New York Public Service Commission Finally Addresses Dispatchable Emissions-Free Resources

In order to implement the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (Climate Act) net-zero transition the Integration Analysis, the New York Independent System Operator and the New York State Reliability Council all agree that a new resource that has all the characteristics of a natural gas fired turbine but no emissions is needed.  The New York Public Service Commission has initiated a process to “identify technologies that can close the gap between the capabilities of existing renewable energy technologies and future system reliability needs, and more broadly identify the actions needed to pursue attainment of the Zero Emission by 2040 Target” for New York electric generating sources intended to address that need.  This is an overview of the proceeding.

I have been following the Climate Act since it was first proposed. I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 300 articles about 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 the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  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 established a New York “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050 and an interim 2030 target of a 40% reduction by 2030. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric grid with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan.  After a year-long review the Scoping Plan recommendations were finalized at the end of 2022.  In 2023 the Scoping Plan recommendations are supposed to be implemented through regulation and legislation.

Dispatchable Emissions-Free Resources

The Integration Analysis, the New York Independent System Operator, and the New York State Reliability Council all agree that a new resource that provides all the services of existing natural gas fired generating units without emissions is needed because of the reliability problem illustrated in the following figure.  This graph illustrates the long-duration wind lull problem from an early presentation to the Climate Action Council.  It explicitly points out that emissions-free firm capacity or dispatchable emissions free resources (DEFR) is needed to meet multi-day periods of low wind and solar resource availability.  The thing to remember is that in order to prevent catastrophic blackouts caused because intermittent wind and solar resources are not able to support expected loads, all three groups are banking on DEFR capacity.  Using wind, solar and storage exclusively makes meeting the worst-case renewable resource gap much more difficult, if not impossible, to address.

I compared the state’s scoping plan resource estimates and the New York Independent System Operator analysis that both projected how much more energy (MWh would be needed when everything is electrified and what resources would be needed to provide them.  The issues are summarized in the New York State Reliability Council Draft Scoping Plan comments.  They made the point that the new resources required are enormous and also raised other concerns:

Practical considerations affecting the availability, schedule and operability for new interconnections include: interconnection standards; site availability; permitting; resource equipment availability; regulatory approval; large volume of projects in NYISO queue and study process; scalability of long-term battery storage and other technologies; operational control; impact of extreme weather; consideration of a must- run reliability need for legacy resources. In addition, the pace of transportation and building electrification, the timing of any natural gas phase-out and their impact on the electric T&D system must also be carefully studied from technical, economic and environmental perspectives. Together, these practical considerations require the development of reliable zero emission resources to be conscientiously sequenced and timed in the near term (through 2030) to ensure broader GHG reductions in all sectors beyond 2030.

It all boils down to the fact that a reliable zero emission resource that can backup intermittent renewable energy does not exist.  The NYISO and NYSRC both waffle around saying that such a magical resource must be developed and tested but they have not admitted publicly the possibility that such a resource may well be impossible because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The Scoping Plan chose green hydrogen as its candidate resource and in order to prove that it can work a comprehensive feasibility analysis is required. 

Scoping Plan and DEFR

In my opinion the Hochul Administration lost track of the plot regarding the Climate Action Council’s handling of the Scoping Plan.  In particular, the Council managed to get bogged down into technical details that were outside the expertise of the membership but forged ahead anyway.  I believe they went off in the wrong direction. 

At the meeting where the Climate Action Council approved the Scoping Plan Council members gave statements.  The statement of Robert W. Howarth, Ph.D., the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University illustrates my concern.  He claimed that he played a key role in the drafting of the Climate Act and summarized his position regarding the transition of the electric grid:

I further wish to acknowledge the incredible role that Prof. Mark Jacobson of Stanford has played in moving the entire world towards a carbon-free future, including New York State. A decade ago, Jacobson, I and others laid out a specific plan for New York (Jacobson et al. 2013). In that peer-reviewed analysis, we demonstrated that our State could rapidly move away from fossil fuels and instead be fueled completely by the power of the wind, the sun, and hydro. We further demonstrated that it could be done completely with technologies available at that time (a decade ago), that it could be cost effective, that it would be hugely beneficial for public health and energy security, and that it would stimulate a large increase in well-paying jobs. I have seen nothing in the past decade that would dissuade me from pushing for the same path forward. The economic arguments have only grown stronger, the climate crisis more severe. The fundamental arguments remain the same.

The professional staff at the agencies responsible for keeping the lights on in New York and the analysts who developed the Integration Analysis used for the Scoping Plan all believe that DEFR will be needed to keep the lights on.  Their position is at odds with Howarth’s assertion that the existing technologies for wind, sun, and hydro generating resources are all that is necessary for a reliable electric system.  The failure of the Hochul Administration to make it clear that Dr. Howarth’s opinion cannot be the basis of New York policy has resulted in unacceptable delays in the development of a feasibility analysis for this resource.

Public Service Commission DEFR

On May 18, 2023 the Public Service Commission (PSC) announced that a process has been started to “examine the need for resources to ensure the reliability of the 2040 zero-emissions electric grid mandated by the Climate Act”.  The press release went on:

The Climate Act, passed by the State Legislature in 2019, directs the Commission to establish, among other things, a program to ensure that by 2030, at least 70 percent of electric load is served by renewable energy, and that by 2040, there are zero emissions associated with electrical demand in the State. The initiative will help deliver on the Climate Act zero-emissions electric grid mandate and will enable the necessary types of clean energy to reach all New Yorkers. The Commission’s decision follows a substantial climate package announced by Governor Kathy Hochul in the FY24 enacted State Budget that will advance sustainable buildings, clean energy, and an affordable Cap-and-Invest program.

Today’s action recognizes that as renewable resources and storage facilities are added to the State’s energy supply, additional clean-energy resources capable of responding to fluctuating conditions might be needed to maintain the reliability of the electric grid. The Commission’s work to meet the Climate Act targets must include exploration of technologies that can support reliability once fossil generation has been removed from the system.

The order initiates a process to identify technologies that can close the anticipated gap between the capabilities of existing renewable energy technologies and future system reliability needs. Within the order, the Commission asks stakeholders a series of important questions, including how to define ‘zero-emissions’ for purposes of the zero emissions by 2040 target, and whether that definition should include cutting edge technologies such as advanced nuclear, long duration energy storage, green hydrogen, and demand response. The order further elicits feedback from stakeholders on how to best design a zero-emissions by 2040 program, consistent with the Climate Act’s requirement of delivering substantial benefits to disadvantaged communities and New York State’s electric grid reliability rules, while also leveraging other state and federal efforts to research, develop, and deploy zero-emission resources.

After a 60-day public comment period, Commission staff will convene at least one technical conference to examine a series of issues and questions raised in this important proceeding. The Commission may take additional actions on zero-emission resources based on the information obtained through those processes.

The order provided more background and rationale.  When the Climate Act was passed the PSC modified the Clean Energy Standard (DES) to align with its requirements.  The order explains:

The pathway established by the CES Modification Order focuses on options for procuring sufficient renewable energy resources to meet CLCPA requirements. However, several studies indicate that renewable energy resources may not be capable of meeting the full range of electric system reliability needs that will arise as fossil generation is replaced. These studies suggest that there is a gap between the capabilities of existing renewable energy technology and expected future system reliability requirements.

On August 18, 2021 the Independent Power Producers of New York, Inc., New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, and New York State AFL-CIO (Petitioners) filed a Zero Emissions Petition that also raised this issue. The proceeding notes:

This Order responds to the Petition and initiates a process to identify technologies that can close the gap between the capabilities of existing renewable energy technologies and future system reliability needs, and more broadly identify the actions needed to pursue attainment of the Zero Emission by 2040 Target. As a first step, rather than adopting a new CES tier as requested in the Zero Emissions Petition, this Order seeks input from stakeholders on options for addressing that gap. In particular, the Commission welcomes responses to the questions posed in the body of this Order and directs the Department of Public Service staff (Staff), in consultation with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), to convene a technical conference that addresses the same list of questions.

In the discussion section of the order the PSC admits that efforts to meet the Climate Act targets “must include exploration of technologies that can support reliability once conventional fossil fuel generation has been removed from the system”.  The order states:

We see this exploration as integral to our responsibility under the PSL to ensure reliable electric service as we approach the Zero Emissions by 2040 Target.25 With this Order, we are initiating process to determine appropriate next steps to address this gap including consideration of whether it is appropriate for the Commission to allocate ratepayer funds to incentivize the deployment of zero-emission technologies.

The order goes on to seek comment on related topics and asks specific questions.

I find it particularly enlightening as an example of poor planning that the one of the topics relates to the term “zero emissions”.  It turns out nobody has bothered to define what technologies qualify as “zero emissions”:

Many of the questions posed below relate to how the term “zero emissions” should be defined. This is a particularly important issue given that neither PSL §66-p(2)(b) nor any other provision of the CLCPA defines the technologies that should be considered “zero emissions.” Section 66-p(2) (b) simply states that “by the year [2040] the statewide electrical demand system will be zero emissions.” The CES Modification Order established that the technologies defined as “renewable energy systems” under PSL §66-p(l)(a) are de facto “zero emissions” for purposes of meeting the 2040 target.26 Additionally, the Commission recognized existing nuclear generation as a zero-emission technology in its 2016 CES Framework Order, which created the ZEC program.27 However, PSL §66-p(2) (b) does not say more about what is meant by “zero emissions,” leaving it to the Commission to define the term.

Notice Soliciting Public Comments

The order asks for comments on the following questions.

  1. How should the term “zero emissions,” as used under PSL §66-p(2)(b), be defined?
  2. Should the term “zero emissions” be construed to include some or all of the following types of resources, such as advanced nuclear (Gen III+ or Gen IV), long-duration storage, green hydrogen, renewable natural gas, carbon capture and sequestration, virtual power plants, distributed energy resources, or demand response resources? What other resource types should
    be included?
  3. How should a program to achieve the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target address existing and newly constructed nuclear energy resources. Should the program be limited to specific types of nuclear energy technologies and exclude others?
  4. Should new measures adopted to pursue compliance with the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target focus exclusively on generation and resource adequacy, or should they also encompass a broader set of technologies that could be integrated into the transmission or distribution
    system segments, or installed and operated behind-the-meter?
  5. Should any program to achieve the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target specify subcategories of energy resources based on particular characteristics, such as ramp rates, the duration of their operational availability, or their emissions profile with respect to local pollutants?
  6. What role does technology innovation need to play to meet the CLCPA’s Zero-Emission by 2040 Target?
  7. Should life cycle emissions impacts be considered when characterizing energy resources? If so, how?
  8. Given that the feedstocks and other resources required to produce renewable natural gas are limited and will be in demand in other sectors of New York’s economy, how should this fuel be considered in the context of this proceeding?
  9. In what ways might a program to meet the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target require reexamination and possibly revision of different tiers of the Clean Energy Standard? Should one or more of the policy approaches that have been used to implement the CES be considered to meet the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target?
  10. What is necessary to align a program to meet the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target with the priority of just transition embedded within the CLCPA?
  11. How might the benefits of a program to meet the Zero-Emission by 2040 Target be measured for the purpose of ensuring that, consistent with PSL §66-p(7), it delivers “substantial benefits” to Disadvantaged Communities?
  12. NYISO has adopted an effective load carrying capacity (ELCC) rubric and treatment of Zones J and K as load pockets with special resource adequacy requirements. How should these constructs and other NYISO market rules inform design of a program meant to support the development and deployment of resources capable of achieving a zero emissions grid?
  13. What additional studies, if any, should the Commission undertake with respect to the development and deployment of resources capable of achieving a zero emissions grid?
  14. Given that New York is not the only jurisdiction investigating options and opportunities for the research, development, and deployment of new technologies capable of achieving a zero emissions grid, how should the State seek to coordinate with and otherwise draw upon efforts that are underway elsewhere?

Conclusion

On one hand it is encouraging that there is finally an effort underway to define “zero emissions” resources and there is recognition that new technologies must be evaluated.  On the other hand, this is a recognized problem that should have been the priority of Climate Action Council and the Scoping Plan.  It has been 21 months since the Zero Emissions Petition was filed and they are just starting to address the problem.  I have always decried the lack of a feasibility analysis of the affordability, reliability, and permitting acceptability of zero emission resource options.  I believe that the Climate Action Council reliance on non-experts is a leading cause for this delay.

My other concern is that this could become politicized.  I expect massive pushback from Climate Act proponents if the proceeding finds that the only proven option available for affordable “zero emissions” resources that must be included in the future energy system mix to maintain reliability is nuclear.  If New York truly wants to reduce GHG emissions to the extent proposed nuclear must be in the mix but the entrenched anti-nuclear sentiment likely precludes that rational approach.  Furthermore, all the other options may well be impossible because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics   If the analysis determines that the other options are technologically infeasible or too expensive in the mandated Climate Act schedule, the only rational approach would be to adjust the schedule.  That would cause a meltdown for all the Climate Activists. The Hochul Administration has painted itself into a corner because I think the most likely result of this proceeding is inconsistent with the Scoping Plan.  They will have to either admit that the Scoping Plan schedule is untenable or modify the results to fit the political narrative.

Update

As I was getting ready to publish this I heard the Susan Arbetter on Spectrum News Capital Tonight had interviewed Dr. Howarth.  She had two members of the Climate Action Council on her show to discuss Climate Act Implementation: Howarth and Gavin Donohue of the Independent Power Producers of New York. I generally agree with Donohue’s description of the current status. At 7:20 of the interview video she talked to Howarth.  Her last question (13:12 of the video) was: “What is the greatest obstacle to meeting the goals of the Climate Act”.  Howarth’s response was completely consistent with his earlier statements:

Well, they are not technical.  We know how to move the state to a 100% fossil free future.  The technology has been around for more than a decade to do that. And it is actually cost-effective.  The Scoping Plan and the Climate Action Council lays that out in great detail.  The cost of inaction is more than the cost of moving forward with this plan, which is why 19 out of 22 of us voted for it.  Gavin is only one of three people who voted against it

Arbetter had to ask him at this point to answer the question.  He responded:

The challenges are political and educational.  Letting people know why it is good for the state.  Letting them know why they can afford it.  Counter-acting some of the misinformation and fear mongering that is out there.

If I was not clear enough in this post let me reiterate my concern.  The Integration Analysis that was used to develop the Scoping Plan; the organizations responsible for providing reliable electric energy -New York Independent System Operator and New York State Reliability Council, and by way of this proceeding, the Public Service Commission all agree that we do not know how to move the state to a 100% fossil free future because meeting that target requires dispatchable emissions free resources that do not presently exist.  Dr. Howarth claims that education is necessary to counter-act misinformation and fear-mongering but given that his technology position directly contradicts the state experts on electric system reliability I conclude he is the one guilty of misinformation.

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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