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. According to a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) bulletin dated May 10, 2021, the Advisory Panels to the Climate Action Council have all submitted recommendations for consideration in the Scoping Plan to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions economy-wide. My posts describing and commenting on the strategies are all available here. This post addresses the Energy Efficiency & Housing Advisory Panel enabling strategy recommendations.
I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA closely because I believe the solutions proposed will adversely affect reliability and affordability, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented. I briefly summarized the schedule and implementation CLCPA Summary Implementation Requirements. I have described the law in general, evaluated its feasibility, estimated costs, described supporting regulations, summarized some of the meetings and complained that its advocates constantly confuse weather and climate in other 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.
Energy Efficiency & Housing Emissions
Although the presentations all follow the same format the details differ. One of the more important components of the presentations is the emissions estimates and they all include a graphic showing historical emissions in 1990, “preliminary draft” emissions for 2018, and their projections for 2030 and 2050. The 1990 emissions were defined in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Part 496 regulations but the sectors used in that regulation are not comparable to this advisory panel’s sector. In the following graph 1990 emissions are 103 million metric tons (MMt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) and 2018 preliminary draft emissions are 115 MMt.
 The amount of carbon dioxide by mass that would produce the same global warming impact as the given mass of another greenhouse gas over a specific time frame, as determined by the IPCC, and as provided in Section 496.5 of this Part.
There are two emission reduction targets in the CLCPA: 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and 85% reduction in GHG Emissions by 2050. The projected total reductions emission reduction goals for this advisory panel don’t meet either target only projecting a 27% reduction from 1990 by 2030 and a reduction of 83% by 2050.
This sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2018 but there are two caveats. The New York emission inventory includes upstream GHG emissions and the emission rates for methane are high so over half the emissions relative to combustion come from imported fossil fuels. In a rational world that observation would suggest an analysis to see why such an illogical outcome is observed but in the CLCPA it is a feature not a possible flaw. The other factor is that refrigerants are a large component of the total because the global warming potential for HFC is high.
Energy Efficiency & Housing Strategies
According to the meeting presentation, the advisory panel proposed the following four mitigating strategies and six enabling strategies:
- Mitigation strategy 1: Phase out fossil fuel use in buildings
- Mitigation strategy 2: Require benchmarking
- Mitigation strategy 3: Shift reliance on fossil gas to clean energy system
- Mitigation strategy 4: Shift reliance on HFC use as refrigerant and in all products used in construction
- Enabling strategy 1: Public financial incentives
- Enabling strategy 2: Public and private low-cost financing
- Enabling strategy 3: Workforce
- Enabling strategy 4: Consumer education
- Enabling strategy 5: Innovation
- Enabling strategy 6: Embodied carbon
The recommendations themselves are available in a slide presentation. I am not going to critique all these strategies because it would take far too long. Instead, I will comment on some of the strategies with an emphasis on inconsistencies and implementation issues.
There is no question that meeting the CLCPA goals for this sector will be a challenge. The presentation explains that there are 6.2 million buildings in New York State: 4.9m single family homes, 250k multifamily buildings, and 370k commercial/institutional buildings. The first mitigation strategy is to phase out fossil fuel use in buildings. Obviously “Eliminating GHG emissions from New York’s building stock by 2050 will require broad, systemic changes”.
The Energy Efficiency and Housing presentation to the Climate Action Council presentation summarizes the first initiative to modify building codes and standards in this strategy in the following slide. The plan is to amend the state codes for new construction, including additions and alterations, to require solar PV on “feasible” areas, grid-interactive electrical appliances, energy storage readiness, electric readiness for all appliance and electric vehicle readiness. They propose to adopt these all-electric state codes for single family residences by 2025 and for multifamily and commercial buildings by 2030. The presentation notes that by 2030, more than 200,000 homes per year will be upgraded to all-electric and energy efficient standards.
I suspect most people are like me and don’t understand what some of these terms mean and how it will affect my personal choices if I want to buy a new house or remodel my existing house in 2025. Solar panels will be required where “feasible” but feasibility is not defined. Electric readiness means “The installation of electrical service and panel capacity, conduit, fixtures, and outlets for a future installation of electric equipment for space heating and cooling, hot-water, cooking, and laundry”. This initiative proposes to prohibit (“at end of useful life”) gas or oil replacements of “heating, cooling and domestic hot water equipment” in single family homes by 2030 so it makes sense to install the electric infrastructure sooner. Electric vehicle readiness is defined as the “installation of electrical service and panel capacity, conduit, fixtures, and outlets for a future installation of EV chargers”. The transportation advisory panel has proposed that all new vehicles sold by 2030 will be electric vehicles so this is another consistent requirement.
I was surprised that there was a requirement for energy storage readiness: “The installation of electrical service and panel capacity, conduit, fixtures, and outlets for a future installation of electric batteries”. The biggest problem with solar energy is its intermittency and the advisory panel is proposing that homeowners help provide a solution by providing space for the batteries and footing the bill for the electrical service. I suspect there will eventually be a requirement to install the batteries themselves but not to worry because the panel suggests that this will pay for itself by providing revenues. The most intrusive aspect of this proposal is the requirement for grid-interactive electrical appliances “as feasible (e.g., batteries, hot water heaters)”. For batteries the ability of the grid operator to call up your stored energy when needed makes sense but I am not comfortable having someone else decide when I can have hot water. Moreover, heating and cooling appliances surely will eventually be grid-interactive too. Proponents point out that capability would have helped reduce the impacts of the Texas February 2021 blackouts but cynics like me argue that the existing system does not need that capability because fossil fuels work better.
The presentation to the Climate Action Council notes that “Electrification of heating and hot water systems in nearly all buildings is a key strategy for building decarbonization and depends upon energy efficiency improvements in all buildings and 100% zero-emissions electricity by 2040 under the Climate Act”. The second mitigation strategy sets benchmarking standards for building energy use. New York State has a long history of support for energy efficiency. I have long argued that the fatal flaw of the CLCPA is that it presumes that the targets are achievable despite the lack of a feasibility study to determine whether achieving the targets would adversely affect affordability and reliability. In that context the question is where does the state stand vis-à-vis the energy efficiency needed for all-electric heating systems. While converting to heat pumps is an overall energy use improvement, direct combustion on-site is more efficient actually warming homes because it provides hotter air. The only way to be comfortable using heat pumps is to have an extremely well insulated building.
Also included in this initiative is another buried cost. In particular, there are energy use disclosure requirements:
- Starting in 2025-Require owners of all residential and commercial buildings to obtain and publicly disclose, as part of sale or lease listing of a building, housing unit, or commercial space, the prior-year energy consumption of the building, unit, or space (e.g., at least 12 consecutive months of energy bill data).
- Starting in 2027–Require owners of single-family buildings to obtain and disclose an energy performance rating (e.g., a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index) as part of sale listing.
The cost of these requirements will be borne by the owners.
The third mitigation strategy initiative is entitled “Gas System Transition”. I believe it is included because the advisory panel knows that weaning the public off natural gas will be a challenge because of its advantages. This difficulty is illustrated in the following slide listing the components required for delivery. The first component states “Stop utilities advertising fossil gas as “clean,” “natural,” “climate friendly,” or in similar terms”. The problem with not calling it natural gas of course is that it is called natural gas because it is a naturally occurring gas. Wherever a geologic formation that contains natural gas is exposed to the air, natural gas can be released to the atmosphere. For example, western New York’s Eternal Flame Falls has a vent that seeps natural gas, and someone, sometime lit it off. Does this panel propose to change the signage there too?
The panel recommends six enabling strategies as shown in the enabling strategy summary slide below. All but one are financial actions and two address only financial incentives and low-cost financing. While the panel apparently realizes that cost is a major issue for this conversion, it is not clear whether they understand that general support for environmental issues evaporates when the personal impacts to costs and individual choices are explained. This is illustrated by recent events in Great Britain where the implementation process for a similar net-zero target is further advanced than in New York. When the government threatened to ban gas boilers in existing homes by 2035 and to fine homeowners if they met that deadline, the blowback was immediate. Within hours the government backtracked and said there wouldn’t be any fines. It will be interesting to see what happens now that the curtain has been pulled aside and the public starts to see all the costs to meet net-zero targets.
The presentation slides suggest the difficulties facing this sector’s reduction targets:
- Eliminating GHG emissions from New York buildings by 2050 requires broad, systemic changes.
- Behavior and practice change lead to decarbonization
- Equitable transformation at this scale requires new resources.
- Private capital investment focused on highly efficient buildings
- Public incentives for early adoption
- Public investments in building efficiency and electrification in low and middle income homes, affordable and public housing, and disadvantaged communities
- Transformation at this scale and advancement of equity will require mobilizing private capital and a significant increase in public resources.
- The CAC should conduct an economy-wide analysis to identify resources and funding mechanisms to address the Scoping Plan, holistically.
- Advocate for Federal resources and policy support in the scoping plan.
- Continue PSC attention to rate design and retail rates for electricity and gas.
- Resilience is of critical importance. Amend State codes to enhance building-level resilience and grid reliability/resilience.
- Support recommendations of the Adaptation and Resilience group.
- Broad adoption of insulation/weatherization and energy efficiency in homes; increased funding for weatherization and energy efficiency in LMI homes; energy disclosures can inform future policy.
These are all aspirational gambits that on one hand are necessary but on the other hand are no means assured. The comment stating resilience is of critical importance is a hollow gesture. Fossil fuels provide more resilience in general and in the event of extreme weather such as an ice storm reliance on electric heat and renewable energy will have fatal consequences. Importantly, the public gets that and I doubt will not willingly give up the capabilities of natural gas and fuel oil for heating.
One notable aspect of these recommendations is the inclusion of specific components that favor the interests of individual members of the advisory panel. This is a common problem for all the advisory panels caused by the membership selection process. For example, the gas system transition includes the following component: “Level the playing field for adoption of clean heating solutions by eliminating the “100-foot rule” which can bias customer decision-making around heating choices. (The 100-foot rule covers most or all of the cost of new gas connections for residential customers and significant costs for new non-residential firm gas customers).” Given that all the clean heating solutions are directly subsidized and that when everything is electrified the distribution systems will likely have to be upgraded which represents an indirect subsidy, the “level the playing field” argument can only come from a vested interest blinded to the contradictions.
These panel recommendations and the facts that this sector has the highest emissions and the does not meet the projected targets is a problem for the CLCPA. When I describe the limits on personal choices for energy use and added costs most people don’t accept that this could be possible. I believe that public backlash will be similar to what has been observed in Great Britain when the implications and costs become readily known. If the public response forces reconsideration of the enabling initiatives, then it will weaken the potential emission reduction strategies making achievement of the CLCPA targets that much more difficult.