Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act White Paper Comment

In the summer of 2019 Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and this summer the implementation process is in full swing.  I have written a series of posts on the feasibility, implications and consequences of this aspect of the law based on evaluation of data.  This post documents comments  I submitted to the New York Department of Public Service (DPS) on the White Paper on Clean Energy Standard Procurements to Implement New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (White Paper).

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

I am following the implementation of the Climate Act because I believe it will affect the affordability and reliability of New York’s energy.  The White Paper outlines how the DPS proposes to provide subsidies to get sufficient renewable resources built to meet the Climate Act targets.  I submitted comments because the definition of “renewable energy systems” as amended in the public service law with the addition of section 66-p is inconsistent with the reliability of the future electric system.

Renewable Energy System Definition

The Climate Act states:

      • 66-p. Establishment of a renewable energy program.
        1. As used in this section:

(b) “renewable energy systems” means systems that generate electricity or thermal energy through use of the following technologies: solar thermal, photovoltaics, on land and offshore wind, hydroelectric, geothermal electric, geothermal ground source heat, tidal energy, wave energy, ocean thermal, and fuel cells which do not utilize a fossil fuel resource in the process of generating electricity.

Problem

At the second Climate Action Council meeting on June 24, 2020 Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) presented results from their report “Pathways to Deep Carbonization in New York State”.  I have analyzed options for the future Climate Act electric system and agree with their concern about multiple-day periods when wind and solar resources could provide negligible power to the grid.  The report notes that “This long-duration (interday) challenge can be solved through a combination of large-scale hydro resources, renewable natural gas (RNG) or synthetic fuels such as hydrogen, Carbon Capture Storage (CCS), and nuclear power”.  During the question and answer period following the presentation, Climate Action Council members argued that RNG was not acceptable because it was not included in the definition of renewable energy systems.  In my opinion, there are two problems with the definition in that light: firm capacity and air source heat pumps.

E3 explains in their report that “Firm capacity is the amount of energy available for power production which can be guaranteed to be available at a given time. As the share of variable resources like wind and solar grows substantially, firm capacity resources will be needed to ensure year-round reliability, especially during periods of low renewables output.”  The options that they included in their deep carbonization pathway included two that are unlikely sources of much additional capacity in New York, large-scale hydro and nuclear, because of development concerns while two others, synthetic fuels and carbon capture storage, are only at the demonstration technical readiness level according to the International Energy Agency.  That leaves RNG as the most likely source of firm capacity.  Based on my work I believe that the alternative approach of using energy storage for this application will be a major technological challenge and surely will be extraordinarily expensive so excluding RNG would make providing firm capacity more difficult.  Therefore, I recommend that this technology not be rejected due to the magnitude of the firm capacity problem.

The argument that RNG is not a “renewable energy system” is based entirely on the fact that it is not explicitly included in the definition.  Note, however, that “geothermal ground source heat” is included but air source heat pumps are not.  As a result, then does that also mean the air source heat pumps are not an acceptable technology to meet the requirements of the Climate Act?  In order to meet the GHG emission reduction targets electrification of heating will be necessary.  Because air source heat pumps are cheaper and easier to install than ground source heat pumps, they are the preferred alternative.  Because this resource is necessary for the Climate Act it should be considered a renewable energy system even though it is not explicitly included in the definition.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see whether RNG is accepted as a renewable energy system.  I have no doubt that it was deliberately excluded from the Climate Act definition because some well-connected but naïve lobbyist successfully argued to exclude that technology.  I don’t know why this technology is unacceptable but the fact is that in order to provide sufficient electric power during the long-duration low renewable resource periods New York needs as many sources of firm capacity as possible.  I believe that E3 knows this and had to propose the technology in order to reduce the need for energy storage.  They have not provided cost estimates yet but they know the numbers will be staggering if the necessary firm capacity has to be provided by battery energy storage.  The naïve opponents of RNG must not understand this inconvenient truth.

One final note, while I believe that RNG is needed, I do not believe it will solve the problem.  There simply are not enough sources of RNG that can provide enough stored gas to make much of a difference for the critical long-duration low renewable resource period peak load when that load includes electrification of heating and vehicles.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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