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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Panels Description at CAC Meeting August 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Power Generation Advisory Panel

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

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

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

 

Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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