Climate Action Council Response to Comments Is Worse Than I Thought


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.  I have not posted recently on the Climate Action Council response to Draft Scoping Plan comments because I have been on vacation and have not bothered to follow the most recent meetings.  Based on what I observed at the September 29 meeting (presentation and recording), there appears to be no consideration of any comments that are inconsistent with the Hochul administration transition narrative.

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 submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written extensively on New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease.  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 tried to quantify the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it 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.

Last May I posted an article describing the composition, responsibilities and consideration requirement mandates in the Climate Act related to the Climate Action Council.  Based on the activities of the Council from the start of 2022 I believe that the Climate Action Council is going through the motions of addressing public comments.  If the public comments were truly going to be considered then I think it would have been appropriate to make comment distillation an on-going process from the get go.  At the time I also said I didn’t see why the comments had not been posted to the website.  It would be relatively easy to just provide a list of comments as they were received and there is no reason why they couldn’t also list the comments in some broad categories.  As I write this on October 9, 2022 three months after the close of the comment period the comments have not been posted to https://climate.ny.gov/ as promised last May.  This post highlights further indications of the gameplan from the September 29, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting.

Reliability

I have spent enough time educating myself about the operations of the electric grid over the last 40 years that I am well aware of reliability challenges for the New York electric system.  More importantly, I know people who are subject matter experts and they all share my concerns that the Integration Analysis and the Draft Scoping Plan have not adequately addressed the feasibility of the transition in the mitigation scenarios.  On the other hand, some of the more vocal members of the Council have downplayed reliability as a concern and have gone so far to claim that those concerns are misinformation

I have previously written that the Climate Action Council has not confronted reliability issues raised by New York agencies responsible for keeping the lights on.  The first post (New York Climate Act: Is Anyone Listening to the Experts?) described the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) 2021-2030 Comprehensive Reliability Plan (CRP) report (appendices) released late last year and the difficulties raised in the report are large. The second post (New York Climate Act: What the Experts are Saying Now) highlighted results shown in a draft presentation for the 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook that all but admitted meeting the net-zero goals of the Climate Act are impossible on the mandated schedule.  Recently I wrote about the “For discussion purposes only” draft of the 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook report described in the previous article and the concerns raised.  Most recently, I detailed the differences between the Resource Outlook and the Draft Scoping Plan Integration Analysis and recommended that those differences be reconciled in a public forum.

At the September 29 Climate Action Council meeting Gavin Donohue asked about dispatchable emissions-free resources (DEFR) at 1:05:25 of the meeting recording.  DEFR refers to a generating resource that can provide power as needed to keep the lights on.  It is a critical component but there is no commercially available resource that meets the specifications.  The main point of my articles described in the previous paragraph is that the organizations responsible for electric system reliability have raised questions that have not been addressed including DEFR viability.  Donohue apparently agrees with me and asked about the risks of not specifying exactly how DEFR will be used in the transition and how that could affect costs.  The response by the lead modeler, Carl Mas, was that they did look at it at the end of last year and found that the costs would change.  He acknowledged that it has not been resolved whether the hydrogen would be used in combustion turbines or in fuel cells and that should be resolved.  Donohue pressed him that it needs to be resolved as part of the process.  Mas said that it was a previous sensitivity from last year and it is “good to bring it back up”.

Later in the same meeting Dennis Elsenbeck pointed out (2:58:40 of the meeting recording)  that the NYISO Resource Outlook raised issues that haven’t been addressed in the Draft Scoping Plan.  He asked how do we reconcile what the subject matter experts are saying versus what’s in the scoping document.  He also asked if that is a conversation that we need to have during this process or are we beyond that?  The Climate Action Council Executive Director, Sarah Osgood, said “it would be interesting to hear from other council members and said she didn’t know if the modeling analyses were comparable. She said that “at this late stage” it might be difficult to compare the analyses and wasn’t sure whether it would be worthwhile. 

Carl Mas said they could determine whether there is enough time to do at least a little side by side analysis of some of the key issues.  At this point he said there is uncertainty as to, for example, imports vary between the analyses.  He noted that the NYISO did adopt one of the Integration Analysis load scenarios in their analysis.  He said the Integration Analysis team worked very hard to ensure that there was “at least some commonality between the scenarios”.  He did admit that not all aspects were similar but suggested that they might be able to find some time to evaluate differences between scenarios and the projections. 

Elsenbeck pointed out that stakeholders outside of the Hochul Administration see the NYISO reports and “the first thing that comes to mind is my resiliency is going to go to hell”.  He said the Council could just not look the other way.  Mas responded that there is agreement that by 2040 there is a need for firm dispatchable resources but ignored the implications of the state’s reliability depending on an unproven resource.  Then he went on to claim that it is critical to work with the NYISO.  Elsenbeck then pointed out that the Council is going to be voting on a Final Scoping Plan that has not been fully vetted with the NYISO.

In my opinion, these conversations are very troubling.  At no time during his presentation or his questions did the Integration Analysis lead modeler mention any issues raised in the stakeholder comments.  Were it not for the fact that my comments and the comments submitted by the NYISO and New York State Reliability Council did raise substantive issues I would have to believe that all the stakeholder comments agree that the unelected bureaucrats who have no reliability responsibilities have produced a perfect transition plan that can guide the future New York energy system. 

Sarah Osgood’s response to the Elsenbeck question is especially troubling.  The Executive Director of the Climate Action Council didn’t know if the generation resource modeling analyses critical to the success of the transition plan were comparable to the analyses by the NYISO.  She said that “at this late stage” it might be difficult to compare the analyses and wasn’t sure whether it would be worthwhile.  This demonstrates an astounding lack of awareness by the Climate Action Council leadership that has frittered away months without addressing this issue.  Now they claim they cannot reconcile the results because it is too late.  You can bet the ranch that when this implodes that the NYISO will be blamed for not speaking up. 

Integration Analysis

Carl Mas gave an update on the Integration Analysis at 24:25 of the meeting recording.  Ostensibly the updates address the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as well as analyses that look at a high fuel price sensitivity and a high technology cost sensitivity.  In order to prove the benefits are greater than the costs the focus is on the net benefits metric especially as it relates to their societal cost benefit test. 

The following slide summarizes the IRA integration analysis update.  The modeling addresses two key aspects: what IRA funds may be available that could come to New York to offset costs and to translate that into how it “layers into our net benefit or overall analysis”.  I interpret that to mean that because of the emphasis on net benefits that means that the analysis assumes that IRA funds directly offset New York costs so the net benefits increase. 

The modeling updates purportedly will also consider the ramifications of IRA funding on adoption technologies.  For example, the IRA might fund more electric vehicle subsidies so that the adoption rate will increase.  One of my criticisms of the Draft Scoping Plan is that there are enormous presumptions that the public will acquiesce to, for example, purchase more expensive and less suitable electric vehicles simply because the Climate Act says they have to.  Any increase in adoption levels because there is more money available increase this type of speculation level further.

While I have not listened to every minute of every meeting, I am pretty sure that Carl Mas has not suggested that there were any relevant stakeholder comments on the Integration Analysis that need to be addressed.  I provided extensive comments on the Integration Analysis costbenefit analysis and recommended that the Integration Analysis provide the costs, benefits, and expected emission reductions for every control measure proposed.  There are three possibilities why those comments have not been raised: the comment reviewers never provided any relevant comments to the modelers, the comments were received and have been ignored, or that they won’t be mentioned until the end so the response will be there is insufficient time to address them.  All three excuses are unacceptable given the responsibilities of the Climate Action Council that are mandated in the Climate Act.

Implementation

Based on comments from the leadership of the Climate Action Council their perception of the Scoping Plan is that it is just an outline of how the future energy system will transition to meet the net-zero targets.  I have heard repeated suggestions that particular implementation issues didn’t need to be addressed as part of this process because there will be an opportunity for stakeholder input when regulations are proposed that implement the changes needed.  The announcement that New York is going to implement a 100% zero-emission vehicle mandate by 2035 raises the question whether that is an appropriate approach.

At 12:29 of the meeting recording Jared Snyder announced that on the morning of this meeting that Governor Hochul announced that the Department of Environmental Conservation “will adopt the Advanced Clean Car rule by the end of the year.  That rule will require all sales of light-duty cars and trucks to be zero emissions by 2035 which means that all vehicles have to be either battery electric of fuel cell powered.  He said “that rule implements legislation that Governor Hochul signed a year ago in September 2021 that required 100% sales of electric vehicles by 2035”.  He also said that “it implements a recommendation of the Draft Scoping Plan to adopt the advanced clear cars rulemaking”.   

This portends what I predict will be the future for the regulatory process.  In this instance there is a law in place that mandates going forward whatever the cost, whatever the impacts, and whatever the feasibility.  What I think will happen is that when other regulations are proposed the rationale will be “it was a recommendation in the Scoping Plan so it has to be done” whatever the cost, impacts, or feasibility.  The fact that the Scoping Plan did not address the cost, impacts, or feasibility is immaterial to this line of reasoning and will be conveniently forgotten in the response to comments.

Response to Questions

The focus of the Hochul Administration response to comments has been on the concerns of the Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG) and particular members of the Climate Action Council.  For example, at 22:28 of the meeting recording Peter Iwanowicz asked about the New York State Thruway Service Area Redesign and Redevelopment Project that is presently underway.  He asked if anyone in the administration could give the Council an idea what’s going on with respect to fast charging at the Thruway rest stops stating: “I was personally blown away at driving into one of the newly reopened ones to see no electric vehicle charging there”.  He went on to say that “it’s pretty shocking to me, one as a member of the Council but two as an EV driver not to see chargers in the newly reopened station charging”. 

On the list of issues confronting the state’s energy transition this is pretty low on the priority list.  We have already seen the leadership of the Council claim that there is too little time to reconcile the electric grid projections made by the NYISO with the Integration Analysis.  Nevertheless, a Council member thinks that it is appropriate to cut into the precious little time available for the Council to consider the entirety of the energy transition with his personally biased question.  More importantly this is just an example of a recurring theme throughout the Scoping Plan process.  Any question from the CJWG and certain members of the Council gets a response no matter how removed from the issue at hand. 

In this case the response was “Let us get back to you”.  Left unsaid is we don’t have that information at our finger tips because we are trying to consider the entirety of the energy system.  The ultimate response may suggest that this is indicative of a bigger problem but I bet that the Administration answer will not raise that type of issue.  I will address this in more detail in a future post but a quick read of the summary of the New York State Thruway Service Area Redesign and Redevelopment Project shows that the Frequently Asked Questions explains that they are working on it:

Additionally, under direct guidance and consultation with the New York Power Authority (NYPA), Empire plans to implement a passenger vehicle electric charging program at all Service Areas to further New York’s goals of reducing emissions and expanding electric vehicle infrastructure across the State.

Conclusion

From what I have seen at the recent Climate Action Council meetings the promise to consider public stakeholder comments on the Draft Scoping Plan is being ignored.  There is no indication that the Hochul Administration intends to reconcile the differences in the generating resource projections in the Integration Analysis and any of the NYISO reports or the risks involved in depending upon a resource that is not currently available.  It is scary that the leadership of the Climate Action Council does not even appear to comprehend that addressing those issues would be appropriate and even if they can be convinced now, they will plead that there is insufficient time.  Furthermore, it is not clear to me that the Administration even intends to tell Council members that there any comments that question any of the fundamental assertions in the Draft Scoping Plan.

It is clear that the Hochul Administration’s primary goal in the Integration Analysis is political posturing – in particular to “prove’ that the benefits are greater than the costs.  It is also clear that the leadership of the Council is catering to particular members of the Climate Action Council that represent the interests of political supporters.  Given that Council legal mandate is to prepare a plan “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda” the focus should be on that instead.

The legal mandate for the Scoping Plan is that it “shall inform the state energy planning board’s adoption of a state energy plan”.  The Climate Action Council membership is generally lacking the background, experience, and education to inform technical matters such as the fuel mix of the future generating system. Thomas Sowell said “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong”.  To ignore the analyses of the subject matter experts who are responsible for reliability is insane.

As noted in this article I have written multiple articles about the differences in generating resource projections and dependency upon the magical dispatchable emissions-free resource.  When I submitted my draft scoping plan comments that explained why I believe the differences between the Draft Scoping Plan and the NYISO analyses have to be addressed in a public forum I thought it inconceivable that the response to comments would ignore the state’s experts.  At no time did I believe that the response to comments would meaningfully address my personal comments but ignoring the state’s experts is why I believe the response to comments is going to be worse than I thought possible.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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