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 Agriculture and Forestry 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.
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. 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.
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 Agriculture and Forestry 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 risk that environmental victory for the CLCPA goals. 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 wind power and biodiversity habitat sensitivity maps for the CLCPA resource development planning and siting process.
Comments on Proposed Strategies
The Agriculture and Forestry advisory panel presented 12 strategies in six categories. It is particularly relevant that the cumulative environmental impacts of all the large-scale renewable energy projects on land use be addressed by this panel.
There were two strategies in the livestock/dairy management category: alternative manure management and precision feed management. It is not clear to me why these strategies to reduce methane from manure are included because § 75-0109, (2) (b) states “Include legally enforceable emissions limits, performance standards, or measures or other requirements to control emissions from greenhouse gas emission sources, with the exception of agricultural emissions from livestock.” What is the point of alternative manure management if livestock emissions are exempt? At the very least accounting for livestock emissions is going to be complicated. If there are no enforceable emissions limits then should the emissions be included in the inventories?
It appears to me that the strategies in the soil health and nutrient management, nutrient (fertilizer) management and soil carbon sequestration, and agroforestry, silvopasture, alley cropping, and riparian forest buffers, categories are consistent with § 75-0103 (13) (d) “Measures to achieve long-term carbon sequestration and/or promote best management practices in land use, agriculture and forestry”.
I agree that the land conversions category strategies of agricultural protection and access and no net loss of forestland are important and should be included. However, the CLCPA electric sector targets are going to require enormous amounts of solar and wind energy development. This factor has to be addressed and it was over-looked in the mitigation strategy slides. The Agriculture and Forestry and Power Generation Advisory Panels must determine how much agricultural land and forests will be taken out of production for solar and wind development sprawl
There were four forestry strategies: urban forestry, statewide afforestation/reforestation efforts, improved forest management, and increase manufacture and use of harvested wood products, and a strategy to support opportunities to substitute fossil fuels in the bioeconomy category. I have one overall observation for these strategies. I believe that the increased costs of energy induced by the CLCPA and the desire to backup electric heating is going to put a lot of pressure on forests as more people turn to wood-fired heating. The mitigation strategy slides did not mention this issue and I think this Advisory Panel should address it.
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 land use panel are in the best position to develop a strategy to address this problem.