Comments on Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Land Use Advisory Panel Strategies

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) became effective on January 1, 2020 and establishes targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable electricity production, and improving energy efficiency.  The law mandated the formation of the Climate Action Council to prepare a scoping plan to outline strategies to meet the targets.  This is one of a series of posts describing aspects of that process.  This post is my reaction to the Transportation Advisory Panel’s initial strategies.

I am very concerned about the impacts of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) on energy system reliability and affordability.  There are very few advocates for the typical citizen of New York who has very little idea about the implications of the CLCPA on energy costs and personal choices. 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.

Background

I have described the implementation requirements in a stand-alone document.  In brief, The CLCPA mandates that a scoping plan outlining the recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions shall be prepared and approved by December 31, 2021.  The Climate Action Council and seven advisory panels, transportation, energy intensive and trade-exposed industries, land-use and local government, energy efficiency and housing, power generation, waste, and agriculture and forestry consisting of political appointees and supported by agency staff are charged with this responsibility.  Since the formation of the panels in the middle of 2020 they have been holding meetings and preparing strategies.  In brief, each advisory panel is expected to “Identify a range of emissions reductions, consistent with analysis and in consultation with the Climate Action Council, for the sector which contributes to meeting the statewide emission limits.”  They have been asked 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 and to seek public input to inform the development of recommendations to the Council for consideration.  This post describes the comments that I plan to submit as part of that public process.

General Comments – Note that this is pretty much the same for all my advisory panel posts

There are major potential land use and environmental impact ramifications of the CLCPA on agriculture and forest lands.  I believe it is necessary to do a cumulative environmental impact assessment of the Scoping Plan’s projections for wind and solar development and I strongly recommend that this panel work with the land use panel to take the lead in developing a strategy to evaluate those impacts.

At the end of September 2020 the Department of Public Service released the  Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“CLCPA SGEIS”).  Unfortunately, that analysis only evaluated the 70% reduction by 2030 target and did not even use the latest estimates for the wind and solar developments for that target.  Based on the projections by E3 in their presentation to the Power Generation Advisory Panel on September 16, 2020 and the Analysis Group September 10, 2020  presentation of draft recent observations as part of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) Climate Change Phase II Study significantly more wind and solar will be required than was analyzed in the CLCPA SGEIS process.  Because the capacity estimates from these analyses and others are so much larger than the latest CLCPA SGEIS estimate I believe that another environmental impact analysis is needed when the Climate Action Council finalizes its Scoping Plan.

I extrapolated results from several projects to estimate the potential cumulative impacts for the extraordinary buildout of wind generation projected by the Analysis Group – 35,200 MW compared to 5,905 MW in the last DPS impact statement that evaluated wind energy cumulative impacts.  If all the wind projects are built on agricultural land, then between 12% and 56% of the agricultural lands will be covered with wind turbines.  Of course, it is more likely that wind turbines will be sited on ridge lines but that will affect forest land use.  Nonetheless that study also projected 39,262 MW of utility scale solar that will have to go somewhere.  It is not just land use that will be affected.  The environmental impacts of this much wind generation could cause the deaths of between 91 and 804 bald eagles a year.

I recommend that the Land Use Advisory Panel develop a strategy that includes preparations for the cumulative analysis of the Scoping Plan recommended wind and solar development.  That process should start soon and 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.

Specific Comments

The Land Use and Local Government advisory panel presented ten strategies from three subgroups. I will address each of the strategies below.

In the Land Use Strategies category five strategies were proposed.  The “promote and facilitate county and inter-municipal smart growth planning efforts, including focusing development in priority growth centers” and “promote coordinated regional approaches to meet climate goals while integrating transportation, housing, and land conservation needs” smart growth strategies rationales support conservation of areas.  Supposedly smart growth will support the development of open space conservation areas and conserve natural and working lands.  However, 35,200 MW of on-shore wind energy and 39,262 MW of utility-scale solar estimated by the Analysis Group will likely consume far more land than can be saved by smart growth.  The panel should address this contradiction.

The remaining three strategies proposed are:

      • Streamline and incentivize Smart Growth project review
      • Coordinate State planning funds/activities/entities to ensure that transportation, housing, and conservation actions are not in conflict and achieve reduce vehicle miles, clean energy, and equity goals
      • Build capacity at the regional level and provide support to municipalities to promote smart growth, facilitate clean energy siting, and reduce vehicle miles traveled

All three strategies are intended to facilitate smart growth development.  I think there is a huge disconnect between smart growth advocates and the rest of society.  There are reasons why society evolved to today’s land use patterns in New York and smart growth development is an attempt to change those choices all in the name of it’s for your own good.  If their case is good then fine but what this all means should be publicized more.

Three clean energy strategies were proposed:

      • Establish statewide higher energy codes, benchmarking, building performance mandates, and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing to avoid a patchwork of policies.
      • Encourage local governments to initiate Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs and community campaigns to increase local access to clean energy products and services.
      • Overcome legal, financial, regulatory, and technical barriers to greening municipal building, facilities, and fleets

I don’t think that there are any surprises in these strategies.  I do have a reservation about the CCA programs that are touted to allow energy choice.  Those programs cannot pay their own way so someone has to support them.  As more and more of these programs are implemented fewer and fewer will have to provide more and more support.  Unless you can guarantee that this initiative does not increase the number of people with unacceptable energy burdens it should not be included.

There were two Adaptation and Resilience Strategies:

      • Develop policies, programs and resources to reduce risks associated with acute climate hazards
      • Seek to ensure State and local investments assess climate change and resiliency impacts of projects

I support adaptation and resilience efforts because they are no regrets solutions to problems that are not going to go away.  However, I cannot help but take exception to the rationale used because whenever I have evaluated climate data the results don’t support the narrative that climate change effects due to mankind are showing up now.  The CLCPA in general and this characterization in particular confuse weather and climate.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service “Weather reflects short-term conditions of the atmosphere while climate is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location.”  The referenced article goes on to explain “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.”  The reality is that any possible climate effect on extreme weather in the foreseeable future is a small tweak much smaller than normal variations.  Nonetheless acute weather hazards are a problem that should be addressed.

Conclusion

I maintain that the fundamental problem with the CLCPA is the lack of a feasibility study.  It is not clear to me that the ultimate problem of trying to supply the energy needs of a mostly electrified New York electric energy system will work 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.  This panel and the agriculture and forestry panel are in the best position to develop a strategy to address this problem.

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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