Since the Texas energy debacle of 2021, I have been examining how the Power Generation Advisory Panel is treating reliability in its recommendations for the implementation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). I wrote several articles reviewing the Analysis Group Climate Change Impact and Resilience Study (“Resilience Study”) prepared for the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) relative to the Texas energy debacle. This culminated in comments submitted to the Power Generation Advisory Panel that I will summarize in this article.
I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA closely because I worry that its impacts on affordability, reliability and the environment affect 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. I described my initial impression of the Texas blackout, described the initiatives and analyses provided to the panel that were relevant and evaluated reliability in the enabling initiatives in earlier articles. 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 summarized the schedule, implementation components, and provide links to the legislation itself at CLCPA Summary Implementation Requirements. Section § 75-0103 in the CLCPA establishes the New York state Climate Action Council (CAC). The CAC is supposed to “prepare and approve a scoping plan outlining the recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits” by December 31, 2021. In order to “provide recommendations to the council on specific topics, in its preparation of the scoping plan, and interim updates to the scoping plan, and in fulfilling the council’s ongoing duties”, the CAC (§ 75-0103, 7) “shall convene advisory panels requiring special expertise and, at a minimum, shall establish advisory panels on transportation, energy intensive and trade-exposed industries, land-use and local government, energy efficiency and housing, power generation, and agriculture and forestry”. Once the process started it became clear that another panel covering waste would be needed. Advisory panel meetings and materials are available on New York’s Climate Act website.
I have been following the activities of the Power Generation Advisory Panel since they began work because I believe this is the most important panel. It is the most important because electrification of as many current fossil-fueled sources as possible is necessary to meet the CLCPA targets. Therefore, the zero-emission electric system has to provide reliable and affordable electrical energy for what I believe will be higher loads than today.
Discussion of comments
On March 25, 2021 I submitted comments to the Power Generation Advisory Panel. It is not clear how this panel and the others address comments submitted. I understand that there is a share drive that contains all the comments received but I don’t think that is an adequate mechanism for the panel’s use. This process is intense and time-consuming for all the participants and it is unfair for the members of the panel to have to sift through comments. It would be far better for agency staff to review all the comments, categorize them, provide synopses of comment categories and highlight comments of particular interest. Ideally, these reviews could be used to invite commenters with important issues to provide the opportunity to interact directly with the panel. As far as I can tell the comments are treated as requirement of the law rather than a resource for developing the best recommendations. I doubt that the majority of the panel members have read any of my comments.
At the February 12 and 22 and March 10, 2021 Power Generation Advisory Panel meetings ten “enabling” initiatives or strategy recommendations for the Climate Action Council were discussed. The CLCPA Power Generation Advisory Panel Enabling Strategy Initiatives Summary table lists 15 different initiatives for possible recommendations. At the time of this writing ten of the initiatives have been discussed. I assume that the remaining initiatives will be discussed at upcoming meetings. I reviewed these initiatives relative to the lessons I learned from the Texas energy debacle and my comments addressed my findings.
I believe that reliability and affordability should be primary drivers of the CAC scoping plan. I think a primary shortcoming of the CLCPA is the presumption that the transition is feasible. When the law was enacted it was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country and supporters were happy with transition schedule. While there is political capital in being the first and “best”, the reality is that no jurisdiction has implemented anything close to the targets of the CLCPA. It is concerning that those jurisdictions that have tried have had problems with affordability and reliability. In that regard it is important to consider the February 2021Texas blackouts.
My over-arching concern with the draft recommended enabling initiatives is a lack of focus on reliability. I worry that some commenting stakeholders and even some members of the panel under value reliability and would accept blackouts in the future. My comments describe blackouts that have affected New York City and the responses that were implemented to prevent future blackouts. I go on to describe the impacts of the Texas blackout in February 2021, reasons it occurred, and what needs to be done to prevent a re-occurrence. As New York transitions its electric system to one dependent upon renewables all of the issues raised by that blackout need to be addressed.
I do not believe that the 2021 Texas energy debacle was caused by the lack of wind and solar resources but the fact is that they were not available when needed most. The situation does foreshadow the difficulty providing reliable electricity in a system that depends on renewables when the wind isn’t blowing at night. The primary cause for the blackouts was a lack of planning manifested by an electric market that only pays for the energy produced. As a result, there is no incentive to develop the capacity needed for rare extreme conditions so when it was needed it simply was not there. Both Federal and Texas policy prioritized and subsidized unreliable energy sources (wind and solar) at the expense of reliable ones (natural gas, coal and nuclear) for decades and this was a contributing factor. The problem that New York has to address to avoid a similar problem is that the coldest air of the winter and the highest demand occurs when cold air moves in behind a cold front. This Arctic air is associated with a cold core high pressure system pushing the front. Those high-pressure systems have very little wind and, in the winter, there is little solar energy available in the best case.
My comments described the New York reliability planning process which will have to confront this issue. I showed that reliability risks are increasing in New York because of diversity, redundancy, flexibility, dependability, and resiliency changes in the electrical sector. I went on to explain that the Analysis Group Climate Change Impact and Resilience Study (“Resilience Study”) and similar work by E3 for the CAC implementation process both highlight the problem that in order to meet the CLCPA emissions reduction goals a resource category that provides firm, dispatchable and zero-emissions generation is needed when wind and solar resources are low or non-existent. Because the only proven technologies that can provide those resources are nuclear and hydro which are unlikely to provide additional significant future energy in the future, both the Analysis Group and E3 include a placeholder resource category in their projections for future electric generation. Meeting the resource needs for the identified energy deficit gap is necessary and it is a major technological challenge.
My comments argued that the Power Generation enabling initiatives should specifically address concerns derived from the Resilience Study conclusions: “The variability of meteorological conditions that govern the output from wind and solar resources presents a fundamental challenge to relying on those resources to meet electricity demand” and “Energy storage resources that are currently and expected to be available can fill part, but not all of the gap needed to maintain system reliability”. Of course, the third concern is what can be done about the energy storage gap itself.
I recommended that the enabling initiatives emphasize planning requirements. It is necessary to understand how many renewable resources are available during the likely worst case, the multi-day winter wind lull, and an initiative addressing this should be included. There are initiatives included to address energy storage resources but they should be re-framed to recognize that this technology is not mature and that there are significant implementation challenges to overcome even to meet the 2030 goal. It cannot be over-emphasized that the only firm, dispatchable and zero-emissions technologies available today are nuclear and hydro. The relevant initiative does not adequately address the Analysis Group points that: “There is a void that will need to be filled with technologies and/or fuels that ‐ at the scales that would be required ‐ are currently neither proven nor economical” and “There is no doubt a major amount of technological change that will happen over the next twenty years, rendering it very difficult to forecast a future resource set with reasonable confidence”. A separate initiative should be included that spells out a planning process to meet this challenge and notes that until this technology is available and deployable the 2040 zero-emission target cannot be met without reliability consequences
I concluded that the lesson to be learned is that the Texas energy policy emphasis on unreliable renewable energy sources without addressing the need for firm, dispatchable and zero-emissions generation led to a catastrophic blackout. I believe that it is incumbent upon the Power Generation advisory panel to ensure that New York’s transition to a zero-emissions electric energy grid does not result in a similar fiasco. At this time the Power Generation Advisory Panel is not placing sufficient emphasis on the reliability issues raised by E3 and the Analysis Group that need to be addressed to prevent future blackouts. I trace this problem back to the Cuomo administration approach for implementing the CLCPA. David Zaruk, an EU risk and science communications specialist, and author of the Risk Monger blog recently described the current state of policy leadership that describes the problem:
“The world of governance has evolved in the last two decades, redefining its tools and responsibilities to focus more on administration and being functionary (and less on leadership and being visionary). I have written on how this evolution towards policy-making based on more public engagement, participation and consultation has actually led to a decline in dialogue and empowerment. What is even more disturbing is how this nanny state approach, where our authorities promise a population they will be kept 100% safe in a zero-risk biosphere, has created a docilian population completely unable and unprepared to protect themselves.”
His explanation that managing policy has become more about managing public expectations with consultations and citizen panels driving decisions describes the Advisory Panels to the Climate Action Council. He says now we have “millennial militants preaching purpose from the policy pulpit, listening to a closed group of activists and virtue signaling sustainability ideologues in narrowly restricted consultation channels”.
This is exactly what is happening on this panel in particular. Facts and strategic vision were not core competences for the panel members. The Cuomo administration chose members based more on their allegiance to the political agenda of the CLCPA than on their energy system expertise. Because of their belief that climate change is an existential threat, their biggest concern is eliminating fossil fuel use as soon as possible. The Cuomo administration and some panel members don’t understand or don’t want to understand that there are reliability ramifications to the shutdown of firm, dispatchable sources of electric power if the zero-emissions replacement technology is unavailable. It is likely that will be the case in the CLCPA transition schedule. That the rational result may be a delay in the schedule is unthinkable to them. Of course, when the inevitable blackout occurs and people literally freeze to death in the dark, they won’t be accountable.