This post describes the comments submitted on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) Draft Scoping Plan by Gary R. Schoonmaker. If I knew how to do guest posts on this site, I would have made this a guest post. My apologies but I am going to have to wing it.
Gary R. Schoonmaker is a lifetime citizen of New York State; a licensed Landscape Architect with over 18 years experience at an electric and gas utility in New York State; and involvement in many environmental organizations in Central New York. He designed and built an energy efficient home in 1978 which had an air-to-air heat pump and now has solar panels; and has over 40 years experience in real estate development.
Schoonmaker Verbal Comments
On April 26, 2022, Schoonmaker used his two minutes at the public hearing at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse (3:22:15 of the video recording) to present his credentials and raise serious concerns about the practical limitations on implementing the plan as proposed in the draft scoping plan. If you want a good overview of the comments then I recommend his comments in no small part because of his effective presentation.
He described his verbal comments as follows:
In my testimony, I questioned the reasonableness of coercing compliance from state residents instead of offering people a solution similar to previous energy transitions where people chose the change themselves, e.g. kerosene or whale oil to electricity, or horses to automobiles. One could add any number of other transitions: pony express to telegraph, telegraph to radio, radio to television; crank telephone to corded telephone to wireless to cell phones; coal or wood to other fossil fuels for space heating; open windows to air conditioning; the list goes on and on! The commonality for all of these is that people chose to adopt these changes for themselves because they believed the new technologies bettered their lives and were in their own best interests. The government did not dictate or coerce the whole of society to change based on their assumed wisdom. They trusted the people to make the best decisions for themselves.
In the present situation however, the government, in the form of the State Legislature, the Governor, the Climate Action Council, and other agencies (including the Public Service Commission), have now decided they know best and are proposing to use the power of the State to coerce change because they think they know best. No gas connections after 2024; no gas appliances after 2030; no fossil fueled vehicles after 2035……. And on and on with little regard for the desires of the citizens or their freedom to live their lives as they see fit.
I also addressed the impracticality of doubling the capacity of the electrical system: generation; transmission; distribution, in the next eight years as proposed. Ask anyone in the utility industry with experience in constructing new facilities how long it takes to design, get approval for and construct new or even upgraded facilities and they will tell you that doubling capacity in eight years (or less) is not only impractical, but impossible. Even if by fiat the State was to order such a change, there is little recognition in the plan for the social upheaval that would result from constructing hundreds of miles of new transmission lines and digging up every urban area and suburban neighborhood with underground utility services for years in order to implement the upgrades.
I have posted the complete set of comments for your information. Because they are so extensive, I am not going to provide them all here. Instead, I will provide some highlights of the main points presented.
The comments pointed out the practical problems converting the entire energy system to electricity. The schedule is impractical solely due to the number of conversions of homes, businesses, and vehicles. Throw in supply chain, technology development needs, and supporting infrastructure requirements he notes that the level of this transition on the proposed schedule just can’t work as proposed.
He raises philosophical concerns. He asks “how sure are we that climate change is real; that man is the principal driver of climate change; that man’s actions can be modified to effect a meaningful change; and that such change would actually benefit mankind?” I particularly like his discussion of “settled science”:
Man-induced climate change is not “settled science” no matter what we are told. In fact “settled science” is an oxymoron to science itself. Science is the continual process of questioning everything. When someone tells you not to question, they have stopped being scientists and become politicians with an agenda. In fact, there are many highly qualified scientists who question the theory of man-induced climate change and the practicability of man being able to control the climate in meaningful ways. Honestly, the idea that men can control climate is egotistical at best and ridiculous at worst. Man is much more capable of adapting to, rather than controlling climate or weather.
He also raises technical issues with climate modeling. I like this comment:
They are trying to project the climate for the next hundred years. Really!?! There are so many data points and interactions, that such an effort is futile. Considering that the input data is from a couple of hundred of years at best, the period of record seems horrifically short considering that climate has been changing for thousands of years. Then they want us to believe that they understand and have programmed the models to accurately predict the interactions of the millions of variables.
He also raises two legal issues:
When is the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) triggered and the plan subjected to that review?
The plan appears to violate the “taking” provision of the United States Constitution’s 5th amendment and the New York State Constitution.
In my opinion the response to the SEQRA question raised will be that they did do an analysis. However, to my knowledge they have not evaluated the current projections for wind, solar, and energy storage development. Also note that there is a generating type called dispatchable, emission-free resource that is projected to have a capacity (MW) approximately equal to the current fossil-fired capacity. They cannot possibly determine environmental impacts without knowing what that resource will be.
The legal question about the taking” provision of the United States Constitution’s 5th amendment and the New York State Constitution is an interesting point. As he points out “the forced abandonment of natural gas systems, fossil fired generation facilities, natural gas appliances, personal and commercial fossil fueled vehicles, and perhaps other privately held property, would constitute a “taking” and therefore require compensation”. There is no indication in the Draft Scoping Plan that those costs have been considered.
Schoonmaker also raised ethical issues:
At what point does the concept of individual freedom become subservient to the State’s coercive powers? This is something that is questioned in far more than the subject at hand, but in this case, as in earlier energy transitions, people should not be coerced under an arbitrary and unsubstantiated timeline, but allowed to choose for themselves as the change actually benefits them at the proper time. In the meantime, we can all adapt as we see fit.
Instead of the heavy-handed coercion of the present plan (and even legislation), we should slow down and let people choose for themselves as the technology matures and provides the incentives for people to change if it benefits them. I have a friend who just bought a hybrid pick-up truck and he is very happy with it. Perhaps that is a better way to go than pure electric. This draft plan doesn’t allow for that option.
Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel as is nuclear, but both are excluded.
Hydrogen and fuel cell technology also hold significant promise for working towards the goals of the plan, but would be excluded if the plan was to be implemented as scheduled. People at the hearings made strong arguments for winterizing older homes as an initial step towards reaching the goals of the plan, but they were apparently dismissed for not being aggressive enough. Actually, aggression is a good word to describe the proposed plan: aggressive and confrontational and offensive to the American principles of individual freedom, free choice and justice.
I had not thought of the transition in the way Schoonmaker described it in his comments before I heard him speak. His point that this transition is different is spot on. In the past energy transitions occurred because it was in the best interests of society because of cost and quality of life improvements. In this transition we are expected to swallow more expensive, less convenient energy options because we are told the science says we have to do it. However, when we ask questions about that science, we are told it cannot be questioned and that we are deniers for even considering that maybe the rationale is not as strong as we have been told. Schoonmaker questions the climate science but notes that he is not a climate scientist. Neither am I but at its core the belief that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will cause an inevitable climate crisis is an air pollution meteorology problem. I have 45 years experience in that field and I know the air pollution science does not support the energy transition proposed. The climate science part of this is only a portion of the whole issue and very few climate scientists have the air pollution background necessary to understand the limitations of their approach.
The same tactic is being used for the energy transition. Schoonmaker has enough experience in the electric energy sector to know that transitioning away from the current system to one dependent upon wind and solar generation poses real risks to affordability and reliability. The Climate Action Council’s last meeting included one member claiming that raising that concern is “misinformation”. With all due respect, he simply does not understand if that is what he believes. The Council has not adequately addressed the reliability concerns raised by people who understand the issues. If the Administration does not step in and insist that the Final Scoping Plan reconcile their concerns, then it will lead to unaffordable electricity and catastrophic reliability problems.