Governor Cuomo unveiled a comprehensive agenda to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and growing the clean energy economy in the 2018 State of the State on January 3, 2018. My reaction to one aspect of this reminded me of the VW Sign then Drive Event – “Really?” commercials. In the commercial a kid rows a gutter ball and says “Really?”, a lady gets no responses to a party and says “Really?”, and so on. The 20th proposal of the 2018 State of the State: a comprehensive agenda to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and growing the clean energy economy made me think the same thing. In particular is this little gem to undertake “revisions to strengthen RGGI by grouping together and thereby covering peaking units that collectively exceed RGGI’s capacity threshold of 25 megawatts”.
The rationale in the agenda is that:
RGGI only covers power plants with a capacity of 25 megawatts or greater, leaving out many smaller but highly-polluting, high demand “peaking” units, which operate intermittently during periods of high electricity demand. These polluting units are often located close to population centers that come online to meet peak electricity demand on excessively hot or cold days, and disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities that already face a multitude of environmental burdens.
I never really thought too much about the CO2 emissions from the peakers because after all they don’t run much and they are small although admittedly relatively inefficient. So I looked into it. Table 1 New York State CO2 Emissions by Control Program lists operating data and CO2 emissions. Of course you run into a problem immediately inasmuch as about two thirds of the peakers don’t even report CO2. Nevertheless I managed to come up with an estimate. I downloaded all the Environmental Protection Agency Air Markets Program New York unit annual emissions for all reporting programs from 2009 to 2016. I categorized the units by RGGI program; Other Program, 5-month reporting; and Other Program 12-month reporting. In 2016 the RGGI unit CO2 total was 31,194,515 tons and the peaker units already included in RGGI CO2 total was 245,987 tons.
In order to estimate CO2 emissions from the units that don’t report I assumed that the CO2 rate per operating time would be the same for peakers that report and those that don’t to calculate a conversion for the 5 month units. I multiplied that conversion factor by the reported operating times and assumed that it should be pro-rated across the entire year by multiplying by 12/5. Using those assumptions the total CO2 peaker emissions increase 215,000 tons to 460,987 tons or about 1.4% of the total emissions.
One of my biggest problems with the New York State clean energy programs is the apparent lack of an end game. I think the primary rationale for this is the environmental justice angle that the peaking units “disproportionately” impact low-income and minority communities. So it looks like the goal is to shut these units down.
Peak load days correspond to highest emissions days but the problem is that the peaking turbines needed to provide the peak load are old, inefficient and relatively high emitting. Consequently there is an extra kick of NOx pollution which as a precursor to ozone creates problems meeting the ozone ambient air quality standard. That is a real problem but conflating that with CO2 “pollution” is silly at best.
The State has never explicitly produced a game plan to replace the turbines in question. For example, consider July 20, 2015 which is the highest emissions day that year. The total gross load from all electric generating units in New York on that date was 303,967 MWh. Units covered by the RGGI program generated 297,350 MWh or 97.8% of the load. There already are combustion turbines covered by RGGI and they accounted for 19,960 MWH or 6.6% of the load. The non-RGGI combustion turbines targeted by the agenda only accounted for 2.1% of the load but that was still 6,369 MWh. The problem is that all of the combustion turbine generation was dispatched when it was needed, where it was needed in the New York City transmission system, and was not subject to weather. It is a non-trivial exercise for the Governor’s renewable energy program to replace that generation with those constraints.
I suppose proponents for including these units in RGGI could think that the revenues resulting from the sale of the RGGI allowances necessary to run could be invested to replace the peaking turbines. But 215,000 allowances at even $5 per ton is only $1,075,000. If those funds were allocated to the Clean Energy Fund then you could expect 3,575 MWh reduction based on calculations derived from my estimate of the NY RGGI operating plan. On the face of it that is pretty close to the 6,369 MWh number above but the gob smacking issue is that the 6,369 MWh is for one day and the 3,575 MWh is for a year!