8 October 2020 New York Climate Action Council Meeting

On July 18, 2019 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which establishes targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable electricity production, and improving energy efficiency.  It was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country when Cuomo signed the legislation.  I have summarized the schedule, implementation components, and provide links to the legislation itself at CLCPA Summary Implementation Requirements.  This post summarizes my impression of the fourth meeting of the Council.  Summaries of other meetings are available here.

I am following the implementation of the Climate Act closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker.  The Climate Action Council is trying to choose between many expensive policy options to meet the CLCPA targets while at the same time attempting to understand which one (or what mix) will be the least expensive and have the fewest negative impacts on the existing system. If they make a good pick then state ratepayers spend the least amount of a lot of money, but if they get it wrong then we will be left with lots of negative outcomes and even higher costs for a long time.  Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels, I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

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

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

Co-Chair Remarks and Reflections

With only a couple of exceptions all the members of the Climate Action Council are either political appointees or were vetted and approved by the Cuomo Administration.  As a result, I should not be surprised that the remarks and reflections at all the meetings to date have included a brag list of all the latest initiatives and project announcements of the Cuomo Administration.  All the meetings have also worked in at least one example of a recent event that the co-chairs link to climate change.  Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Seggos had the honors at this meeting when he talked about western wildfires.  The bigger story line was the Climate Week summit and all the actions by New York’s agencies, authorities, and partners that were released as part of the publicity associated with that event.

Status Reports

This agenda item was titled “Advisory Panel and Working Group Chairs Report-out on Work Plans” and consisted of a status update by each of the chairmen of the panels and groups charged with supporting the Climate Action Council.  Each presentation listed the scope of their work plans.  Because some of the issues included are relevant to more than one panel each chair described those interactions.    Each presentation also included a timeline and plans for external engagement.  Council members were given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments.

There was a wide range of detail provided.  In some cases, it could simply be a function of the charge of the advisory panel.  For example, there were four slides with scope items for the Agriculture and Forestry Advisory Panel and Land Use but only one slide for the Local Government Advisory Panel.  On the other hand, the Local Government Advisory Panel had the most detailed meeting timeline reflecting the direction of that panel’s approach. In other cases, the lack of detail could portend problems.  I consider the Power Generation Advisory Panel to be the most important because the prime de-carbonization strategy is to electrify everything.  Unfortunately, this presentation was the weakest.  Everyone else had a meeting timeline.  Six out of the eight presentations announced that their public outreach includes a designated email address for comments and questions.  Power Generation was one of the panels that did not include that option.  Furthermore, the external engagement slide for this panel had the least detail.

Waste Emissions

At the previous Council meeting there was a discussion about waste management issues.  The Cuomo Administration proposed that it be handled by DEC but the concern was raised that there would not be enough interaction with the public.  At this meeting DEC Commissioner Seggos proposed that another advisory panel for this issue be set up that would follow the same rules as the existing panels.  After a discussion the Council voted to add this panel.  It will have a lot of catching up to do because they won’t be able to decide on the membership until the next meeting on November 24.  It will be interesting to see if the scope for this panel will include disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades.

I have been worried, and this meeting did not allay my concerns, that some members of Council have an agenda that seems to be more important to them than keeping the lights on and costs affordable.  As shown below there is a clear need for an energy resource that can be stored and then used when needed.  In order to help meet that need there are advocates for so-called renewable natural gas (RNG).  RNG is just the methane produced from anerobic digestion from different sources such as enteric fermentation from animal feeding, manure management, food waste, landfills, and sewage treatment plants.

This appears to be a major controversy for the Council.  Dr. Robert Howarth is the most vocal critic of methane in any form and helped draft the CLCPA language.  One interpretation of the law is that if the resource is not explicitly listed then they do not qualify as a renewable source.  That means some sources of methane are explicitly banned for use as a renewable fuel.  Howarth and others who agree with him are arguing against RNG.  For example, at 40:00 of the meeting recording, Raya Salter commented “Natural gas is, you know, a fossil fuel and would not qualify as a renewable fuel in the earth pursuant to the CLCPA renewable or not”.  A more rational view is that we have a waste management problem as well as a need for dispatchable energy and both could be addressed if RNG is classified as a renewable fuel.

Presentations

There were two presentations ostensibly to bring the Council members up to speed on a couple of relevant topics.  Rich Dewey from the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) described their electric system planning process and Tammy Mitchell from the Department of Public Service (DPS) gave an overview of the transmission and distribution system.  While both presentations were valuable, they were overviews and did not provide much detail.

Rich Dewey, President of the NYISO gave an overview of the planning process used to maintain system reliability.  If you want a good overview of where New York stands I recommend the presentation. Dewey’s slides included the following statements:

      • We believe State policy goals can be achieved while maintaining grid reliability.
      • The NYISO’s wholesale markets can serve as an effective platform for achieving New York State environmental objectives.
      • The plan includes a set of market design enhancements that work together coherently and efficiently to satisfy New York’s changing grid reliability needs.

In general, I think those statements ignore some very real problems.  As described below there is a particular resource adequacy problem that I think determines feasibility of the plan to completely replace fossil-fired generation.  Not surprisingly the NYISO argues that the wholesale markets can solve environmental issues and drive the changes needed to the electrical system necessary to implement the changes needed for the CLCPA.  I am not as sure but will leave my arguments about that for another post.

I have previously described what I think is ultimate problem with the CLCPA, namely what non-emitting power sources will be able replace the loss of intermittent wind and solar energy when electricity is needed the most during the winter.  The NYIOSO describes those power sources as Dispatchable Emission-free Resources and describes them as “Large quantity of installed dispatchable emission free resources needed in small number of hours”, and “Dispatchable resources must be able to come on line quickly, and be flexible enough to meet rapid, steep ramping needs.”  Except for the emissions, those qualities perfectly describe fossil-fired peaking units.  While Dewey introduced the problem, I don’t think he adequately described the challenges of this problem that could endanger compliance with the CLCPA targets.

Tammy Mitchell (DPS) described Planning for a Grid in Transition. She provided overview information describing the transmission and distribution systems, rate cases, the status of costs and reliability today, and then listed all the necessary new resources that have been identified to date.  The DPS will develop transmission and distribution plans to meet the CLCPA goals early next year.  Presumably then the State’s electric utility companies will be required to implement those plans.  In my opinion, that is a license for the Cuomo Administration to bury CLCPA costs to make it harder for them to be held accountable and pass the buck on cost increases to the utility companies who will take the blame in the minds of the ratepayers.

DEC also provided an agency status update.  DPS & NYSERDA held a Technical Conference on Transmission Planning pursuant to the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act.  There will be public comment hearings on Part 496 and the public comment period will end later in October.  They expect the guidance document from DEC on the Value of Carbon by the end of October and there will be seven public comment hearings on Office of Renewable Energy Siting proposed rulemakings in November.

One last note.  At the last Council meeting there were suggestions for adding members to the advisory panels.  Nothing was said about that at this meeting.

Conclusion

The RNG waste energy controversy concerns me.  The obsession of some members of the Council appears to over-ride common sense.  I suspect that every possible source of non-fossil fuel energy is going to be needed to keep the lights on.  While I may be wrong, it seems obvious that rather than limiting any of those resources now it might be more appropriate to wait to see what is needed.  If I am wrong then banning RNG might not be such a big deal.  If I am right, then banning it now not only makes it more difficult to keep the lights on but also does nothing to help deal with waste management of the sources of methane.

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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