspect of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) is its obsession that using natural gas, aka methane, is such a danger to climate change that its use must be curtailed now and eliminated as soon as possible. I say “baked-in” because the language of the Climate Act was written to deliberately and uniquely emphasize its alleged impacts on global warming.  A paper by van Wijngaarden & Happer makes a persuasive case that New York’s obsession to reduce methane is wrong.  Unfortunately, the paper is very technical and my attempt to describe it for a wider audience has resulted in a dense post that probably won’t be much help to many. 

Here are the key points to keep in mind as you read this post.  The van Wijngaarden & Happer paper describes an analysis that used many observations of the greenhouse effect to develop a general relationship that can be used to predict the effect of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.  New York Climate Act guidance is based on claims that methane has a more potent impact on the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide but the van Wijngaarden & Happer derived relationship shows that methane cannot cause significant changes to the greenhouse effect itself.  The analysis shows this is because of the saturation effect, the amount and type of radiation emitted from the surface, the numerical realities of infrared absorption, and the physical properties of the real atmosphere related to the greenhouse effect.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written extensively on New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease.  Although the implementation process claims to adhere to the “science” I have found many examples where the claims are not supportable.  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 goal of the Climate Act is to reduce emissions from 1990 levels to net-zero by 2050.  Previously  I explained that the language of the law mandates a unique accounting system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The result is that New York’s GHG baseline inventory for 1990 is nearly double previous inventories that were consistent with GHG emission accounting methodologies used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  There are three primary reasons for the near doubling of the emissions inventory. The Climate Act inventory adds a requirement to include not only direct emissions but also emissions associated with upstream emissions.  The second change modified the potential effect of methane on global warming by changing the time horizons and, finally, the emission factors used are inconsistent with other jurisdictions.

I believe that the primary source of this methane obsession in the Climate Act  is Dr. Robert Howarth.  As one of the authors of the Climate Act, he was in a position to incorporate the anti-natural gas language.  He is also a member of the Climate Action Council that is responsible for developing an implementation outline for the transition to net-zero.  In that role he disparages the continued use of natural gas at every opportunity. Howarth is the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University.  His training was in oceanography, much of his research still focuses on coastal marine ecosystems, and he also works on freshwater systems (both rivers and lakes).  Despite his lack of meteorological and air quality background and education he has followed the money to become a shill for the special interest foundations opposed to natural gas use and has conned the state into obsessing about the global warming impact of methane in the Climate Act. 

Infrared Forcing by Greenhouse Gases

In order to explain why New York’s methane obsession is misplaced it is unfortunately necessary to go into the technical details of the paper by van Wijngaarden & Happer “Infrared Forcing by Greenhouse Gases”. Fortunately, there are several descriptions of the paper that are more understandable.  Dr. C. A. Lange prepared a summary of the paper that he thought a lay person could understand.  In my opinion, it is still a challenge primarily because there are few illustrations in his summary.  Dr Thomas P Sheahen prepared a  video presentation on the paper and I will incorporate his illustrations into my simplified description why methane is irrelevant.  I followed his explanation approach and recommend the video itself.  Finally, an amicus curiae brief from a just convened court case provides another description of the aspects covered in the paper.  Hopefully this article will distill the information from those references to provide an explanation that more people can understand.

At its core, the global warming concern is that changes in the earth’s radiation budget will increase the energy in the atmosphere that will lead to warming at the earth’s surface.  Sheahen included the following figure that shows the earth’s energy budget as percentages of the solar energy coming to earth.  Incoming solar energy or sunlight is in the form of shortwave radiation.  A total of 30% of the radiation is reflected back out to space from the atmosphere, clouds and the earth’s surface as shown in the yellow arrows pointing up.  The atmosphere absorbs 16% of the solar energy and clouds absorb another 3%.  The remaining 51% is absorbed by land and oceans.  The absorbed energy at the earth’s surface is radiated back into the atmosphere as longwave radiation.

As an aside: One problem deciphering these technical reports is that the same phenomenon can have different names.  In this case longwave radiation is also called infrared radiation per the title of the paper in question. 

Gases in the atmosphere have different capabilities for absorbing this longwave radiation.  Greenhouse gases absorb that energy and can radiate it back to the earth’s surface, to other greenhouse gases or out into space.  Increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases the amount radiated back to the earth’s surface and increases atmospheric temperatures.  Eventually, as shown by the red upward facing arrows, 70% of the energy is radiated back into space mostly from the clouds and atmosphere (64%) and 6% is radiated directly from the earth’s surface.

Saturation Effect

The Climate Act regulates the following greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and carbon tetrafluoride, and sulfur hexafluoride.  The fact that their effect on longwave radiation decreases as their concentrations increase is an aspect of these gases that has been ignored by the Climate Act and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  This is called the saturation effect.

On October 14, 2022 an opening brief was filed at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Concerned Household Electricity Consumers Council (CHECC) v. EPA, that challenges EPA’s 2009 Finding that CO2 and other greenhouse gases constitute a “danger” to human health and welfare. A week later an amicus curiae brief was filed in support of CHECC by the CO2 Coalition together with Professors William Happer of Princeton and Richard Lindzen of MIT.  On page 29 of the brief the saturation effect is described:

Drs. Happer and Lindzen have special expertise in radiation transfer, the prime mover of the greenhouse effect in Earth’s atmosphere. It is important to understand the radiation physics of what the effect is of adding CO2 at current atmospheric concentrations.  CO2 becomes a less effective greenhouse gas at higher concentrations because of what in physics is called “saturation,” shown in the chart below.

This version of the saturation curve projects that the carbon dioxide CO2 warming effect is increased between 0.6o C and 0.8o C when the atmospheric concentration is increased from 100 ppm to 150 ppm.  The total expected effect of CO2 is the sum of all the bars.  It does not mean that there will be no effect of added greenhouse gases but that the effect is reduced.  The takeaway message from this graph is that if today’s CO2 concentration of around 400 ppm were doubled to 800 ppm the expected increase is the sum of all the bars to the right of the red arrow that I estimate to be about 1 o C of additional warming. That is on the order of one third of what the IPCC claims.  The brief sums it up: “This means that, from now on, our emissions from burning fossil fuels will have a modest and a declining impact on greenhouse-induced warming”.

In order to make projections of future GHG impacts the IPCC uses global climate models (GCM) that simulate all the physical processes in the atmosphere that affect climate.  The radiative processes described here are only one, and frankly a small one at that, of the processes that affect the climate.  Individually we have a good understanding of the laws of physics but solving them as necessary to make climate projections is extremely difficult if not impossible.  Although the IPCC Third Assessment Report admitted this “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future exact climate states is not possible”, this point has been largely ignored since.  In order to get any kind of an answer requires the modeling analysis to make many simplifying assumptions.  Our concern here is just one component: atmospheric radiative physics, that is to say the interaction of all the components of the atmosphere with the shortwave and longwave radiation that ultimately drives the greenhouse effect. It turns out that the IPCC GCMs have “not been able to replicate the increasing number of very diverse observations that are gradually becoming available” for this component.  The comparison of results from this component of the GCMs relative to observations shows poor correspondence and indicates their treatment of the saturation effect is likely incorrect. 

Amount and Type of Radiation Affecting the Greenhouse Effect

Observations of the amount and type of radiation emitted from the surface were the primary driver of the analysis by van Wijngaarden & Happer.  Their focus on the radiation emissions combined state-of-the-art physics with the best observations available of the radiative processes in the atmosphere to determine just how much of the longwave radiation will be reduced and how much the greenhouse effect will be increased.  In particular they used the HITRAN database which is a compilation of measurements used to predict and simulate the transmission and emission of energy in the atmosphere.  This is a database that includes thousands of observations of the shortwave and longwave radiation processes that affect the intensity of the greenhouse effect. 

Recall that white sunlight (the shortwave radiation described before) is made up of a spectrum or bands of different wavelengths seen as different colors.  This is the physics behind rainbows.   Rainbows are formed as a result of the dispersion of white light split into seven colors after passing through a raindrop.  Each color represents a different band of wavelengths.

The following diagram from the Amicus Brief shows the longwave spectrum of energy coming from the earth’s surface. The smooth blue curve represents the expected radiation from a black body aka Plank’s Law.  The brief explains that “The area under the blue curve is “the heat the Earth would radiate to space if our atmosphere had no greenhouse gases or clouds, and if the surface temperature were 60° F”.  The black curve represents measurements of the actual radiation coming from the earth so the area under the jagged black curve is the heat radiation that is actually observed. The area between the blue and black curves represents the greenhouse effect.  Note that the greenhouse gases, water vapor (H2O), nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), ozone (O3), and methane (CH4), affect different areas of the curve. 

The black curve represents today’s conditions at 60° F and the figure shows the effect of zero and doubled CO2.  The green curve shows radiation to space if there was no CO2.  Clearly CO2 has the largest effect on today’s greenhouse effect.  The red curve is the radiation to space if CO2 concentrations were to be doubled from 400 ppm to 800 ppm, with no changes in other greenhouse gases. One can barely make out the difference, about 1.1% of the radiation before doubling. For this change in the greenhouse effect, we expect that the surface temperature would increase by a trivial amount, about 1° C (1.8° F) or less.

The van Wijngaarden & Happer paper analyzed thousands of radiation measurements of the black curve and developed a theoretical relationship to predict how changes in ambient conditions, including concentrations, would affect the spectrum of wavelengthsTheir derived relationship represents conditions in the actual atmosphere not the theoretical and simplified atmosphere used by the IPCC and EPA.  Importantly, all five GHGs were considered at the same time using their observed concentrations. When the derived relationship is compared to observations for different locations on the earth the results are remarkably similar.

Sheahen argues that this represents the correct use of the Scientific Method and the fundamental truth that observations always trump model output. Because there is good agreement between projections estimated from their derived relationship and actual measurements, we have a “computational method that is trustworthy”.  As a result, “we can now conduct numerical experiments with CO2 doubled, halved, etc”.  The IPCC theoretical results do not meet this fundamental test and should not be trusted.

For example, we can use the derived relationship to consider the effect of adding different increments of CO2 as shown in the following diagram that focuses on one portion of the curve.  Remember that the greenhouse effect is represented by the difference between black smooth curve and the jagged curves below it.  The diagram shows that there is a very small greenhouse effect due to increased CO2.  This is primarily because of the saturation effect discussed previously.

Numerical Realities

The biggest reason that methane is irrelevant is because of the numerical realities of infrared absorption.  The following diagram varies methane (CH4) instead of CO2.  The wavelengths affected by methane are to the right of the peak of the curve.  Remember that the greenhouse effect is represented by the area between the blue curve and the other curves.  Because the section of the curve where methane affects longwave radiation is smaller than the section at the peak of the curve where CO2 has its primary effect, methane simply cannot ever cause as much of a change in the greenhouse effect. Also note the methane greenhouse effect at current concentration levels is only the small difference between the green line and the black line because of the saturation effect.  If methane is doubled (the red curve) there is no visible change in the greenhouse effect at this resolution.

The next diagram expands the resolution enough to see the doubled concentration effect (the red line) but it is clear that there is no significant effect for methane and that current levels of methane are not a significant factor in the overall greenhouse effect.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) has also been vilified because of its high global warming potential so I have included the analogous diagrams.  In this case there is potential for more of a significant impact because the longwave frequencies where N2O reduces transmission include an area near the peak of the curve.  The results due to the saturation effect are the same and there is there is no visible effect for a doubling of current concentrations.  There is another reason N2O is inconsequential that will be discussed in the next section.

At an increased resolution level, the greenhouse effect is visible but appears to be even less significant than methane.

Physical Properties of the Real Atmosphere

The observed greenhouse effect impacts of methane and nitrous oxides relative to carbon dioxide should be considered when they are compared.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Environmental Protection Agency, and New York State Value of Carbon guidance all use the global warming potential (GWP) to enable intercomparison of greenhouse gases.  Happer & van Wijngaarden explained that this parameter is calculated based on per-molecule forcings in a hypothetical, optically thin atmosphere, where there is negligible saturation of the absorption bands, or interference of one type of greenhouse gas with others.   In other words, global warming potential values are based on molecular theory with multiple technical simplifications and are not based on observations of the physical properties of the atmosphere.

Table 2 in the New York State Value of Carbon guidance document specifies the Global Warming Potential (GWP) values used in New York.  The IPCC 100-year GWP values for methane indicate that using this methodology that methane exacerbates the greenhouse effect 28 times more than carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides are 265 times worse.  New York’s vilification of methane is even worse because the law specifically mandates that the 20-year GWP values be used.  The 20-year GWP methane value claims that methane is 84 times worse than carbon dioxide.  The van Wijngaarden & Happer paper proves that those estimates are incorrect. 

Table 2: Physical Properties of Example Greenhouse Gases (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report)
Greenhouse gasLifespan (years)100-YEAR GWP20-YEAR GWP
Carbon dioxide (CO2)~1004511
Methane (CH4)12.42884
Nitrous oxide (N2O)121265264
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 
HFC-134A13.413003710
HFC-12528.231706090
HFC-325.26772430
HFC-143A47.148006940
Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) 
PFC-1450,00066304880
PFC-11610,000111008210
PFC-2182,60089006640
PFC-3183,20095407110
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)3,2002350017500

There are other physical properties of the real atmosphere ignored in the global warming potential approach to methane.  GWP does not consider actual concentrations in the atmosphereCarbon dioxide concentrations were 415 ppm in 2021 while methane concentrations are less than 2 ppm and nitrous oxides concentrations are even less. .  Molecules in tiny concentrations have less effect and that is not considered.  Finally, there is no recognition that the methane atmospheric residence time is only 12 years so it does not accumulate like carbon dioxide. 

Discussion

In summary, the van Wijngaarden & Happer analysis used many measurements of the observed greenhouse effect to develop a general relationship that can be used to predict the effect of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.  The paper shows that show that increased CO2 will have a modest and decreasing effect on the greenhouse effect if concentrations are doubled.  The primary driver of this observation is the saturation effect.  New York Climate Act guidance for methane is based on claims that methane has a more potent impact on the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.  However. that guidance is based on a molecule-by-molecule relationship that does not account for the situation in the atmosphere.  van Wijngaarden & Happer’s relationship proves that increased atmospheric concentrations of methane and nitrous oxides will have an imperceptible effect on the overall greenhouse effect.  For methane the reality of the infrared absorption curve is that the wavelengths where it enhances the greenhouse effect are much smaller than the peak of the curve where CO2 affects it. Finally, there are some physical properties of the real atmosphere related to the greenhouse effect that mean that the potential impact of methane and nitrous oxides are much less than CO2 so the global warming potential approach is invalid. Also note that methane and nitrous oxide emissions are far lower than CO2 emissions so the likelihood that their atmospheric concentrations could substantially increase in the atmosphere is nil.

Sheahen points out there are also scientific implications.  He argues out that agreement between theory and experiment is the hallmark of good science and states that the method of van Wijngaarden & Happer meets that criterion.  The IPCC approach in their Global Climate Models consistently over-estimates the greenhouse effect so the model predicts too high temperatures as compared to observations.  Thus, their approach does not meet the good science criterion.

Conclusion

I hope my attempt to explain this important paper is understandable.  I have two conclusions based on the analysis.  On one hand the theory that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary driver of climate change because of the greenhouse effect is causing an existential threat is widely accepted.  However, I agree with Richard P. Feynman’s quote: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”  The experimental evidence compiled by Wijngaarden & Happer does not agree with the theory that human emissions of greenhouse gases substantially affect atmospheric warming.  The existential threat theory is unsupportable.

Viewed through a pragmatic lens, the New York obsession with eliminating natural gas is irrational. Increased use of natural gas has been responsible for the majority of electric generation emission reductions observed in the state.  Natural gas provides efficient, resilient, and safe energy to homes and businesses.  Not so long ago the idea that natural gas could also be used a bridge fuel until the aspirational “green” generating resources and energy storage technologies could be tested at the scale needed, perform like a natural gas fired generating unit, and provide power at a similar cost, was generally accepted as a rational approach. Unfortunately, the Climate Act does not allow this approach.  The analogy for skipping the need for a bridge fuel is that proponents want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute because they assume that the concept of a parachute will be developed, proven technically and economically feasible, and then delivered in time to provide a soft landing.  This paper shows that there isn’t even a valid reason to jump out of the airplane.

New York City Clean Heat for All Challenge

This article describes the Clean Heat for All Challenge and the disconnect between the plan and reality.  New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), New York Power Authority (NYPA) and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) launched the Clean Heat for All Challenge as “an industry competition directed at heating and cooling equipment manufacturers to develop a new electrification product that can better serve the needs of existing multifamily buildings and hasten the transition to fossil-free heating sources”.  Sounds wonderful until you look at the details and differences with New York’s net-zero transition plan.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I have written extensively on New York’s net-zero transition and the implementation strategies needed for it because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease.  Moreover, many of the implementation requirements are going to increase costs tremendously.  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 impetus for the need clean heat is driven by the multifamily buildings electrification transition required for New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and New York City’s Local Law 97.  Both the Climate Act and Local Law 97 are intended to meet a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050.  The Climate Action Council has been working to develop plans to implement the Climate Act.  Over the summer of 2021 the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultant Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) prepared an Integration Analysis to “estimate the economy-wide benefits, costs, and GHG emissions reductions associated with pathways that achieve the Climate Act GHG emission limits and carbon neutrality goal”.  Integration Analysis implementation strategies were incorporated into the Draft Scoping Plan when it was released at the end of 2021 for public comment.  The multifamily electrification documentation for the Integration Analysis was used in this post.

Clean Heat for All Challenge

The press release for announcing this initiative was titled “NYCHA, NYPA and NYSERDA Announce Global Innovation Challenge to Decarbonize NYCHA Buildings Using New Heat Pump Electrification Technologies”.  Because GHG emissions from buildings is the largest remaining sector in the State, the Integration Analysis proposes to replace all fossil-fired generation with electric heat pump options.  The press release describes the goals of the challenge:

The challenge calls upon manufacturers to develop a packaged cold climate heat pump that can be installed through an existing window opening to provide heating and cooling on a room-by-room basis. The envisioned product would enable rapid, low-cost electrification of multifamily buildings by reducing or eliminating many of the cost drivers inherent to existing heat pump technologies when used in resident occupied apartments. These include costly electrical upgrades, long refrigerant pipe runs, drilling through walls and floors and other construction aspects which result in high project costs, and significant disruption to residents.

The Clean Heat for All Challenge directly supports the goals of New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and the New York City Climate Mobilization Act, which both call for greenhouse gas emissions from buildings to be reduced by 40 percent by the year 2030. The partnership between the New York City Housing Authority, New York Power Authority, and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and will test innovative products and proposals for cost-effective heating and cooling solutions for NYCHA building portfolio, which includes 2,198 residential dwelling buildings. Additionally, NYCHA, NYPA, and NYSERDA have also engaged with the Consortium of Energy Efficiency (CEE) to engage manufacturers and encourage broad industry participation in the Clean Heat for All Challenge.

The RFP issued by NYPA identifies a list of product specifications that manufacturers will be challenged to meet. To incentivize participation, NYCHA will commit to purchasing the first 24,000 units from the awarded vendor(s) that will be installed at six developments currently slated for heating plant replacement over the next five years. NYSERDA is supporting the effort by providing additional funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative operating plan, which calls for the electrification of heating in New York City public housing to improve energy performance, decrease emissions, and improve resident comfort. NYSERDA will provide assistance drafting the product specifications and performing commissioning as well as measurement and verification for the demonstration units. NYCHA will invest $250 million, in addition to the NYSERDA grant, to purchase and install the new equipment as well as provide additional improvements to the building envelopes and hot water systems.

830 Amsterdam Avenue Example

The Clean Air for All Challenge press release described another partnership to reduce GHG emissions from a New York City high rise complex.  I will come back to the Challenge in a subsequent post but for now will discuss the 830 Amsterdam Ave Pilot Project:

NYCHA and NYPA are also partnering to replace the aging gas-and-oil-fueled heating and hot water systems at 830 Amsterdam Ave, a 20-story high-rise in Manhattan, with a high-efficient electric Variable Flow Refrigerant (VRF) heat pump system. The $28 million design-build electrification project will eliminate the use of on-site fossil fuel for heating and hot water while also providing central heating and cooling to 100 percent of apartments, replacing the old, inefficient window air conditioning units that have come to define many New York City-based facades.

This new and more efficient heating and hot water system will reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by more than 590 metric tons, the equivalent of removing approximately 130 cars from the road. The heat pump system, which would be the first of its kind at a public housing facility in New York State, will operate entirely on the grid without the need of a fossil fuel source. Once complete, residents will be able to individually control the temperature in each room of their apartment, a significant improvement over the current system, which does not provide any individual apartment temperature control.

NYCHA 830 Amsterdam Ave

According to MYNYCHA 830 Amsterdam Ave. is a 20-story building completed on August 31, 1965.  The building has 159 apartments and 346 residents.  According to the Heating Action Plan there are two boilers that can burn fuel oil #2 or natural gas.  The boilers are 23 years old and no major challenges are listed. 

Despite manufacturer claims about benefits using a Variable Flow Refrigerant heat pump system for this kind of structure, it is generally untested technology so this project can be considered a field test.  It appears that the system checks off all the building’s needs and it will meet all the energy needs of the building without the need of a fossil fuel source.  However, the “design-build electrification project” has a projected cost of $28 million and will only reduce emissions by 590 metric tons.  That works out to an astounding $47,458 per ton reduced or $176,100 per residence.  This is far above New York’s estimate of societal costs of carbon ($172 per ton in 2050).

The reality is that I don’t think this is an affordable electrification option.  NYCHA has 267 developments with a total of nearly 162,000 apartments for about 340,000 people.  If this technology were used for all those apartments the cost would be $28.5 billion.  Using Integration Analysis data. I estimate that there are 2,050,000 large multifamily residences in New York.  If this technology were used to electrify those homes the expected cost would be over $360 billion.  Even of the costs could be reduced by an order of magnitude costs are still over $36 billion for just this residential electrification sub-sector. 

Integration Analysis Ramifications

There are some issues related to the Integration Analysis.  There are differences in the treatment of this building sector. The total costs for all the devices for any option in the Integration Analysis are far lower than the cost per apartment.  In order for heat pump technology to maintain comfortable temperatures when temperatures drop below 20o F the building shell has to be upgraded or resistance heating has to be used.  The efficiency of heat pumps is a great benefit but the inefficiency of resistance heating is a big disadvantage.  The device costs for the “Basic” building shell upgrades for large multifamily residences in the Integration Analysis are double ($28,000) the cost as the heat pumps themselves ($14,000).  It is not clear if this “design-build electrification project” includes building shell upgrades.

These differences should be reconciled.  However, the response to Draft Scoping Plan comments has only described general themes of comments related to the Draft Scoping Plan document itself.  The comment response focus is entirely on the narrative in the text and what needs to be changed for the Final Scoping Plan.  There is no suggestion that there are any clarification or methodology issues related to the Integration Analysis that need to be addressed by the Climate Action Council. 

This example illustrates just one issue for a single component.  The assumptions used to determine the device costs for heat pumps for the large multifamily building sector are inconsistent with this project.  NYCHA and NYPA determined that the appropriate electrification solution for this large multifamily building was a whole building variable flow refrigerant heat pump system.  Unfortunately, the costs of this approach are much higher than assumed in the Integration Analysis.  Did the Integration Analysis consider the fact that the existing boiler systems provide heat and hot water?  Is this the norm or an outlier for electrification in this sub-sector?  My point is that there are issues related to the Integration Analysis that could affect the State’s contention that the costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action.  None of them have been addressed in the response to comments.

Conclusion

I am working on another post related to the Clean Heat for All Challenge and noticed the description of the 830 Amsterdam Ave project.  As has been the case for every detail associated with New York’s plans for the transition to net-zero my review has found that implementation will be more complicated and likely more expensive than the description in the Draft Scoping Plan.  In this instance the 830 Amsterdam Ave NYCHA and NYPA electrification prototype project is extraordinarily expensive relative to the residences served ($176,100 per residence) and the New York societal value of carbon ($47,458 per ton reduced vs. societal benefits of $172 per ton in 2050).

In addition, there are differences between these projections and the Integration Analysis cost estimates that should be addressed.  Unfortunately, the Climate Action Council has shown no inclination to mention much less address any issues with the Integration Analysis that underpins the Draft Scoping Plan.  As a result, the fundamental assertion that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of implementing the Climate Act transition are not supportable.

The totally ignored safety aspect of this and all the Draft Scoping Plan electrification plans also should be considered.  At this time 830 Amsterdam has a boiler system that can burn #2 fuel oil or natural gas and every apartment owner can install an electric space heater.  That is triple redundancy for heating the apartments.  The implementation plan is to convert completely to electric and make the safety of the residents dependent upon electric heat.  No where does the Scoping Plan address this inevitable “what if” impact.  The benefits of the Climate Act are mostly imaginary but the costs will be real.

Climate Act Comparison of Generating Resources: Integration Analysis Mitigation Scenarios vs. NYISO Resource Outlook

At the October 25, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting Carl Mas compared the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook and Integration Analysis generating resource projections for the net-zero transition plan required by New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act).  I have long advocated for such a comparison but I remain concerned that this is more of an empty gesture than the start of an open and transparent comparison and discussion of the implications of differences in the projections.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written extensively on New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will do more harm than good.  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 implementation for the New York’s Climate Act “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050 is underway.  The Climate Action Council has been working to develop plans to implement the Climate Act.  Over the summer of 2021 the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultant Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) prepared an Integration Analysis to “estimate the economy-wide benefits, costs, and GHG emissions reductions associated with pathways that achieve the Climate Act GHG emission limits and carbon neutrality goal”.  Integration Analysis implementation strategies were incorporated into the Draft Scoping Plan when it was released at the end of 2021 for public comment.  Since the end of the public comment period in early July 2022 the Climate Action Council has been addressing the comments received as part of the development of the Final Scoping Plan that is supposed to provide a guide for the net-zero transition.

I have previously written that the Climate Action Council has not confronted reliability issues raised by New York agencies responsible for keeping the lights on.  The only token response was a special speaker’s session for reliability on August 2, 2021 where six speakers discussed  their concerns. Because subsequent analyses have raised issues, I published four more articles on this topic.  The first post (New York Climate Act: Is Anyone Listening to the Experts?) described the NYISO 2021-2030 Comprehensive Reliability Plan (CRP) report (appendices) released late last year and the difficulties raised in the report are large. The second post (New York Climate Act: What the Experts are Saying Now) highlighted results shown in a draft presentation for the 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook that all but admitted meeting the net-zero goals of the Climate Act are impossible on the mandated schedule.  Recently I wrote about the “For discussion purposes only” draft of the 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook report described in the previous article and the concerns raised.  Most recently I compared the NYISO Resource Outlook and Draft Scoping Plan Generating Resource Projections  and argued that they needed to be reconciled.  Fortunately, there was a request from the Council for a comparison and at the October 25, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting (presentation and recording) Carl Mas described the differences between the NYISO resource projections and his Integration Analysis projections.

Integration Analysis Update

At 48:20 of the meeting recording Carl Mas presents the comparison of the Resource Outlook and Integration Analysis mitigation scenarios.  The evaluation compared Integration Analysis (IA) mitigation scenario 2, Strategic Use of Low-Carbon Fuels with NYISO Resource Outlook Scenario 2 as shown in the following slide.  Outlook Scenario 2 is “most aligned” with Integration Analysis (IA) scenario 2.  Both analyses used the same load shapes and meet the Climate Act resource targets.  Even though Mas claimed that the results were “well aligned” there are some key model differences.  There are different assumptions, treatments of the electric system components are not the same, and imports are handled differently.  The IA scenario includes load that they think is needed to generate hydrogen needed for the dispatchable emissions-free resource requirement and the NYISO analysis does not. 

The 2030 comparison of results discussion starts at 53:00 of the meeting recording. Mas claims that the results of the two analyses are largely the same.  His standard for agreement is that the directionality is the same and that the results are the same order of magnitude.  In my opinion that is a pretty low bar.  While I agree that the overall agreement is encouraging, I also think that the devil is in the details.  Both analyses agree that Dispatchable Emissions-Free Resources (DEFR) are a necessary component of the zero-emission electric system of the future.  I will address specific differences in the next section.

The 2040 comparison of results discussion starts at 55:35 in the video recording.   Again, Mas claimed that the results are largely the same.  During the question-and-answer session, Robert Howarth asked about the relative capacity to generation differences.  Specifically, the NYISO capacity is greater than IA capacity but the NYISO generation is smaller than the IA generation.  Mas said that they were still trying to figure out the difference but thought that curtailment was a factor.  Because the NYISO analysis uses a more detailed transmission simulation their projections factor in more situations where the transmission system is unable to get the renewable generation where it is needed when it is needed.  As a result, more capacity has to be built to ensure reliability.

Dennis Elsenbeck suggested that Mas and his modeling team work with the NYISO modelers to produce as joint reconciliation statement.  Mas said that they will be engaging with the NYISO in the coming years but did not promise to reconcile all the differences.  I will note some particular issues that I believe need to be reconciled and questions that I would like answered by both modeling teams in an open, transparent, and documented manner.

Comparison of Scenarios

The following table lists the data for the two NYISO Outlook scenarios and Integration Analysis Scenario 2, Strategic Use of Low-Carbon Fuels that I believe were used to produce the graphs.  Per usual Mas has not documented the numbers in the graphical presentations so I am assuming that there have been no changes to the Integration Analysis numbers since the last update.  I have provided the spreadsheet that I used to prepare this table and the input data extracted from the NYISO and Integration Analysis spreadsheet used.  In my last post on this topic, I described each of the resource categories in the table.  I am not going to repeat my description of the differences I noticed but will only address differences in the resource categories discussed at the Council meeting.

Mas thinks that the reason for fossil generation differences between NYISO Outlook Scenario 2 and the Integration Analysis Scenario is because NYISO treats the fossil resources differently.  The Integration Analysis scenario considers the strategic use of low-carbon fuels, but NYISO does not assume that existing power plants will use alternate fuels in 2040.

In my opinion low-carbon fuel is the crux of an issue raised by Gavin Donohue.  Donohue argued that the DEFR technologies cannot be evaluated until the Public Service Commission defines what fuels can be used and whether any fuel can be combusted.  There are members of the Council that believe that combustion is outlawed in the Climate Act but the Council has not made a decision about a recommendation.  I agree with Donohue that this should be decided sooner rather than later.

Mas noted that the Integration Analysis used higher capacity factors for wind and solar resources than the NYISO used.  The following table compares the capacity factors for the resources.  I have calculated New York land-based wind capacity factors since 2006 based on NYISO data.  I agree with the NYISO 2019 capacity factor of 25% but the 2020 Integration Analysis capacity factor of 28.6% does not agree with the observed capacity factor of 23.9%.  In fact, it is 19.3% higher than the observed value.  Note that I submitted a comment that argued the land-based wind capacity factors were biased high and recommended that the final scoping plan correct that bias.  There never has been any acknowledgment of that comment or anything related to the Integration Analysis itself at the Climate Action Council meetings.  Dennis Elsenbeck asked if there was data available from existing systems because of the dangers that the data might not confirm the projections.  Based on this, the answer is the data are being ignored and that means how can the Scoping Plan be finalized if there are errors in the Integration Analysis?

There are differences in the renewable resource category projections between the NYISO Outlook and the Integration Analysis scenarios.  In my opinion, the overview discussion of results did not satisfactorily address the significance of these differences and the potential that they could represent feasibility implementation problems.

In the land-based wind (LBW) resource category, the NYISO Outlook scenarios both project 19,087 MW in 2040 but the Integration Analysis projection is only 12,242 MW (>35% different).  That could be related to the unrealistic capacity factors the Integration Analysis used but it may also be related to the relative weighting of land-based and offshore wind.

The NYISO production resource model apparently does not think that offshore wind is a cost-effective option because both scenarios do not increase the projected capacity significantly beyond the Climate Act mandate of 9,000 MW.  On the other hand, the Integration Analysis scenarios nearly double the amount of offshore wind resources projected.   Overall, the NYISO Outlook offshore wind capacity is 40% lower than the average of the Integration Analysis scenarios and generation is 43% lower. 

In the solar resource discussion, Mas explained that the difference between the Integration Analysis and NYISO Outlook Scenario 2 solar implementation transition was that the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line implementation was handled differently.  As a result, more solar was added earlier in the Integration Analysis.  The final resource allocation was the same.  However, he did not address the fact that NYISO Outlook Scenario 1 is significantly different than all the other projections.  The capacity is 63% lower and the generation is 71% lower than the averages of the other scenarios. 

The energy storage resource category capacity values are pretty much the same all the scenarios.  However, the numbers used for the generation projections are presented differently so that it is not possible to compare them.  The Mas presentation did not explain the different methodologies.

As noted in the NYISO Outlook report, the Dispatchable Emissions-Free Resource (DEFR) category is a proxy generator type that represents a yet unavailable future technology that would be dispatchable and produces emissions-free energy (e.g., hydrogen, RNG, nuclear, other long-term season storage, etc.).  The DEFR capacity and generation is substantially higher in Resource Outlook Scenario 1 than all the other scenarios.  Even Resource Outlook Scenario 2 is higher than the Integration Analysis scenarios.  In addition, Resource Outlook Scenario 1 capacity factor is 9% whereas the others are all around 2%.  Mas did not address these differences.

On the other hand, there was considerable discussion about DEFR itself.  As mentioned above, Donohue’s question about acceptable future fuel was related to DEFR.  Thomas Falcone also commented on DEFR but I disagree with him.  Paraphrasing he said:

  • “We don’t have to decide right now what they are”
  • “Nobody’s crystal ball is that accurate to predict the future”
  • “The nature of technology is evolution
  • “We don’t have to solve the 2035 DEFR problem based on 2022 technology information”
  • “Don’t rule anything out today”

On one level those are reasonable assertions but there are caveats that I don’t think the Council on a whole understands.  Unless there is a major change in emphasis to accept nuclear as the only scalable proven DEFR, all the options are unproven technologies.  In the first place counting on an untested technology to be available, permitted, and constructed by 2035 is an ambitious challenge.  In addition, the alternatives are pushing the limits of physics.  Long duration storage options must overcome the Second Law of Physics.  The Draft Scoping Plan chose green hydrogen as its candidate resource and in order to prove that it can work a comprehensive feasibility analysis is required.  If the Council were to actually consider doing a feasibility analysis of the affordability, reliability, and permitting acceptability of the DEFR options I believe that we could rule out some of these potential technologies.  That could have major ramifications for the Scoping Plan.

Donna DeCarolis asked about the difference between NYISO Outlook Scenarios 1 and 2.  Mas described Scenario 1 as a “highly unmanaged future”.  Outlook Scenario 2 and all the Integration Analysis mitigation scenarios presume that load can be managed dynamically.  That means that electric vehicle charging could be limited at times so that system load is reduced.  It may also mean that homes and businesses might be required to be on smart meters so that electricity for heating and cooling load can also be reduced as needed.  Mas described NYISO Outlook Scenario 1 as the worst-case benchmark where energy efficiency does not work as expected and heat pumps don’t perform as claimed in very old weather.  My impression is the scenario as using a more realistic estimate of future load in the highest demand periods.

Mas offered several key takeaways.  He said he was “really pleased about amount of similarity” but as shown he did not address potentially significant differences.  He admitted that there are some things we can learn but did not make any suggestions how those lessons could be incorporated into the Scoping Plan.  He also promised that they will be engaging with NYISO in the coming years.  I will comment on that remark in the discussion below.

Discussion

The Climate Act has prompted a massive revamping of New York’s energy system.  The Scoping Plan that is supposed to inform the future Energy Plan depends on an Integration Analysis that has not documented its control strategies and costs.  The overall plan depends upon electrification of everything but the Integration Analysis generation resource projections have not been reconciled with the projections prepared by the NYISO who is responsible for operating and planning for a reliable electric grid.  I fear that this short discussion is all that the Climate Action Council will consider before the Scoping Plan is finalized.

Dennis Elsenbeck suggested a joint reconciliation statement to address differences.  He suggested it would allow the Council to compare differences in the perceptions of the modelers.  In my opinion, such a statement should be the ultimate product of a process where the discussions between the NYISO and Integration Analysis modelers are open and the opportunity for stakeholder input is included.  The forum could address issues raised about the Integration Analysis but ignored in the response to comments.

One missing component in the response to comments thus far has been any mention of Integration Analysis technical issues raised by stakeholder comments.  I mentioned a couple of examples above but I am particularly concerned about one aspect of all this modeling.  It is not clear to me how the worst-case renewable energy resource is treated.  At some point any projection for future generating resources has to account for the fact that there are prolonged periods of light winds during the winter so there are limits to how much energy will be available from wind and solar resources.  I submitted an unacknowledged comment explaining that I do not think that the Integration Analysis treatment of this condition is adequate. I am not familiar with the NYISO methodology for the worst case but I think it does a better job than the Integration Analysis.  I believe this should be a primary topic for a reconciliation process.

Both modeling approaches are designed to force the system to meet the 70% zero-emissions generation by 2030 mandate.  That metric is based on generation not capacity.  As a result, DEFR is not needed until later because existing fossil generation can fill in where needed.  That also means that it would be inappropriate to retire fossil capacity prematurely just because it is not used much.  Peaking generation plants provide dedicated energy where and when it is needed.  They cannot be replaced until DEFR provides equivalent energy at the location within the system where it is needed from resources that are dedicated to that service.  That is significant feasibility hurdle so far ignored by the Council.

There was another implementation issue mentioned but not really addressed.  The difference in some generating resources depends on whether imports include fossil generation.  Anyone who mentioned this said that the Climate Act clearly precludes fossil imports.  Based on many years of tracking power plant emissions I believe that no one knows how that could be tracked on a real-time basis so that the NYISO system operators can dispatch and meet the criterion.  More importantly, is that requirement so important that the dispatcher is supposed to start rolling blackouts instead of accepting imported fossil-fired power?

I had a thought when Mas said that they will be engaging with the NYISO in the coming years.   At what point does Mas shut down his New York State Energy Research & Development Authority modeling empire and the State put its trust in the existing reliability planning process by the organizations responsible for electric system reliability. The NYISO process has worked for years and should be the standard going forward.  Having two sets of modeling results is confusing and the NYISO process has checks and balances on its modeling that are not included in the Mas modeling analyses.

I have one overriding question.  What are the expected costs?  Both analyses incorporate cost estimates to choose the least-expensive solution but neither one has provided any detailed numbers.  That would be a prime consideration for the differences discussion.  For example, offshore wind is minimized in the NYISO modeling which I suspect is because their cost estimates are much higher than the Integration Analysis that projects over 50% more offshore wind capacity in 2040.  Without more information we won’t know and cannot decide which is the more appropriate approach.

Conclusion

In response to Climate Action Council member requests the October 25, 2022 Council meeting finally offered a token comparison of the difference between the generating resources projected by the Integration Analysis and the latest NYISO analysis.  The presentation was covered in three slides and lasted about 20 minutes with questions. I have long advocated for such a comparison but I remain concerned that this is more of an empty gesture than the start of an open and transparent comparison and discussion of the implications of differences in the projections.

I cannot over-emphasize that reconciliation makes a difference.  Just because Carl Mas said that there is “close agreement” between the scenarios does not mean that there are no implications.  For example, NYISO and I agree that current land-based wind capacity is under 25% but the Integration Analysis uses a factor that is 19% higher than observed.  Therefore, at a minimum, the Integration Analysis land-based wind capacity projected is 19% lower than necessary to meet the generation requirement.  The Council has not responded to any of my technical comments and questions that showed in every instance the Integration Analysis over-estimated benefits and under-estimated costs.  Add that to the fact that the Scoping Plan does not include a feasibility analysis of the affordability, reliability, and permitting acceptability of the propose implementation strategies leads me to conclude that the Scoping Plan process could easily lead to negative consequences far greater than any climate change effects attributable to New York GHG emissions. 

New York Siting Board Garnet Solar Project Application Decision

Last year I was contacted by one of the organizers of Conquest Against Industrial Solar and since then I have been following the Article 10 application of the Garnet Energy Center.  On October 27,2022 the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) “granted approval to Garnet Energy Center, LLC to build and operate a 200-megawatt (MW) solar farm in the Town of Conquest, Cayuga County, with 20 MWs of battery storage capacity, one of the largest approved to date”.  While I am terribly disappointed with the approval from the standpoint of the local impacts to most of the residents of Conquest there are larger ramifications.  I describe two problems with this approval: the impact on local agriculture across the state and the failure of the Hochul Administration to protect local agricultural communities.

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050.  I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act.  Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that efforts will make a positive impact at an affordable level but actions like this do more harm than good.  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.

Solar Siting Issues

I have written enough articles on solar siting issues that I have setup a page that summarizes them all.  I became aware of the particular issues of utility-scale solar development on agriculture after I had a couple of people contact my blog describing issues that they had and suggested that I look into the issue.  The problems that they raised are real, the solutions are available, but in the rush to develop as many renewable resources as quickly as possible the State of New York has dropped the ball on responsible utility-scale solar development.  Given the massive amount of projected utility-scale solar generation capacity required to meet Climate Act goals the rush to develop solar projects could easily lead to the permanent loss of significant amounts of prime farmland that will hurt farming communities and endanger Climate Act strategies to sequester carbon in soil. 

Solar developers are quick to point out that a landowner gets revenue when a solar project is developed.  However, when land is taken out of production it will reduce farm jobs and the economic activity may be improved during construction but once the facility is operational there are very few economic benefits to essential local businesses.  Furthermore, taking the land out of production may make other farmers who have been renting that land to make their operations viable will not be able

to support investments made in facilities, livestock, or equipment.  

Press Release Announcement

The press release announcing the siting decision describes the project:

The project will consist of commercial-scale solar arrays, access roads, buried electric collection lines, a collection substation, and electrical interconnection facilities. Additional facilities would include a 345-kV switchyard which will be transferred to New York Power Authority to own, maintain, and operate. The project will be located on land leased from owners of private property. The project will include a 20 MW energy storage system which will charge exclusively off the solar array.

The press release goes on to say:

The project area is about 2,289 vacant acres, and the project footprint is about 900 acres. The solar farm is expected to begin commercial operation in 2023. Through land agreements, the project developer says it supports the agricultural economy by infusing revenue into family farms and diversifying their income.

The focus of this article will be on these statements.  In the first place the 2,298 “vacant” acres include a “total of approximately 1,234.2 acres of NYSORPS classified Agricultural Land (Code 100)”.  Clearly agricultural land is not vacant.  I hope that was a typo, but if not, it is a sad testament to the disconnect between the Hochul Administration and the agricultural community. 

The bigger issue is the claim that the project supports the agricultural economy.  The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets (AGM) testimony concluded that the project will have “significant and adverse disproportionate agricultural impact upon the local farming community”.  This article will explain why the best interests of the state as exemplified by the AGM testimony have been cast aside in the unplanned rush to build renewables as part of the transition of the economy to net-zero.

NextEra Response to Testimony

On March 10, 2022 Michael Saviola of the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets (AGM) submitted prepared testimony on the Garnet Energy Center application.  On April 12, 2022 NextEra Energy Resources responded to the comments in Garnet Rebuttal Panel Testimony.  In the following I am going to discuss two issues where the Siting Board chose the developer’s rationale over the AGM.

The two issues are addressed in the Panel response to Saviola on page 124 at line 6 of their rebuttal testimony. Question: “Please address the direct testimony of AGM staff’s witness Mr. Michael Saviola.”  The answer:

Mr. Saviola states that AGM “discourages the conversion of farmland to a non-agricultural use” (AGM staff Testimony, p. 6, ll. 4–5). With respect to utility-scale renewable energy projects, Mr. Saviola states that “[t]he Department’s goal is for projects to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland” (AGM staff Testimony, p. 7, l. 21–p. 8, l. 2).

On page 125 line 3 the rebuttal testimony poses the question: “Does siting the Project on Prime Farmland soils amount to a permanent conversion of agricultural soils to a non-agricultural use, as Mr. Saviola argues (AGM staff Testimony, p. 8, ll. 18–20)?  The response states:

No. Although agricultural land within the LOD will not be available for farming during the life of the Project, the soils will be suitable for agricultural use after the Project is decommissioned.

Saviola’s testimony explained the AGM concern:

Due to increasing NYS energy goals encouraging renewable energy development, we see no reason facilities will not be upgraded and re-leased to maintain the growing or static renewable energy demand, in this case, 35 years from energization. The Department further asserts that as long as NYS incentives for the development of renewable energy exists, the complete decommissioning of solar electric energy generation, and full resumption to agricultural use is not likely to occur.

The developer’s response to this claimed it was speculation on the part of Saviola and reveals their development rationale and the shortcomings of current State policy.  On Page 127 line 4 the rebuttal testimony states: “In our view, however, it is equally speculative that State incentives will remain constant, that no participating landowners will elect to resume agricultural activities within the Project Area, and that all participating landowners will agree to release their land for solar generation at that time.”  Parsing out “State incentives will remain constant”, it is obvious that the developer believes that without state incentives aka subsidies they would not consider redeveloping the site.  It seems to me that they admit that solar development in the future will still depend on subsidies.  The decision to return to farming or leasing to farmers is primarily driven by money.  While I have no personal animosity towards landowners that offer their land for solar development, the fact is that the NYS solar incentives provide more than enough money to outbid the value and risks of farming so it is an easy choice for land owners.  However, if nearby farmers were renting land used for solar, there is no hope that they can compete with the state money.  AGM developed guidelines so that solar development would not reward a favored few at the expense of the entire agricultural community.  They are saying you have to keep most of the Prime Farmland available for farming purposes.  The Siting Board and Climate Action Council have failed to support the AGM opinion that “the facility will result in or contribute to a significant and adverse disproportionate agricultural impact upon the local farming community”.

NextEra arguments hinge on the definition of permanent.  It points out that on page 126 line 15 that:

As the Siting Board has previously explained, although agricultural lands will be converted to non-agricultural use during the life of the Project, decommissioning and post-decommissioning restoration measures “result in minimal permanent impacts to agricultural resources.”

In my opinion the implicit concern of AGM is that even during the life of this project the loss of Prime Farmland is to be avoided.  Even if the project area is restored the avoided minimal permanent impacts likely are limited to the farmland itself.  It is unlikely that the failed family farms who depended on renting that property and the local businesses that went out of business when all the affected farms stopped farming will startup when the solar leases end and the land becomes available to farm again.  While solar developers want to be able to install panels on land that requires less work to maximize their profits, clearly it is in the best interest of the State to encourage responsible solar development that avoids installation of solar panels on Prime Farmland and directs it towards land with less value. 

On page 124 line 19 the rebuttal testimony gets to the crux of the problem:

Article 10, the State Energy Plan, the CLCPA and the recently enacted Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (“Accelerated Renewables Act”) do not specify any agricultural standards that must be satisfied, nor do they attempt to usurp the rights of private landowners to voluntarily decide if they wish to grow food on all their land or use a portion of it to allow the generation of renewable electricity in order to support their farm operations.

This is all completely true and is the license which out-of-state developers are using to usurp the AGM’s attempts to protect to protect the state’s most productive farmland.  It is evidence of the Administration and Climate Action Council’s failure to act in the best interests of the state’s agricultural community.  The State has a responsible solar siting  policy option roadmap for the proposed 10 GW of distributed solar development.  However, there is not an equivalent set of policies for utility-scale solar development. Clearly there should have been a moratorium on utility-scale solar development permit approvals until those policies are put in place and I submitted a comment on the Draft Scoping Plan that made that suggestion.  Without responsible solar siting guidelines, the solar developers can thumb their noses at the AGM and the agricultural community they are trying to protect. 

On page 128 line 1 of the rebuttal testimony responds to the question “Does the Project minimize permanent conversion of Prime Farmland soils to the maximum extent practicable in accordance with AGM’s 10% goal (AGM staff Testimony at p. 12, l. 22 – p. 13, l. 3)?”.  The answer:

Yes. The Project’s LOD encompasses approximately 1,054 acres. As a result of the Applicant’s Update to the Application (January 2022), approximately 185 acres of solar arrays have already been eliminated from the Project layout (see App. Ex. 4 Update at 1). This reduction of arrays resulted in an overall reduction of Prime Farmland within the LOD by approximately 37 acres and reduced permanent impacts to Prime Farmland by approximately 2 acres. Approximately 492.2 acres of land within the LOD is classified as Prime Farmland. However, only approximately 12.6 acres (approximately 2.6% of Prime Farmland within the LOD) will be permanently impacted by the installation of Project Components (id.). The rest of the land will be restored and maintained in compliance with the AGM Guidelines to the maximum extent practicable. This permanent impact is well within AGM’s 10% goal.

The Garnet application Updated Exhibit 4. Land Use describes the project area impacts to agricultural land:

The Project Area was evaluated to determine impacts to Agricultural Land, including mapped Agricultural Districts, as part of the Project. A total of approximately 1,234.2 acres of NYSORPS classified Agricultural Land (Code 100) is mapped within the Project Area. The Project will have a fenced-in area of approximately 901.6 acres. Although the Project is sited entirely within mapped Agricultural Districts, the fenced area will only occupy 0.3 percent of all lands designated as mapped Agricultural Districts within Cayuga County and 5.0 percent of all lands designated as Agricultural Districts within the Town of Conquest. Finally, of the 1,054.1 acres of LOD, only 464.7 acres will occur on land classified as Prime Farmland which is only 6.5 percent of all Prime Farmland within the Town of Conquest, and 0.25 percent of all Prime Farmland within Cayuga County.

When I look at the numbers, I get a different result.  The total project area is 2288.7 acres, 464.7 acres of prime farmland will be on Prime Farmland and that works out to 20% of the project.  That is double the AGM guidelines that led to the conclusion that the project will have “significant and adverse disproportionate agricultural impact upon the local farming community”.  The percentages of prime farmland in the town and county are only listed to give the appearance that this is not a big deal but there are not standards for those parameters. 

There was another paragraph responding to this question:

In addition, no statutory or regulatory support is cited for AGM’s proposed 10% or less Prime Farmland soil conversion “goal” that “the production of food is more essential than the generation of [renewable] electricity,” or that soil classifications 1-4 should be avoided, even if it means interfering with the development of a renewable facility contracted to sell renewable energy credits to NYSERDA. The Certificate Conditions conserve and protect agricultural lands; it is the responsibility of AGM, and not private solar developers, to encourage the development of farming. That charge cannot be used to thwart the renewable energy goals of the State.

I was shocked at the tone of this rebuttal to Saviola’s testimony.  In this example we have out-of-state developers lecturing state agencies on policy.  Of course, their only concern is throwing up as many solar panels as possible as soon as possible before the Administration figures out that there are negative consequences to irresponsible solar development that should be considered and not ignored.  Sadly, the lack of a planning by the Climate Action Council has resulted in no regulatory guidelines so developers are free to thumb their noses at the agencies. 

Finally, there is no more tone-deaf response to the AGM arguments than on page 127 line 8: “New York State is combatting the devasting impacts of climate change now”.  This pathetic attempt to appeal to emotions demands a response.  Given that New York’s total annual GHG emissions are less than the annual increase in global emissions averaged since 1990 the likelihood that the climate change value of this solar project is greater than the “significant and adverse disproportionate agricultural impact upon the local farming community” is vanishingly small.

Conclusion

New York State has stacked the deck against home rule and the consequence is going to be a disaster for communities dependent upon local agriculture when vast swaths of Prime Farmland are converted to solar panels over the life of the project.  I am terribly disappointed with the Garnet Energy Center project approval because I believe it will have local consequences that will out-weigh any climate change benefits due to the solar development.  Unfortunately, it is just a symptom of a much larger disease.

Since I started tracking solar development project approvals a total of five applications have been approved for a total of 1,120 MW.  The total project areas cover 14,812 acres and the project footprints total 5,728 acres.  Despite the best efforts of AGM staff to prevent the loss of Prime Farmland the area unavailable for farming in these projects totals 3,920 acres or 26% of the combined project areas.  This is bad enough but all three Draft Scoping Plan mitigation scenarios call for over 40,000 MW of solar development.  Unless the Climate Action Council institutes responsible solar siting guidelines similar to the policy option roadmap for the proposed 10 GW of distributed solar development there will be significant and irreplaceable loss of Prime Farmland and damage to farming communities across the state.

The Garnet Energy Center project approval is an example of the State’s net-zero transition unfolding disaster.  As NextEra states “Article 10, the State Energy Plan, the CLCPA and the recently enacted Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act do not specify any agricultural standards that must be satisfied” so developers are free to use as much Prime Farmland as they want.  In addition, there are no solar capability standards so developers are free to install fixed panel racking systems that cost less but do not meet the capacity expectations of the Draft Scoping Plan.  The state has not updated its cumulative environmental impact assessment for the larger renewable energy capacities in the mitigation scenarios so the consequences of the necessary level of development are unknown.  Finally, the State has not released actual cost estimates of their proposed control strategies. To sum up, current state policy does not protect Prime Farmland, unless guidelines are promulgated even more solar capacity will be required causing even more undefined cumulative environmental impacts, and there is no estimate how much this will all cost.  What could possibly go wrong?

Replacing Peaking Power Plants with Battery Energy Storage Systems

In the last couple of years environmental advocates have vilified peaking power plants in their endless quest for zero risk to Environmental Justice (EJ) communities.  There is no benign way to generate and distribute electricity so every option has drawbacks.  I do not believe that the advocates understand that replacing a fossil-fired peaking power plant with their preference for “clean” energy and battery energy storage has risks that are potentially worse.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  This requires a pragmatic approach.  The purpose of this blog is to describe the environmental tradeoffs associated with energy production and use in New York.  I am motivated to write this article because I have been intimately involved with New York’s peaking power plants for a couple of decades.  I believe the State’s policy appeasement of the environmental advocacy organizations is ill-founded and dangerous.  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.

Peaking Power Plants

Peaking power plants are used to balance generation and load.  I recently described a paper that explains that electric load varies substantially: “Variations in demand profiles and the existence of demand peaks are caused by variation in weather, end-use technology stock, and, ultimately, consumer preferences and behavior”.  Developing an electric system that reliably provides power for these demand peaks has always been part of the planning process for electric power systems.  While on the face of it, for example as described in Wikipedia, the use of peaking power plants seems to be simple the reality is much different. 

In 2020 the PEAK Coalition released a report entitled: “Dirty Energy, Big Money” that vilified peaking power plants in New York City.  The PEAK coalition’s goal is to “come together to end the long-standing pollution burden from power plants on the city’s most climate-vulnerable people”.  They claim their efforts are the first comprehensive effort in the US to reduce the negative and racially disproportionate health impacts of a city’s peaker plants by replacing them with renewable energy and storage solutions.

At the time I evaluated the technical analysis for the PEAK Coalition report by Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy. I described my evaluation in three detailed technical posts.  The first post provided information on the primary air quality problem associated with these facilities, the organizations behind the report, the State’s response to date, the underlying issue of environmental justice and addressed the motivation for the analysis.  The second post addressed the rationale and feasibility of the Coalition’s proposed plan relative to environmental effects, affordability, and reliability.  Finally, I discussed the  Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy report Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State that provided technical information used by the PEAK Coalition.  Because those were technically oriented and long, I also prepared a simpler summary post that addressed all my concerns.

I concluded that the claims that peaking power plants are dangers to neighboring environmental justice communities are based on emotion.  In the evaluation I did of the PSE analysis and the PEAK Coalition report, I found that the alleged impacts of the existing peaking power plants over-estimates impact on local communities relative to other sources.   The primary air quality health impacts claimed are associated with ozone and inhalable particulates that are secondary pollutants.  While some inhalable particulates are emitted directly, most of the particulates and all of the ozone form after they are emitted and transported away from the disadvantaged communities peaking power plant closure is supposed to protect. 

In my previous work I discussed feasibility challenges associated with the solar plus energy storage “solution” advocated by PSE and the PEAK Coalition.  I believe that it will markedly increase costs significantly and it may not even work because solar and energy storage is not a proven technology on the scale necessary to provide New York City’s peaking power requirements.  Until such time that the state’s organizations responsible for reliability confirm that those technologies are adequate it simply is not safe to rely on them.  This post is going to address another pragmatic tradeoff – the relative potential environmental and health impacts of the so-called “zero-emissions” solar plus energy storage alternative.

New York Peaking Power Plant Environmental Policy

In order to address the peak load power requirements, New York utilities have relied on two types of generating resources: purpose-built units and existing but aging and inefficient units.  The primary peaking power plant issue is in New York City where generating units are necessarily close to residential neighborhoods.  Around 1970 Consolidated Edison of New York installed about 100 simple cycle combustion turbines to provide peaking power and also maintain reliability in specific regions of New York City and Long Island – known as load pockets. Load pockets represent transmission-constrained geographic areas where energy needs in that area can only be served by local generators, due to the inability to import energy over the transmission system during certain high-demand conditions.  These units were cheap but not particularly efficient or clean.  After de-regulation they were sold to several generating companies who considered replacement with efficient modern and clean units but despite the fact that permits to build replacements were approved no one ever built one.  I believe this occurred because the developers did not think that they could recover the costs of building the replacements.  I think that reflects the difficulty financing a facility that only operates infrequently.

However, the continued operation of the purpose built inefficient and dirty peaking turbines is coming  to an end due to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) “Peaker Rule”.  The rule sets new limits on nitrogen oxides emissions from simple-cycle combustion turbines in a phased implementation from 2023 to 2025 that effectively forces them to install controls or be retired.  Importantly, the rule included an electric system reliability subpart that ensured that the units would not retire until replacement power was available as determined by the “New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the local transmission/distribution owner, or the New York State Public Service Commission”.  This rule sets a good precedent for how electric generating units should be retired due to environmental policy.

The other source of peaking generation is older units that are no longer efficient enough to compete for normal operations.  New York State has quite a few large steam boilers that were designed to burn residual oil.  Over time the cost differential between oil and gas has shifted such that residual oil is rarely a cost-effective fuel to burn.  Consequently, those steam boilers run very little and survive primarily to provide peaking power support. In addition, New York City has specific reliability requirements for in-city generation that mean that despite their low operating times those large steam boilers are paid for their ability to provide that service.  The reliability requirements also mean that any replacement options for these facilities also have to be located in New York City.

At this time DEC is proposing guidance changes to the permitting process that will address the eventual retirement of these units to meet Climate Act mandates.  It is worrisome that the lessons learned from the successful Peaker Rule don’t appear to be incorporated.  Moreover, DEC is modifying its regulations for public participation in the Uniform Procedures Act apparently to appease the environmental advocates.  I am convinced that the common theme in any public comments will be shut down the boilers and replace them with clean energy and battery energy storage without acknowledging the issues described in the next section.

Advocacy Replacement Proposal Issues

The crux of the problem is that  environmental advocacy organizations and the PSE Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State propose similar solutions for the purpose built turbines as the steam boilers.  In 2019 the Department of Public Service released a report that studied the potential replacement of peaking units with energy storage that was adopted as proof that energy storage technology could be used for all the peaking power plants even though that report was concerned primarily with the peaking turbines.  The PSE report did not differentiate between small peaking turbines and much larger steam boilers.  In addition to the local air quality impact concerns, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act includes a mandate to make the electric grid zero-emissions by 2040.  As a result, environmental advocacy groups are lobbying hard to shut down any remaining units, including the steam boilers, that operate infrequently enough to be classified as peaking units.  Their plan is to phase out fossil fuel peaker power plants and replace them with clean renewables and battery energy storage system (BESS) technologies. 

I believe PSE has misled the advocacy groups that their control alternative is a viable option for large boilers.  There are two problems with large boiler replacement.  The first is the size of the boilers.  The following table lists the remaining New York City steam electric boiler units.  They are all old and some run under 5% of the time.  Next year the majority of the operating (Title V) permits for the boilers will expire. In New York City, the smallest boiler is 146 MW, there is a total of 2,095 MW of boilers that operated less than 5% of the time in 2021 a total of 3,555 MW of boilers whose operating permits expire next year, and total of 3,887 MW of steam boiler capacity in New York City.  The cost of replacing that amount of capability will be very high at a time of increasing energy costs.

New York City Steam-Electric Boilers

The second boiler replacement problem is the space necessary for a battery array that can provide the energy equivalent to any of the electric-steam boilers still operating in New York City.  I was unable to find spatial requirements on the web so I base my estimates on the Elkhorn Battery facility at Moss Landing in California.  Elkhorn Battery consists of a total of 256 Tesla Megapacks, the total energy capacity is 730 MWh, and power output is up to 182.5 MW, As shown in the following view there are 132 cubical structures that apparently hold two Megapacks each.  I estimate that one third (in the 4 by 11 configuration) of the Megapacks are rated at 60.8 MW and produce 243 MWh cover an area of 240 by 280 feet which works out to around 1.5 acres.

Google Maps view of the Elkhorn Battery array at Moss Landing, California

Using that estimate of spatial requirements I estimated the New York City acreage necessary to replace steam electric boilers with the clean energy and battery storage option.  Replacing the smallest boiler would require 3.6 acres. Replacing the 2,095 MW of boilers that operated less than 5% of the time in 2021 would require 52 acres.  Replacing the total of 3,555 MW of boilers whose operating permits expire next year would require 88 acres.  Finally, replacing all the steam boiler capacity in New York City would require 95.9 acres.  Space in New York City is at a premium so the area needed may not be available.

One other point is that these spatial estimates are based on power (MW) capabilities.  At this time battery energy storage systems only provide energy for four hours.  Because peak load requirements can be greater than four hours and these steam boilers can run throughout a load peak, the number of batteries necessary to provide that energy is significantly greater than shown here.  I believe that when the full energy requirements necessary to replace the steam boilers is calculated it will be determined that there is insufficient room available in New York City to provide equivalent capabilities.

Energy Storage System Environmental Risks

In addition to logistical implementation issues, there are environmental tradeoffs and safety risks.  The Tesla Megapack lithium-ion batteries are similar to the ones in electric vehicles.  Michael Mills explains that there is no such thing as a “zero-emissions” vehicle.  He points out that you don’t eliminate emissions you export them.  This also applies to BESS components but I am not going to discuss this hypocrisy anymore in this post.

Instead, I am going to focus on the potential risks of BESS thermal runaway fires and explosions.  Paul Christensen, Professor of Pure and Applied Electrochemistry at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom gave a presentation at PV magazine’s Insight Australia event in 2021 that describes the risks.  He is one of the world’s leading experts on battery fires and safety and said global uptake of lithium-ion battery technology has “outstripped” our knowledge of the risks.  I recommend the entire presentation as a good overview of this issue.

His primary concern about battery fires is described in the presentation.  Once a battery is abused the chemistry can become unstable.  If it does that generates gases and heat, the heat creates more gases and the potential exists for a thermal runaway reaction.  The following slide illustrates the relationship. 

Christensen explains that:

In thermal runaway and prior to ignition, lithium- ion batteries produce a white vapour which consists of: hydrogen (ca. 30-50%), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide, small droplets of the organic solvents, ethane, methane and other hydrocarbons, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, i.e. a vapour cloud.

He explains that thermal runaway runaways should be prevented by safety systems, but he points out that fires and explosions are still occurring on land, sea, and in the air.  His presentation included the following slide that lists Lithium Ion Battery Energy Storage System (LiBESS) events.  The acronym VCE stands for vapor cloud explosion on the list.  Also note that since the presentation, the Moss Landing facility had another fire incident on September 20, 2022 that shut down traffic and resulted in a shelter in place advisory.

Christensen explained that the Korean government is leading the world in LiBESS developments and the presentation included a description of a translation of the official South Korean government report on LiBESS fires:

It is likely that these safety flaws are not unique to battery systems and BESS made in Korea. It is more likely that the large amount of BESS installed in Korea has made the flaws evident earlier. These flaws are also likely to exist in BESS and battery systems that were not made by Korean manufacturers.

BESS safety can only be fully assessed on the system level. A safe battery cell is the foundation for a safe BESS, but not a guarantee. The historical strong focus on cell safety only has led to avoidable slips in the technical risk management of BESS projects as a whole. Therefore, the safety assessment of the BESS should cover all hazards, not just the electrochemical related hazards.

The LG Chem report on SK incidents blames:

  1. Inadequate design of the electrical protection system
  2. Inadequate control of the operating environment within system enclosures
  3. Careless installation practices that degraded system integrity
  4. Inadequate ESS system control and protection

Failures could only be reproduced with multiple stresses, e.g.: High humidity + Common Mode Voltage (CMV) aka Common Mode Noise.

Christensen describes the characteristics of the thermal runaway plume and then he shows frightening examples of tests of vapor cloud fires and explosions.  The intensity of the fires and the toxic gases mean that fire fighters cannot put the fires out safely.  They just have to let them burn themselves out and hope that the fires don’t destroy anything other than the batteries and their enclosures. 

Discussion

The peaking power plant issue is a poster child example of the dangers of environmental advocacy organizations misplaced focus on one issue.  Disparaging ugly peaking power plants in neighborhoods makes for a great sound bite rallying call to stir up action.  However, the argument that those facilities are the root cause of significant health issues rings hollow because the primary air quality effects are from secondary pollutants that form after the emitted pollution has been transported away from the neighborhood.  Moreover, my bet if an air quality monitoring attribution analysis was done in the so-called “asthma alley” that advocates mention in their press releases, is that fossil-fired power plants would not be the dominant component.

Nonetheless, the Hochul Administration is pushing for closure of power plants in New York City.  According to the LS Power website:

On October 17, 2019, the PSC granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) for LS Power’s proposed 316-megawatt battery energy storage project at the Ravenswood Generating Station in Long Island City. Additionally, the Ravenswood storage project was accepted in the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) 2019 interconnection facility study process, and is therefore well positioned to be able to meet a 2022 in-service requirement.

A trade press article about the Ravenswood renewable redevelopment plans states:

Energy asset developer Rise Light & Power will redevelop its 2,480MW Ravenswood Generating Station – New York City’s biggest power plant – as a new renewable energy hub including on-site energy storage.

The 27-acre site in Queens will be turned into a hub integrating various clean energy sources, although the press release is not clear on when the fossil fuel units will be retired nor exactly what renewable capacity will be built on-site.

It does make clear that large-scale battery energy storage will be deployed directly on the facility site, which currently powers 20% of New York City’s needs.

The redevelopment will repurpose existing infrastructure to connect thousands of megawatts of offshore wind and onshore wind, solar, and other clean energy resources from Upstate New York to the City’s grid, a press release said. Ravenswood’s river water intake system will also be repurposed to provide zero-emission thermal energy to nearby communities.

LS Power is proposing a 316 MW BESS on a 27-acre site in New York City.  According to my estimates that requires 7.8 acres for equivalent battery energy storage.  I could not find any details of the proposed plan but they necessarily must pack the batteries closer together than the battery array at the Elkhorn Battery in Moss Landing, CA.  Given that facility has had two fires since it began operating a little over a year ago and the Christensen presentation shows how dangerous those fires can be, my impression that is not such a good idea.  Dr. Christensen’s remark that he is “astounded and appalled that if there is no appreciation of the safety issues involved” certainly should prompt an extensive safety review before this facility is permitted and constructed.

Conclusion

I conclude that until you have a viable alternative, and I submit that the renewable energy battery storage option is not viable, then it is premature to shut down the existing fossil fired peaking generation in New York City and the state.  Not only will the closures have minimal effect on health impacts but closure could affect reliability.  Given the impacts of New York City blackouts I don’t believe any threats to current reliability standards should be accepted.

Furthermore, the proposed alternative of renewable energy and energy storage systems has to overcome space constraint issues and is not proven technology.  When a leading expert on batteries says “Everybody has to be educated how to use these batteries safely”, I think the best course of action is to follow his advice.  It is not appropriate to make the residents of the disadvantage communities near a BESS become unwilling lab rats to test whether a technology that can generate toxic gases, fires, and explosions is appropriate in an urban setting. 

Another unrecognized constraint by the environmental advocacy organizations is the financing model for a necessary resource that only operates a few times a year.  Purpose-built peaking generation resources to this point have relied on the cheapest resource available such as simple-cycle combustion turbines.  While an argument may be made that some renewable generation resources are competitive with simple cycle turbines the requirement in New York City is for a dedicated resource capable of providing peaking power on demand.  That means that the renewable resources, the transmission to get that power to New York City, and the BESS to provide that power have to be dedicated to this requirement.  I believe those costs will be several multiples greater than any fossil-fired alternative so financing and operation costs will be a problem. 

Of course, the environmental advocate argument is that it is necessary to address climate change.  Paraphrasing Tom Shepstone, my ultimate concern is “It is profound climate misinformation to suppose global warming is such a threat that any action, no matter how risky, is somehow preferable to a fossil fuel alternative without those risks”.