The 3 February 2021 Power Generation Advisory Panel included a chance for public input that deserves comment. Twenty-three people were given two minutes to speak. More than half the presenters argued that nuclear power needs to be considered. Only three speakers representing environmental advocacy or justice spoke. Finally, the concluding thoughts of Department of Public Service Commissioner Rhodes claimed that the process has been unbiased.
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. 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.
At the 3 February 2021 Power Generation Advisory Panel there was a brief overview of the efforts of the Climate Action Council and the panel’s focus areas and discussions to date. Most of the meeting was opened to the public to provide their thoughts and input. The meeting notes provide a brief summary of those comments and I have summarized the speaker’s affiliations and categorized their positions in a table. My speaker categories included customer advocates, environmental justice and environmental activists, renewable energy development advocates, and a couple of people representing miscellaneous concerns.
I was surprised by the number of people who spoke out for nuclear power and I suspect so was the Panel. I believe they were all associated with a pro Indian Point group. All their comments were similar. Clearly shutting down 2,000 MW of zero emission nuclear generating capacity is counter-productive if you really believe that climate change caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is the existential threat used as the rationale for the CLCPA. Commenters pointed out that CO2 emissions will go up as a result of the shutdown and that developing additional nuclear power should be considered as a strategy for the zero-emissions future.
I was also surprised by the fact that there were only four people arguing that wind and solar development needs to be supported more and accelerated. I am not sure about the propriety of an organization represented on the panel to have a speaker present public comments. Two people claimed community solar deserves more support. The final speaker in this category was from Generate Capital, a sustainability investment firm who suggested new renewable technology is ready to implement.
I was one of two consumer advocates speakers. It is difficult to say much in two minutes but I tried to point out concerns with affordability, reliability and feasibility. The other speaker also addressed affordability and made the point that investments have be prioritized and cost-effective.
I was shocked that only three environmental activists spoke and two of them were worried about specific issues. The one true believer said we have to act faster because we are running out of time. I predict that future public sessions will be inundated with people making those claims and suggesting that wind and solar will solve all energy problems. A lady from Fossil Free Tompkins County complained that behind the meter natural gas facilities are inimical with the CLCPA and that allowing a former coal-fired power plant to run on gas was wrong. The environmental justice speaker was worried about a gas pipeline that was being built in her neighborhood.
The last two categories only had one speaker. One lady who was worried about renewable development equity because most of the renewables will be sited Upstate and coincidentally some near her. A student in a masters program in sustainability made the good point that reginal planning efforts to date have concentrated on transportation and more emphasis should be placed on renewable development.
Rhode Concluding Remarks
The lead person for the panel is Department of Public Service Commissioner John Rhodes. I will end this post with an evaluation of his remarks. The meeting notes described his concluding thoughts as follows:
- Appreciates and takes seriously the various comments that have been made. A thread of pro-nuclear environmentalism has been quite a presence of this chat.
- Assures everyone that nothing nefarious in the composition of the panel.
- Panel was selected by the CAC after a lot of input and deliberation, no bias desired, trying to make the most helpful recommendations.
- Panel able to respond with better recommendations now that public has voiced this input
I believe that “thread of pro-nuclear environmentalism has been quite a presence of this chat” confirms my suspicion that the agency staff who are supporting this panel had no idea that was going to happen. They are going to have to go into damage control mode because the arguments that retiring Indian Point is counter-productive are persuasive. I suspect that the response will be to close ranks and ignore the issue.
The other nuclear speaker concern was that there was no one representing nuclear issues on the panel. Rhodes response rings hollow. He claimed that there was nothing nefarious in the composition of the panel. Based on the definition “infamous by way of being extremely wicked: wicked in the extreme; heinous; abominable; atrociously sinful or villainous; or detestably vile” that may be true but claiming that no bias was desired is baloney.
I researched the membership of the Power Generation Advisory Panel last year. 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. In order to be unbiased, the membership of the panel should have included members with expertise in all energy sectors. The lack of a nuclear representative is a concern but the lack of anyone from the transmission utility industry is clear evidence of bias. I understand from sources is that the utility industry tried to get representation but “after input and deliberation” a decision to exclude them was made by the Cuomo Administration. That was clearly a mistake as evidenced by the fact that some sort of utility support group is currently being organized to provide expertise to the process.
The Advisory Panel is made up of people more representative of organizations supporting the political narrative of the CLCPA than the technical expertise necessary to implement the transition to zero emissions. In an earlier post, 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.
As I feared the representatives with the technical expertise to recognize the technological challenges are being drowned out by those that believe the myth of renewable energy magical solutions. For example, in an electric energy system powered primarily by wind and solar, the transmission system has to be supported by services that are currently provided by fossil, nuclear and hydro generation but not available from wind and solar. The power generation advisory panel should be leading the charge to make sure the transmission ancillary service problem is addressed but the issue has not even been raised at their public meetings. Instead, there have been extensive discussions about the peaker power plant issue which I believe is an emotional problem not supported by reality. I have seen no sign of any response to the comments I submitted to this panel on that topic.
The first public input session for the CLCPA power generation advisory panel was encouraging because there were comments presented by environmentalists arguing for the development of nuclear power in the future and pointing out that retiring existing nuclear facilities was counter-productive and someone else supported my affordability concerns. However, I predict that future public input sessions will be dominated by environmental activists and renewable energy supporters.
John Rhodes claims that the advisory panel makeup was designed to be unbiased rings hollow when you look at the makeup of the members. Representatives from the nuclear sector and transmission utilities should be on the panel.