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. However, it is not clear that the cumulative environmental impacts of all the resources needed to meet the 2050 net-zero goal will be less than the purported environmental impacts of the climate change effects of New York emissions in part because the State has not evaluated the impacts of all the resources needed for those goals.
I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker. I have described the law in general, evaluated its feasibility, estimated costs, described supporting regulations, listed the scoping plan strategies, summarized some of the meetings and complained that its advocates constantly confuse weather and climate. 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 have been doing environmental assessments for over 40 years and really worry about the environmental impacts of the CLCPA because there is no commitment to evaluate the cumulative impacts. The problem is that while an individual industrial wind facility or solar facility may not have a notable environmental impact the cumulative impact of all the facilities necessary to provide enough power to meet the reliability needs of the state could have significant environmental impacts. Because the State has established this goal it should be responsible for this analysis and not the applicants for individual facilities.
On June 24, 2020, DPS announced that they would be accepting comments on the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. On September 30, 2020 DPS announced that they had accepted the Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“CLCPA SGEIS”). The Executive Summary explains that this is the fifth environmental impact analysis for various iterations of New York’s clean energy programs. The statement explains that the action is “a continuation of previous initiatives analyzed in the Prior SEQRA Analyses, in addition to the increase in resources needed for implementation of the following CLCPA requirements:
- 70% of electricity from renewable energy by 2030
- 9,000 MW of offshore wind electricity by 2035
- 6,000 MW of distributed photovoltaic solar generation by 2025.”
There are two problems however. There are significant differences between 70% of electricity from renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2040. The other problem is that their projections for the generation necessary for 2030 are outdated with more recent estimates coming in higher. This post compares the resources modeled in this impact statement and the latest projections.
I have made the comment that a comprehensive cumulative environmental impact statement is needed for New York’s clean energy programs in a couple of venues including the Resource Adequacy proceeding and Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act proposed regulation. I prepared comments on the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for this CLCPA impact statement but ended up not submitting them. This post updates those unsubmitted comments.
In this post I consider 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. The “Cumulative Impacts Assessment” Appendix UU, which is document #752 on the NYSDPS-DMM-Matter Master website case #16-F-0559 in the Article 10 application for the facility. 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. The analysis assumes that impacts to bat species at the Facility would be similar to the average bat impacts reported at other wind energy projects in New York (average rate of 6.05 bats/MW/year) so approximately 868 bat deaths per year could be expected at the Facility. However, the facility has committed to a mitigation curtailment that will stop operations during light wind speeds from July 1 to September 30 which they claim will reduce impacts 60% down to 347 bat deaths per year.
The cumulative impact analysis in this report references a Department of Energy site Projected growth of the Wind Industry. They project that from 2020 to 2050, the projected 30-year life of the Facility, on-shore wind development in New York is estimated to increase from 1.75 gigawatts (GW) to 5.61 GW. The next step is to see how that projection for on-shore wind development squares with more recent, NY climate policy specific projections for on-shore wind and the CLCPA SGEIS.
The Estimates of Land-Based Wind Resources table has 16 estimates of on-shore wind resources. In 2019 there were 1,985 MW of installed wind capacity. According to Exhibit 1-2, Summary of Environmental Resource Areas Analyzed in the Prior SEQRA Analyses, onshore wind impacts were last considered in the 2016 SEIS and in the CLCPA SGEIS were “not analyzed further”. As a result, the 2016 impact statement estimates of the land-based wind capacity , 4,000 MW in the base case and 5,905 MW in the high load case, represent the latest CLCPA EIS estimate. In 2020 the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) estimated land-based wind resources needed to meet the Climate Act 70×30 goal as part of its Congestion Assessment and Resource Integration Studies (CARIS) planning process. They project that 6,476 MW will be needed, 571 MW more than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate, in 2030. Importantly, in order to meet all the electrification needs of the Climate Act in 2050, much more land-based wind will be needed after 2030. On June 24, 2020 Energy plus Environmental Economics (E3) presented results of their emissions reductions pathway analyses to the New York Climate Action Council that included projections of land-based wind in 2030, 4,700 MW, which is less than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate high load case, but in 2050 they projected 9,000 MW in 2050, which is 3,095 MW more than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate high load case.
On June 15, 2020 the Brattle Group presented results from their report New York’s Evolution to a Zero Emission Power System that included five projections of land-based wind. In their base case they project 9,700 MW in 2030 and 23,300 MW in 2040, 3,795 MW and 17,395 MW more than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate high load case respectively. They also included two scenarios with different estimates of feasibility. They noted that the DPS maximum feasible on-shore wind builds were 10,000 MW (4,095 MW greater than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate) and the NYSERDA maximum feasible on-shore wind builds were 8,000 MW (2,095 MW greater than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate). The final scenario claimed used a National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) technical potential on-shore wind capacity of 26,000 MW which is 20,095 MW greater than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate. The Analysis Group Climate Change Impact Phase II Final Report for NYISO had another estimate for the NREL total technical potential of 35,200 MW which is 29,295 MW greater than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate. That analysis incorporates all the load increases necessary to electrify other sectors to meet the CLCPA goals so I believe that this is the best estimate of the final resource requirement. Because that capacity estimate is so much larger than the latest CLCPA EIS estimate I can only conclude that another environmental impact analysis is needed when the Climate Action Council finalizes its Scoping Plan.
It is concerning to me that an analysis done for NYSERDA on wind power and biodiversity by the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) and Nature Conservancy found that: “5,430 square kilometers (1.3 million acres) of land in New York that are both suitable for wind power development and avoid areas that are likely to have high biodiversity value. Using an estimate of 3.0 MW/square kilometers, this translates to a megawatt capacity estimate of 16,300 MW (± 9,000 MW) for New York’s terrestrial landscape.” The Analysis Group projection of 35,200 MW exceeds this range and that suggests that wind turbines will have to be sited within areas of high biodiversity value. It is absolutely necessary that there is a commitment to do a cumulative environmental impact statement evaluating the on-shore wind resources needed to meet the CLCPA goals.
Finally, I made estimated some New York Cumulative On-Shore Wind Impacts. I calculated the land needed for development and compared that to agricultural land and high biodiversity land. According to the latest CLCPA EIS, assuming a conservative range of land use requirements from NREL’s 2009 study of 30 to 141 acres per MW, total land use requirements for 4,000 MW of land-based wind under the base case PPA scenario (the latest CLCPA EIS estimate scenario which projects the lowest amount of land-based wind development) may require between 120,000 and 564,000 acres of land. I calculated the totals for all the scenarios included in the previous table. Based on a recent estimate of 8.79 million acres of agricultural lands in NYS, if agriculture lands hosted 100 percent of wind energy development projects, for all the projections between approximately 1.4 percent up to 56.5% percent of agriculture lands would have to be converted to wind energy development. The fraction of suitable land compares the NYSERDA on wind power and biodiversity estimate of suitable land for wind development to the land needed to meet CLCPA requirements. The fraction ranges from a miniscule 0.09 to a scary 3.82. These unrefined estimates are only intended to make the point that a refined analysis is needed. It is unlikely that wind development will take place on agricultural lands but solar energy development is much more likely there. Wind will impact forests along ridge lines.
Circling back to the Bluestone Wind Project analysis that predicted eagle and bat deaths I also calculated the state-wide impacts using their numbers. Annual deaths range from 91 to 804 Bald Eagles, 23 to 199 Eastern Gold Eagles, and 373 to 3,283 bats simply extrapolating their numbers state-wide. Of course, those are crude numbers. The population density of these species has to be mapped against the actual locations of potential wind farms for starters. The actual methodology used to determine deaths also has to be checked and the bat deaths incorporate a mitigation curtailment that limits operations.
I have always maintained that the biggest deficiency in the CLCPA was the lack of a feasibility study. It is not clear to me that the ultimate problem of trying to supply the energy needs of an mostly electrified New York electric system can be solved during a multi-day winter doldrum if the primary sources of electricity are wind and solar The only way this might work will require extraordinary amounts of wind and solar development. When there is an “official” estimate of those resources clearly a cumulative environmental impact analysis for those resources should be completed as soon as possible.
Ideally, preparations for that cumulative analysis should start now to determine a threshold for unacceptable environmental impacts. For example, I am worried about eagles. If you had told me 30 years ago that I would ever see a Bald Eagle from my home I would have been doubtful. Now that has occurred and I am not willing to chance that environmental victory. Because there are a limited number of eagles and their reproduction rates are low, I imagine that wildlife biologists could develop a criterion on the acceptable annual rate of state-wide eagle deaths from wind turbines. There were 426 occupied bald eagle nest sites in New York in 2017. It is obvious that a more detailed projection of wind turbine impacts on this rare resource is needed. The ultimate goal should be to refine the NYSERDA on wind power and biodiversity habitat sensitivity maps for the CLCPA resource development planning and siting process.