The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) has a legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050. To this point the Climate Action Council has failed to incorporate explicit Climate Act mandates related to expertise, an implementation safety valve, costs and benefits documentation, and consideration of the experiences of other jurisdictions. This article describes my comment on the mandates.
Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies. I have written extensively on implementation of New York’s response to that risk because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that it will adversely affect reliability, impact affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, and will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York. New York’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are less than one half one percent of global emissions and since 1990 global GHG emissions have increased by more than one half a percent per year. Moreover, the reductions cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented. This page documents all the comments that I submitted as part of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act implementation process. 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.
Climate Act Background
The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”. They were assisted by Advisory Panels who developed and presented strategies to the meet the goals to the Council. Those strategies were used to develop the integration analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants that quantified the impact of the strategies. That material was used to write Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council will revise the Draft Scoping Plan based on comments and other expert input in 2022 with the goal to finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year.
My comment addressed four specific mandates in the Climate Act related to the Climate Action Council. I have seen no sign that the Draft Scoping Plan will be evaluated with consideration of those mandates. The Climate Act defines the composition and responsibilities of the Climate Action Council in § 75-0103 and I addressed the expertise, safety valve, costs and benefits, and consideration of other jurisdiction mandates.
Section 2 of § 75-0103 notes that “at large members shall include at all times individuals with expertise in issues relating to climate change mitigation and/or adaptation, such as environmental justice, labor, public health and regulated industries.” It is unreasonable to expect that all the members of the Climate Action Council will have the background, education, and experience to understand all the aspects of the net-zero energy transition but the ultimate product of the Scoping Plan is a set of recommendations that will inform the next Energy Plan so that expertise is needed. Unfortunately of the 23 members of the Council only eight come from energy sector organizations or have some background in the energy sector.
It is worrisome that some members who don’t have all that much background and experience still make flat statements that reliability is not a problem with a 100% renewable system. The New York Independent System Operator’s 2022 Power Trends Report paints a different picture of the net-zero electric system stating flatly: “The New York grid faces unprecedented reliability challenges as the clean-energy transition gains momentum.”
Obviously, the experts responsible for maintaining current standards of reliability have to have the final say whether the recommendations for the New York Energy Plan are acceptable. I strongly recommend that the Climate Action Council lay out a plan to work with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and New York State Reliability Council experts to resolve differences between the electric generating projections in the Draft Scoping Plan and those made by the NYISO.
The members of the Climate Action Council who think that there are not issues associated with reliability associated with a 100% renewable grid also believe that the energy transition must proceed no matter what because the law says so. However, New York Public Service Law § 66-p. “Establishment of a renewable energy program” includes a safety valve condition: “(4) The commission may temporarily suspend or modify the obligations under such program provided that the commission, after conducting a hearing as provided in section twenty of this chapter, makes a finding that the program impedes the provision of safe and adequate electric service; the program is likely to impair existing obligations and agreements; and/or that there is a significant increase in arrears or service disconnections that the commission determines is related to the program”.
I recommend that the Council define the safety valve provisions for safe and adequate electric service, impairing existing obligations, and increase in arrears or service disconnections. I recommend that those conditions be established up front and then be used to guide future development. Implementation plans should be evaluated against those criteria, proceed only if the conditions are met, and then tracked during implementation to see if they are being maintained. How else is it possible to meet those criteria?
Costs and Benefits
In section 14,b of § 75-0103 the Climate Act specifically states that the costs and benefits analysis must: “Evaluate, using the best available economic models, emission estimation techniques and other scientific methods, the total potential costs and potential economic and non-economic benefits of the plan for reducing greenhouse gases, and make such evaluation publicly available.”
This information is not currently available. The only costs and benefits data support the claim in the Draft Scoping Plan that “The cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action by more than $90 billion”. Initially, the only information provided in the supporting documentation was a series of figures as I documented in an article on my blog. No numbers for the figures were provided. It was not until May 29 that some of the numbers that were used in the Benefits and Costs chapter of Appendix G of the Draft Scoping Plan were made available.
However, the additional information provided does not meet the mandate to make the total potential costs and benefits publicly available. There is no breakdown of costs within sectors that is needed to evaluate the validity of the estimates. I recommend that the Council address this mandate by defining what will meet this requirement. I believe that the Final Scoping Plan documentation should provide sufficient information so that anyone can readily determine the costs and emission reductions for their particular concerns. In my opinion in order to fulfill this obligation, the Final Scoping Plan must describe all control measures, assumptions used, the expected costs for those measures and the expected emission reductions for the Reference Case, the Advisory Panel scenario and the three mitigation scenarios.
In section 16 of § 75-0103 there is a mandate to consider efforts at other jurisdictions: “The council shall identify existing climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts at the federal, state, and local levels and may make recommendations regarding how such policies may improve the state’s efforts.” There has been very little discussion of efforts at other jurisdictions. The few times other jurisdictions were discussed it was mostly related to calls for greater aspirational goals. I think that the emphasis should be on lessons learned so we can avoid the problems observed at other jurisdictions and that the scope should be expanded to include international jurisdictions that are trying to enact similar net-zero programs.
At the top of the list of problems at other jurisdictions that should be considered is the February 2021 Texas energy debacle. For whatever reason the Texas electric system did not have enough generating resources available to meet the peak load requirements when Texans needed it most. If New York’s implementation plan for net-zero leads to a similar situation where there isn’t enough energy available, then the result will be the same: massive costs and deaths due to a lack of heat. The Climate Action Council must make sure that the Final Scoping Plan prevents this from happening.
I also recommend that the Council expand the scope. There were recent reliability problems in Australia have to be considered so that similar problems do not occur in New York. The United Kingdom and German affordability problems are also a concern that should be addressed by the Council. If we do not learn from the experience of others than we are certainly doomed to make the same mistakes.
I am very disappointed that the leadership of the Climate Action Council has not addressed Council meetings on the safety valve provisions. The existence of those conditions has not even been mentioned and it should have been when the suggestion was made that even there are no checks and balances on implementation programs. As a result, the Final Scoping Plan may not be viable against reliability and affordability criteria.
This year subgroups have been established to address the natural gas transition, advanced fuels, and an economy-wide approach to fund the transition. All these are important topics but the underlying and unaddressed issue is how to evaluate those strategies. I believe that the evaluation criteria should be based on New York Public Service Law § 66-p. “Establishment of a renewable energy program” safety valve conditions. Unfortunately, the Council has not established any evaluation criteria.
Ultimately, the lack of focus suggests to me that the State is just going through the motions of the public stakeholder process and even the Climate Action Council deliberations. The answer is in the back of the book and it would take a miracle to make meaningful changes to the Scoping Plan that detract from the narrative that meeting net-zero is only a matter of political will.