Review of Costs in Green Scheme: The Climate Action Council’s Climate Transition Cost Analysis

The Empire Center paper Green Scheme: The Climate Action Council’s Climate Transition Cost Analysis (“Green Scheme”) by James E. Hanley looks at the costs and benefits of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act).  A recent interview with Hanley by North Country Public Radio summarizes the main points.  I have previously evaluated Climate Act costs and this article compares the cost, but not benefit, arguments in this paper to my work. 

I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA 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.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended policies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Their policies were converted into specific strategies by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority over the summer of 2021.  The integration analysis implementation strategies will be incorporated into the draft Scoping Plan by the end of 2021. 

The integration analysis finds that the transition will cost $280-$340 billion, while producing $420-$430 billion in benefits, for a net benefit of $80 to $150 billion. The Green Scheme report looks at different aspects of the proposed costs and benefits.  The following quotes sections of the Green Scheme report comments on cost issues with my indented and italicized notes.

Megaproject

First, the scale of the Climate Act qualifies this transition as a megaproject (a project that costs billions of dollars and takes many years to complete).   Megaprojects typically come in 50 percent or more over budget while also overstating benefits by just as much[1].  Because of this, initial cost estimates should be seen only as down payments rather than the true full cost[2]. If that pattern holds for this analysis of the Climate Act, the costs may be as much as $420–$510 billion, and benefits as low as $210–$215 billion. If so, the net value of the Climate Act could be negative, resulting in a net cost to New Yorkers of $205–$300 billion (See chart). That would mean the net loss per New York resident over the next 29 years would be between $10,000 and $15,000.

I agree that large projects are usually over budget and overstate benefits but can offer no substantive comments.


Biased Analysis

Second, the Council was not created to be a disinterested source of information but to plan the implementation of the Climate Act. A positive estimate of benefits to costs is necessary to the Council’s purposes, whatever the reality may be. This is true for all public agencies responsible for megaprojects, which is why they are so predictably wrong in their analyses. Finally, unlike past reports from its consultants, the Council has not yet made the transition cost analysis public so that independent analysts can review it. Instead, it has released a report that obscures some key assumptions of the analysis.

I agree with all these points.

Unrealistic Building Retrofit Target Assumptions

The analysis assumes that by 2050, 92 percent of building stock will have improved building shells to enhance energy efficiency. Neither the Council’s public report nor the previous reports by its consultants explains how extensive these improvements will have to be, nor whether this can really be accomplished in the desired time frame. New York City alone has more than 1 million buildings. To retrofit 92 percent of them in the next 29 years will require over 31,000 building shell retrofits annually, just in New York City. The analysis does not address whether there is even sufficient construction labor available to accomplish this while meeting other construction and building renovation needs.

This is a huge problem with the Climate Act integration analysis. The definition of the building shell improvements is unavailable and critical to determining the validity of the proposed numbers.   Clearly, the analysis has to define the building shell standards expected because the preferred heating technology is heat pumps.  There is an international standard for passive buildings that includes efficient heat generation aka heat pumps.  It includes the following measures:

Note, however, that even the passive house website notes that “Not all buildings can be renovated to the Passive House Standard without great difficulty and cost”.  Until the Integration Analysis explains their building shell improvements relative to these measures necessary for using heat pumps, we have no idea of the magnitude of this component of the plan.  That means we cannot check their cost estimates.

Unrealistic Heat Pump Sales Target Assumptions

The analysis further assumes 100 percent sales of heat pumps for heating and cooling by 2030. Although the report gives little detail, this appears to apply to all furnace replacements as well as to new home construction. While heat pumps can pay for themselves over time, their upfront costs are considerably more than a furnace and air conditioner combination. This target is only nine years out, and heat pump prices are unlikely to decline so quickly as to make them affordable for all New Yorkers. The only way to achieve this goal is to ban the sales of alternative heating and cooling systems.  Such a ban would either impose higher costs on consumers or require large public subsidies.

I believe that it is correct that all furnaces in New York will have to become heat pumps.  Another problem in addition to those listed is that a backup heat system is necessary unless a ground-source heat pump is used so there are additional costs.  There also is a safety issue because going all in for electric homes is an issue when there is a prolonged electric outage.  The bigger problem is that in order for any heat pump technology to work in New York’s winters the building shell has to be improved and those costs, as shown above, are not clearly defined.

A Zero-Emission Vehicle Fleet

In the transportation sector, the analysis assumes that 98 percent of new automobile and light-duty truck sales will be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2030, only nine years from now. While the cost of electric vehicles is declining, only about 1 percent of sales are fully electric at this time.  New York has banned the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles starting in 2034, four years after the analysis’s target date. This ban will likely lead to a rush on buying new internal-combustion cars and light trucks before 2034, making the 98 percent ZEV sales by 2030 goal an implausible target.

The Integration Analysis Reference Scenario that just includes existing programs and not the additional mandates of the Climate Act projects that battery electric light duty vehicle sales will be 2% in 2022 and will rise to 7% in 2025.  The Climate Act scenarios increase those sales levels to greater than 13% by 2025.  I cannot see a scenario where there will be that many people switching in that short a time.  I agree that the targets for later years are implausible. 

Christian Twiste nails a huge overlooked problem in the Integration Analysis. He quotes a Washington Post article and then goes on to explain:

“In urban neighborhoods where residents lack driveways or garages and must rely on street parking, public chargers are a necessity to persuade consumers to buy electric cars. Yet without EVs in place, there is no commercial incentive to install them.”  Rarely has a single statement so successfully glossed over the albatross around the neck of widespread EV adoption, avoiding the simple truth that should have been obvious all along:  Electric Vehicles are only practical if you have a garage and your own (expensive) charging station in that garage.  This way you can plug in your car every night without fear of the weather or a lack of access, and then rely on public stations for road trips and other long drives.  The idea that owners are going to regularly plug their cars in on a busy inner city street is absurd on its face.  It’s hard enough to get a public parking spot in a big city as it is, just imagine what that would look like if everyone suddenly needed to charge up as well.  This assumes public charging stations are even accessible, as they would not be after a big snow storm or a cold winter where the snow doesn’t melt.

The analysis also assumes reductions in the total stock of fossil fuel vehicles so that 26 percent of all automobiles and light-duty trucks are ZEVs by 2030. The Council’s consultants stated that “Consumer decision-making is especially important in passenger vehicle turnover.” But in the transition cost analysis the reality of consumer decision-making is ignored. The average age of automobiles in the U.S. is 12 years, suggesting that at least half the cars bought since 2018 will still be on the road in 2030.

I agree.

Unless ZEVs are half of all light-duty vehicle sales over the next nine years, the state cannot meet this target. The analysis further calls for 95 percent of light-duty vehicle stock to be ZEV by 2050. Approximately 25 percent of cars are 16 or more years old. With only 16 years between the 2034 ZEV mandate and 2050, we can assume that far more than 5 percent of the cars bought in the years right before the mandate takes effect will still be on the road in 2050. In addition, as current low sales of ZEVs demonstrate, many people do not want an electric vehicle. Therefore, many auto owners may hold onto their gas-powered cars and trucks longer than they otherwise would, slowing the transition to an all-ZEV fleet.

I agree with these comments.  Another hidden cost not well defined in the integration analysis is the cost of the electric vehicle infrastructure.  I think that when the estimates include all the costs that the price will be much higher than in the analysis.

“Active Transportation”

Another unlikely target is the hoped-for increase in “active transportation” (walking and bicycling). The analysis assumes a combination of education and smart growth will suffice to achieve this goal. But people already know that exercise improves health, and a public education campaign is unlikely to change their behavior.  Smart growth will not solve the problem, either.  We cannot fundamentally transform the basic infrastructure of existing communities in a mere 29 years. Nor can we expect developers to build enough new smart communities in a state that is losing population.

This is an excellent description of a strategy that only an ideologue dedicated to changing the entire fabric of today’s communities, thinks is appropriate.  In order for active transportation to work the population density of the community has to be much greater than a typical suburb.  Great in theory, but in practice not so much.

 Offshore Wind Energy

Finally, the analysis assumes the building of 16–19 gigawatts (16-19 thousand megawatts) of offshore wind energy by 2050, as much as twice the nine gigawatts the Climate Act envisions by 2035. The state currently has no offshore wind capacity, but has approved 4.3 gigawatts of offshore wind projects. The earliest is scheduled to come on-line in 2024. That leaves 26 years for complete buildout. Assuming technology-leading 12-megawatt turbines, over 1,500 turbines will be required to achieve 19 gigawatts of capacity.  This will require the completion of more than one turbine a week between 2024 and 2050. The most efficient sites will have been the first selected, so the remaining 12-15 gigawatts of offshore turbines will be in increasingly less productive, and possibly more controversial, sites. These may be more environmentally sensitive or perhaps closer inshore where the turbines may be visible from land, in either case stirring up opposition.  The regulatory siting and approval process is unlikely to move fast enough to accommodate this buildout, and predictable legal challenges to at least some of the siting decisions will further slow their development.

All this is true.  Implied but not explicitly pointed out is that it is not only the turbines that have to be built, it is the entire infrastructure to install the turbines.  Harbors have to be upgraded and ships procured to do the necessary work.  All those considerations add to the costs.

Unconsidered Costs

The analysis considers only direct costs of transition and ignores real but indirect costs. Among these are the personal costs of active transportation and the higher cost of construction and home repairs due to increased demand for construction labor for building shell retrofitting. While indirect costs are challenging to measure or estimate, the Council should insist that its analysts not ignore them entirely.

The lack of detail in the documentation is a systemic problem.  I cannot find anything to dispute the assertion that indirect costs are not included. 

Based on the public report, the analysis also appears to ignore the additional cost of upgrading the grid to handle less reliable renewable power sources, as opposed to the lower cost of upgrading the grid for continued reliance on reliable sources such as hydropower, nuclear, and natural gas with carbon capture. While New York’s grid will require substantial investment in the coming decades regardless, a smart grid that can effectively distribute only intermittent renewable sources is more complex and more expensive to develop. The analysis should clearly address the additional cost of building this grid. If it already does account for this, the Council’s report should have clearly demonstrated that it does so.

The Integration Analysis is not a feasibility study.  The Analysis does not include an engineering evaluation to determine how the grid has to be upgraded to maintain current reliability standards much less how much it will cost.  One feasibility aspect that is included is a technology to cover the need for zero emissions, firm dispatchable resources.  The analysis proposes using hydrogen resources for this aspect of the system but that technology has not been proven at the scale necessary for New York’s requirements.  Any cost estimates of an unproven technology are wildly uncertain.  In addition, I cannot find any reference to necessary transmission ancillary services support so I agree that the grid issues raised have been overlooked.

Finally, the analysis does not address effects on the economy from transitioning to renewable energy. Previous studies have found substantial economic effects when states adopt renewable portfolio standards, with nearly 14 percent decreases in industrial electricity sales, significant declines in real personal income of over $4,000 per family, and a ten percent increase in the unemployment rate. The effective expansion of New York’s Renewable Portfolio Standards can likewise be expected to have a substantial negative macroeconomic effect, which the analysis does not appear to consider.

I agree.

Ratepayer Effects

The paper also discusses consumer impacts.  I recently addressed the discussion of consumer impacts on the Climate Action Council.  I include just one paragraph from Green Schemes on this subject here.

The analysis conducted for the Council was limited to determining net costs and benefits, leaving the question of how to pay for the decarbonization transition beyond the scope of the study. As NYSERDA’s Carl Mas said, “that comes in the articulation of the Scoping Plan.” Nonetheless, New York’s utility ratepayers, who already pay among the highest energy prices in the country, have an interest in knowing what the cost will be of transitioning to carbon-free electricity.

During the lengthy Climate Action Council discussion about the net costs and benefits several points were emphasized.  The costs presented to date are societal incremental costs without much specificity.   Carl Mas said “In order to determine the actual costs to society you need to have specificity to distribute those costs.  Is it going to be a ratepayer program?  It is going to be a tax credit or incentive?  How much is the Federal government going to weigh in to help buy down some of the cost.  Without those types of programmatic specifics, we can’t actually analyze how much individual parts of our society should pay.”  The final resolution offered by Sarah Osgood (at 22:25 of the meeting recording) was to make it clear that as any of the policies get more well-formed that every policy should have an assessment of ratepayer or of consumer impacts as early as possible. 

 Conclusion

The Green Scheme’s paper concludes:

The Climate Action Council’s public report on the Transition Cost Analysis is a missed opportunity to provide transparency in the implementation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. New Yorkers can justly be skeptical of the findings. New Yorkers may support the reduction of carbon emissions without supporting the vague terms of the Climate Act or the still-to-be-produced Scoping Plan of the Climate Action Council. Or they may find the cost of transition to a carbon-neutral economy too high. If New York is going to follow a legislatively-mandated timeline to transition to carbon-free electrical production and a carbon-neutral economy, the state’s citizens have a right to know the true costs and benefits of that transition and how they are expected to pay for it.

As Mr. Hanley points out the Climate Act information provided to date does not provide sufficient information to evaluate cost claims directly. Given that affordability is a primary concern for all New Yorkers this is unacceptable.

[1] Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2017. “Introduction: The Iron Law of Megaproject Management.” The Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Manage­ment. Oxford University Press. Pp.1-18.

[2] Flkbjerg, Bent. 2017. “MegaProjects: Over Budget, Over Time, Over and Over.” Cato Institute Policy Report, January/February.

Citizens Guide to the Climate Act

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) a legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the lofty net-zero by 2050 goal. It is very likely that implementation of the technology necessary to meet that goal will adversely affect energy sector affordability and risk current reliability standards.  Unfortunately, most New Yorkers are unaware of it and only a handful understand the implications.  While the Climate Act has been a frequent subject for articles on this website, many of those articles are overly technical for the general public.  In order to address the need for a concise resource of the potential impacts of the Climate Act I have developed the Citizens Guide to the Climate Act.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Act became effective on January 1, 2020.  It mandates that the Climate Action Council prepare the Scoping Plan that outlines how to meet its targets. Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at two October meetings and has since been updated.  A draft Scoping Plan has been prepared and distributed to the Climate Action Council but not to the public.  Next year there will be public meetings and the opportunity for the public to provide comments.

The Citizen Guide is intended to provide an introduction to the Climate Act and potential ramifications.  A one-page summary has been prepared that can be printed out.  There is an annotated summary reproduced below that includes links to more detailed information on particular topics.  The Guide is a work in progress so feedback is encouraged.

Annotated Citizens Guide to the Climate Act

The Climate Act is an ambitious attempt to reduce New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the currently fashionable net-zero by 2050 goal.  The implementation plan boils down to electrify everything and rely on wind and solar to provide the electricity needed.  In order to reach the aspirational goals changes to personal choice are needed, significant risks to reliability are likely, substantial energy costs increases will occur, but there will be no measurable effect on global warming itself and significant environmental impacts from the massive wind and solar deployments.  The bottom line is that we don’t have the technology today to meet the ambitions of the Climate Act and maintain current reliability standards and affordability.  Until we do, we should reconsider the targets and schedule of the law.

Climate Act

The actual name of the Climate Act is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It was signed on July 18, 2019 and establishes targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable electricity production, and improving energy efficiency.  The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended policies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Their strategies were converted into specific strategies by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority over the summer of 2021.  The integration analysis implementation strategies will be incorporated into the draft Scoping Plan by the end of 2021.  In 2022 the Plan will be released to the public for review and comment. 

Implementation Strategy Risks and Effects

In order to meet the net-zero goal of the Climate Act, risky emission reduction strategies from all sectors will be required and personal choices limited. All residences will have to be completely electrified despite the risks to safety in the event of an ice storm.  In the transportation sector electric vehicles will be required and zoning changes to discourage the use of personal vehicles implemented. 

Reliability Risks

The New York electric gird is a complex system that has evolved over many years.  It is highly reliable using proven hardware and procedures.  Relying on unprecedented levels of wind and solar that are not proven on the scale necessary and energy storage system technology to account for intermittent wind and solar that has not been tested for the proposed use is an ill-conceived plan that will likely end in a reliability crisis.

Costs and Benefits

The Climate Act did not determine the greenhouse gas emission targets based on cost feasibility.  The net direct societal costs are $340 billion which equates to $167 per month for a family of four in 2030 and increases to $807 per month by 2050.  When the plan is announced next year, proponents will claim that societal benefits outweigh the costs; however, societal benefits do not lower the direct costs.

Effect on Global Warming

When the Climate Act eliminates New York’s greenhouse gas emissions the effect on global warming will not be measurable.  The expected impact on global warming is only 0.01°C by the year 2100.  More importantly, New York’s emissions will be negated in a matter of months by countries in the developing world building their energy systems with reliable and affordable fossil fuels.  To deny those countries the benefits of plentiful electricity is immoral.

Zero-Emissions Environmental Impacts

The Climate Act only accounts for fossil fuel life-cycle costs and environmental impacts while ignoring the life-cycle impacts of wind, solar, and energy storage technologies.  These “zero-emissions” resources may not have emissions when generating electricity but the volume of materials needed to access dilute wind and solar energy and the rare earth elements necessary for those technologies certainly have environmental impacts when mined and processed.  The large number of wind turbines and solar panels will also create massive amounts of waste when they are retired.  Furthermore, the cumulative environmental impacts of thousands of wind turbines and square miles of solar panels has not been compared to the environmental impacts of current fossil fuel technology.  Finally, it is unreasonable to expect that there will be any changes to environmental impacts due to climate change because the New York effect on global warming is too small to measure.

What You Can Do

In early 2022, the Climate Action Council will release a scoping plan to meet the Climate Act targets for review and comment.  Given the intrusive changes to lifestyles, risks to a reliable electric system, substantial cost increases, serious environmental impacts of the necessary wind, solar and storage technologies, and the lack of any direct global warming benefits, it is appropriate for all New Yorkers to research the effects of the law and comment to the Climate Action Council and your lawmakers.

References

The official New York State Climate Act webpage describes New York State climate news and developments.  Links to articles on the Climate Act at the Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York website, implementation overviews, background technology references and background information are provided in the references.

Conclusion

My colleagues in industry and I all agree on a few things.  We believe that most New Yorkers are unaware of the potential impacts of the Climate Act.  We are convinced that the costs will be eye-watering.  We don’t think that technology is available to maintain current reliability standards and replace fossil fuel sources of energy.  The goal of the Citizens Guide is to educate New Yorkers on the law, the costs, and the risks.  Any feedback on this attempt to responds to that goal is encouraged at nypragmaticenvironmentalist@gmail.com.

Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act Scoping Plan Net Direct Cost Estimates

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) establishes a “Net Zero” target by 2050 whereby greenhouse gas emissions in New York will be reduced as much as possible and any remaining emissions offset by sequestering carbon.   The underlying premise of the Climate Act was that transitioning the New York energy system to Net-Zero by 2050 was only a matter of political will.  As a result, the greenhouse gas emissions targets were chosen without doing a detailed engineering analysis to determine how it might work, whether the technology is available for it to work, and how much it could cost.  This post discusses the State’s first description of cost.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at two October meetings and has since been updated.  This analysis forms the basis of the draft Scoping Plan that is supposed to be released to the public at the end of the year.

The integration analysis models the complete New York energy sector.  The modeling includes a reference case that projects how the economy and energy sector will evolve out to 2050 in the absence of any Climate Act policies or mandates.  The following slide lists the four mitigation scenarios that were developed to compare with the reference case.  Societal costs are available in Integration Analysis – Benefits and Costs Presentation on the resources section of the Climate Act webpage for scenarios 2 and 3.

Previously I wrote about my first impression of the costs and benefits presented, followed up with documentation of the proposed costs, and, more recently, I described how Climate Act cost to consumers has become a topic of discussion for the Climate Action Council.  The authors of the Scoping Plan have argued that they cannot estimate specific costs to consumers, including ratepayer impacts.  At this point the revised staff draft Scoping Plan will make it clear that as specific policies are developed that they will include an assessment of ratepayer or consumer impacts as early as possible.  In the meantime, this post updates the values I calculated in my documentation of the proposed costs post in the expectation that consumer cost impact information will be absent in the Scoping Plan.

Societal Costs

The Integration Analysis – Benefits and Costs Presentation has several slides that discuss costs.   The slides explain that the “Incremental costs in all scenarios are primarily driven by investments in buildings and the electricity system”.  The results presented are net costs that “offset total costs with avoided fossil fuel expenditures due to efficiency and fuel-switching relative to the Reference Case”.  According to the authors they were able to analyze what the incremental cost would be to society.  For example, they estimated the cost to replace a oil-fired furnace with a heat pump, determined the number of oil-fired furnaces that need to be replaced to meet the emission targets, and then multiplied the two numbers to get the direct costs.  Their analysis did something similar for every energy-related aspect of society.

The first cost slide lists the net direct cost for Scenario 2: “Strategic use of low carbon fuels” as $340 billion and Scenario 3: “Accelerated transition away from combustion” as $280 billion.  As an aside, note that the Climate Act Resources page documents the key results, drivers, and assumptions for the Integration Analysis.  However, to the best of my knowledge, the costs numbers are not documented in those resources. 

The breakdown of the Scenario 2 costs in the next slide states that the net direct costs in the early years are “on the order of $10 billion per year, equivalent to 0.6% of GSP in 2030” and that in the later years are “on the order of $50 billion per year, equivalent to 2.0% of GSP in 2050”.

The breakdown of the Scenario 3 costs in the next slide states that the net direct costs in the early years are “on the order of $10 billion per year, equivalent to 0.7% of GSP in 2030” and that in the later years are “on the order of $50 billion per year, equivalent to 2.0% of GSP in 2050”.  Recall that the Scenario 2 total cost was $340 billion and the Scenario 3 cost was $280 billion.  My impression is that the detailed breakdown for Scenario 2 would therefore be greater than the breakdown for Scenario 3 but in 2030 the equivalent Gross State Product (GSP) value is greater for Scenario 3.  Without additional documentation it is impossible to speculate about what is going on.

Costs to New Yorkers

I cannot relate to numbers as a percentage of GSP or how a number as large as $10 billion per year relates to the state.  One simple way to think about it is to divide those costs by the number of people in the state to determine a cost per person.  The Integration Analysis Key Drivers and Outputs spreadsheet GSP tab lists values used for the GSP and population from 1990 to 2050.  I divided the $10 billion in 2030 and $50 billion in 2050 values by the population for those years to get an annual cost per New York resident.  Dividing that value by 12 gives a monthly number per person and multiplying by four gets a monthly value for a family of four.  The net direct cost for the scenarios works out to $167 per month in 2030 and $807 per month in 2050 for a family of four. 

Discussion

On October 26,2021, the AP-NORC Center and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) released the results of a survey that claimed that a majority of Americans regard climate change as a problem of “high importance”.   It also included survey questions asking whether respondents would support, oppose, or neither support or oppose a law that imposed “a fee on carbon to combat climate change”.  The survey question asked “If the law passed, it would increase  the average amount your household pays each month for energy, including electricity, heating gas, and gasoline or diesel for your car by a total of X dollars per month” where respondents were randomly assigned a $1, $10, $20, $40, $75, or $100 cost increase.  For a $1 per month increase, 45% would support, 30% would oppose, and 25% would neither support or oppose.  For a $100 per month increase, 20% would support, 62% would oppose, and 18% would neither support or oppose. 

The Integration Analysis lists societal net direct costs for all aspects of the Climate Act transition to Net-zero.  Those costs include changes to the energy system, including electricity, heating gas, and gasoline or diesel for your car, as well as all the other changes needed for the transition such as switching homes to all electric. I can only conclude that $167 per month for a family of four in the early years of the Climate Act would be opposed by an even greater margin than the 62% opposed in the survey and that the $807 per month cost increase would be opposed by a much greater margin.

It gets worse.  The societal net direct costs only include money spent for the transition technology and operating expenses.  In order to convert societal costs to direct costs to consumers you have to determine how to distribute those costs through, for example: ratepayer programs, State tax credits or incentives or Federal government support.  No matter how the costs are distributed, each approach adds transactional costs and inefficiencies not reflected in the total societal cost.

But that’s not all because when politicians get involved with money bad things generally get worse.  For example, consider New York Senate Bill S4264A, better known as the Climate & Community Investment Act (CCIA) which explicitly is designed to provide funding for the Climate Act by establishing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions.  It was proposed last year, failed to pass, and is up for consideration in this legislative session.  I did several articles  earlier this year and recently wrote another one about the fee structure.  Unfortunately, I never wrote about the distribution of proceeds. Briefly, the proposed law would set up the Climate and Community Investment Authority which would itself add administrative cost.  The Authority would establish the Community Just Transition Fund for 33% of the fees collected, the Climate Jobs and Infrastructure Fund for 30% of the fees collected, the Low-income and Small Business and Household Energy Rebate Fund for 30% of the fees collected, and the Worker and Community Assurance Fund for 7% of the funds collected after the first year.  Assuming that all of the money in the Climate Jobs Infrastructure Fund and the Community Just Transition Fund go to the expenses estimated necessary for the transition, over a third of the money collected does not.  If the CCIA were the only mechanism to pay for the Climate Act costs, then the $167 per month in 2030 shoots up to $265 a month and in 2050 the cost is over $1,200 a month due to the CCIA funding mandates.

Conclusion

New York State is going to test Roger Pielke’s Iron Law of Climate: “While people are often willing to pay some price for achieving climate objectives, that willingness has its limits”. I have never seen a public opinion survey that contradicts the AP-NORC Center and EPIC survey that found that the majority of people oppose a law that imposes a monthly cost to a household of four of $100.  The surveys usually don’t ask about costs higher than that.  It is reasonable to assume when all the costs are accounted for the Climate Act transition that costs will be more than double the highest value in the survey.  Ideally it would be great to have a refined estimate of the consumer cost burden.  However, it is clear even using the societal costs that they would be too large for most New Yorkers.   

Climate Action Council Draft Scoping Plan Consumer Affordability Feedback

According to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Plan) the Scoping Plan will define how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  At the November 30, 2021 meeting (recording here), Climate Action Council feedback on the draft Scoping Plan was discussed but it was not completed so a follow up meeting December 6 (recording here) addressed items that were not resolved.  This post addresses the discussion related to the resolution of consumer affordability resolution.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan. Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  A draft Scoping Plan has been prepared and distributed to the Climate Action Council but not to the public.

The Climate Action Council’s November 30, 2021 meeting discussed resolution of feedback from the Council on the draft scoping plan.  This was necessary to prepare for the meeting scheduled for December 20 when there will be a formal vote on the release of draft Scoping Plan for public comment.  I did three posts on the presentation at that meeting.  The presentation included a summary overview of each chapter that I consolidated to provide an overview of the Scoping Plan. I documented all the unresolved issues that need to be reconciled before the draft plan can be released and discussed the controversial unresolved issues.

On December 6, 2021 there was a follow up meeting to complete the Council discussion of draft Scoping Plan feedback not covered in the first meeting.  The agenda items were discussed at (5:15 in the recording):

  • The topic of leaving analysis of consumer rate impacts to subsequent implementation processes
  • Adding a gender lens to climate justice
  • The use of moratoria in the Land Use Chapter
  • Local government chapter
  • Transportation chapter

This article will document the response to the following feedback item from the following slide: “Need analysis on energy affordability and impacts to consumer pricing as part of the scoping plan scenarios” and the proposed resolution: “The integration analysis does not make any assumptions about “who pays,” which will depend forthcoming funding and policy mechanisms. For ratepayer cost impact, we anticipate that any analysis would be developed as part of subsequent implementation processes.”  I have included  my indented and italicized comments after each speaker’s description.

Consumer Impacts Comments

Sarah Osgood introduced the topic at 8:32 in the recording. She explained that the prices shown are economy wide costs of the strategies but don’t include or model ratepayer impacts.  The reason that they cannot show ratepayer impacts in the draft Scoping Plan is because the level of detail needed for that kind of analysis must come from a specific implementation policy which is beyond the purview of the Scoping Plan.  They propose to provide that information part of the subsequent implementation process.

I have always maintained that the biggest problem with the Climate Act is that it set its targets and schedule without the benefit of an engineering feasibility analysis.  In my opinion, one of the key feasibility constraints is affordability and costs information is only possible after a thorough engineering analysis.  I believe this feedback addresses that concern.  Unfortunately, the Scoping Plan is not a feasibility analysis.  It is simply sets of strategies in different scenarios that claim to meet the Climate Act targets and schedule.  Until such time that the organizations responsible for electric system reliability have confirmed that the strategies will work it is not “feasible”. In addition, now it appears that the Climate Act implementation process won’t provide the true costs to consumers as opposed to societal costs until regulations implementing the strategies are proposed after 2022.

Both industry representatives raised issues with waiting to provide consumer rather than societal cost impacts.  Donna DeCarolis at 11:09 in the recording said she was concerned that waiting until implementation to analyze the cost impact seems too late.  She suggested that some scenario analysis be done in early 2022 for a variety of scenarios for each of the customer classes.  Gavin Donohue at 12:20 supported Donna’s comments and went to say that there are a lot of recommendations in this report, some more impactful than other.  He argued that there are data out there that could be used for some of those more impactful recommendations but not included in the Scoping Plan.  He concluded that where we know costs they should be articulated in the draft.  Raya Salter at 13:32 (representing disadvantaged communities) agreed with DeCarolis and Donohue arguing that the we need the costs to determine impacts on disadvantaged communities.

Even though I have not seen the draft Scoping Plan, it is already apparent that there is a missing piece in the documentation.  For example, Donohue said that the costs of heat pumps were not included in the draft.  However, there are estimates in the heating device costs in the Integration Analysis – Inputs and Assumptions Summary and Integration Analysis – Inputs and Assumptions Workbook available in the resources section of the Climate Act webpage.  It is not surprising that any Council members would be unaware of that information (it came out on 11/18/21) while they were reviewing the 300+ page draft.  However, it does appear that the draft Scoping Plan does not adequately link the text to this documentation.  Moreover, the summary document is a series of slides and does not include documentation describing the graphics.  There isn’t any specific documentation associated with the contents of the workbook either.

Doreen Harris, the NYSERDA Co-Chair of the Council, responded to these comments at 16:22 of the recording.  She said that the analysis has not yet resolved the question of who would ultimately pay for some of these initiatives and or policies.  Summing up she said that the fact is that this isn’t all going to fall on ratepayers or NYS taxpayers.  Ultimately there will be “private market involvement at scale that’s part of our goal of course and the reality we’re seeing”.  She continued saying that “federal involvement is increasingly critical for us to gain from as a state”.  She concluded that “we not only have to analyze the costs themselves, but also the question who is paying to respond to the request”.

The leader of the Integration Analysis effort at NYSERDA is Carl Mas.  At 17:45 of the recording he explained that they were able to analyze for the technologies and the system changes in the scenarios to determine incremental cost to society. 

In order to determine the actual costs to society you need to have specificity to distribute those costs.  Is it going to be a ratepayer program?  It is going to be a tax credit or incentive?  How much is the Federal government going to weigh in to help buy down some of the cost.  Without those types of programmatic specifics, we can’t actually analyze how much individual parts of our society should pay. 

He went on to claim that: “It is really important to have articulated what the incremental costs would be and what the benefit cost analysis is, which is that we’ve done.”  He concluded at 18:37 that:

I hope people don’t walk away thinking that waiting for implementation means that somehow there is kind of a done deal at that point.  I mean, at that point is when we see the specific policy proposals that flow from a scoping plan.  That’s when we can continue to debate and discuss how we implement these proposals.

If you agree that societal costs and assurances that the proposed plans will actually deliver what is promised are the two key feasibility metrics, then the Scoping Plan is probably going to disappoint you.  Contrary to Mas, waiting to argue cost issues until the implementation plan does create a “done” deal.  When the agencies promulgate the regulations necessary to implement the Scoping Plan scenarios, I don’t expect that cost-effectiveness will be on the table for discussion.

Anne Reynolds (Alliance for Clean Energy New York) made a suggestion for something in the middle at 19:22 in the recording:

We have done a societal cost impact because that’s what we can do now.  The Council recommends that when the recommendations reach the point of a specific proposal, like the ZEV mandate, once it’s going from a recommendation to a regulation that we recommend that there has to be a specific ratepayer assessment at that time.

It is not clear to me when the regulation development process will begin.  If the regulatory development process begins in parallel with the finalization of the Scoping Plan in 2022, it seems to me that it short circuits the Scoping Plan. So when there will be a thorough cost evaluation? The question is when does the regulatory drafting begin relative to the scoping plan becoming final?

Donna DeCarolis responded at 21:04 saying:

I think what’s missing is the true consumer potential cost impact.  The policies haven’t been yet determined so we don’t know who’s going to pay, but there could be consumers paying for some of these very specific recommendations around electrifying heat dates certain included.  I don’t think that is a part that you can just wait to see what will happen.  The cost to consumer needs more focused analysis

Sarah Osgood at 22:25 tried to summarize and conclude the discussion.  She suggested that the revised staff proposal is to make it clear that any as kind of the policies get more well formed that every policy should have an assessment of ratepayer or of consumer impacts as early as possible.  Over the next year we will try to include more material for the final Scoping Plan that helps get at some of the cost items through cost studies.

Starting at 25:45 Paul Shepson, Dean, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University; Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director, Environmental Advocates NY; Thomas Falcone, CEO, Long Island Power Authority; and Robert Howarth, Professor, Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell chimed in.  They argued that there are economic benefits to the consumers that should be included in the discussion along with the cost of the increased reliability risk.  They demanded that the Scoping Plan include a “balanced analysis of benefits and costs”.  “If the policy descriptions strictly focus on ratepayer costs that introduces a bias in the document for those members of the public who are reading it”.  Falcone argued that there were direct consumer benefits that could be included.  There was no further discussion at the conclusion of their comments.

The draft Scoping Plan provided both societal costs and benefits.  I agree with these commenters that the Scoping Plan should provided a balanced analysis of benefits and costs but distinctions have to be made relative to societal and direct values.  Clearly additional information on cost to consumers is needed but it has to be accompanied by a discussion of direct consumer benefits.

Discussion

Clearly this process is more about fulfilling the Climate Act legal mandates than trying to develop an affordable future energy system.  The Integration Analysis and, presumably the Scoping Plan when released, argue that the analysis for the technologies and the system changes in the scenarios to meet the Climate Act mandates include the incremental cost to society and that their societal benefit estimates out-weigh those costs.  In the first place, the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) notes that the Scoping Plan lacks appropriate resources: “Dispatchable resources that are emissions-free, and on the scale needed, are not yet available or currently in the NYISO interconnection Queue” so it is unlikely they can estimate those costs.  In addition, there are problems with the societal cost and benefit estimates that are the focus of this article.

Societal cost estimates represent the minimum cost of the technology needed for emission reduction strategies.  Mas explained that in order to convert societal costs to direct costs to consumers that you have to determine how to distribute those costs through, for example: ratepayer program, State tax credit or incentives or the Federal government support.  No matter how the costs are distributed, each approach adds other programmatic costs.  In addition, programs like a carbon tax don’t always fund the direct costs needed for the technology and, instead, fritter away money on things like job programs to train people for the transition technology implementation.  Without a detailed cost breakdown, the public won’t know if those costs are included in the Integration Analysis cost projection.

Societal benefit estimates are pretty abstract and not well understood.  The largest Integration Analysis benefit is from the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.  These values are claimed to measure the dollar damage done by the global warming impacts over the next 300 years caused by a ton of today’s emissions. The value has been described[1] as “long, complex and contingent on human decisions that are at least partly unrelated to climate policy”. The social cost of carbon is, at least in part, also “the social cost of underinvestment in infectious disease, the social cost of institutional failure in coastal countries, and so on.”  Assume a generation is 25 years then we are talking benefits out 11 generations to 2300 and the benefits mostly accrue to those jurisdictions outside of New York where they have under invested in infectious disease prevention and developing resiliency to extreme weather.  Obviously, this societal benefit has very little value to a New Yorker trying to pay for the Climate Act programs.

Conclusion

Similar to what is happening in Great Britain, the Net Zero implementation process continues unabated despite gaping holes in the analysis.  The Scoping Plan relies on unproven technology to maintain reliability.  The societal cost and benefits in the Scoping Plan do not represent the actual costs and direct benefits to the consumer.  At some point New Yorkers have to confront the fact that the Scoping Plan inadequately addresses the true risks and costs of the Climate Act.  In my opinion this reckoning should come sooner rather than later.


[1] Richard S.J. Tol Rebuttal Ex. 2: In the Matter of the Further Investigation into Environmental and Socioeconomic Costs, Under Minnesota Statute 216B.2422, Subdivision 3, OAH Docket No. 80-2500-31888,MPUC Docket No. E-999-CI-14-643

Climate & Community Investment Act Is Back

New York Senate Bill S4264A, proposes to amend Article 19 of the Environmental Conservation Law by adding a new Title 13, Value of Pollution and Mitigation Program but the short title is the Climate & Community Investment Act (CCIA).  This bill was proposed in the last legislative session but when the costs became apparent it stalled.  Because the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Plan) did not devote State resources and personnel to implementation, advocates of the proposal have introduced it again.  This post documents my first look at the proposed fee structure relative to the Integration Analysis projected emissions.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  A draft scoping plan has been prepared and later in December the Council will vote on whether the plan can be released to the public to initiate the public comment period.

The underlying premise of the Climate Act was that transitioning the New York energy system to net-zero by 2050 was only a matter of political will.  As a result, the targets were chosen without doing a detailed engineering analysis to determine how it might work, whether the technology is available for it to work, and how much it could cost.  Now it is a law and, despite the fact that there is no funding mechanism, implementation plans are proceeding. This proposed legislation is supposed to provide some of the funding for implementation.

Last year I did a series of posts (summarized here) on the CCIA that covered many aspects of the law but I have not reviewed the current proposal relative to last year’s to determine if there have been many changes.  This post only considers one aspect of the proposal the carbon pollution fee.  In particular, I calculate the value of the fee based on the Integration Analysis scenario emission reduction trajectories.

CCIA Carbon Fee

The Climate and Communities Investment Authority will publish an annual fee for carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.  Carbon dioxide equivalence is “a simple way to normalize all these greenhouse gases and other climate influences in standard units based on the radiative forcing of a unit of carbon dioxide over a specified timeframe”.  In short, the fee applies to all of the regulated greenhouse gas emissions set to their CO2 equivalence value.

The authors of the law have drafted the calculation methodology to provide a dependable revenue stream and also to prod action by increasing the fee if the actual emissions reduction trajectory does not comport with their arbitrary target emission reduction trajectory.  Anyone looking at New York greenhouse gas emissions is handicapped by the fact that the Climate Act emissions calculation methodology is inconsistent with everyone else and so complex and requires so much information that it is impossible for outsiders to calculate.  The CCIA target trajectory is based on a 2018 baseline but that number is not available from the State.  In addition, projecting the emissions reduction trajectory from the present out to 2050 is as complex a problem.  Consequently, I was not able to provide any credible estimate of the expected fee structure last year.  However data are now available for a look at the fees.

Since the legislation was drafted the Integration Analysis has generated the emissions reduction trajectory for a reference case and four scenarios.  A spreadsheet entitled Integration Analysis – Key Drivers and Outputs (updated November 18, 2021)] provides most of the information needed to evaluate and estimate emissions.  In the “Annual Emissions” tab the following figure and the data used to generate the figure are available and can be used to estimate the annual carbon fee.

Carbon Fee Annual Adjustment Calculation

The carbon fee includes an annual adjustment calculation that compares the environmental integrity metric to an arbitrary statewide greenhouse gas emissions trajectory.  Presumably the idea is that if the observed emissions reductions are not happening fast enough then a larger fee will encourage faster reductions.  The environmental integrity metric (EIM) calculation definition follows:

  • 3041. (2) In two thousand twenty-four, and every year thereafter, the Commissioner shall, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Conservation:

(a) calculate the five-year environmental integrity metric, which shall equal a fraction, expressed as a percentage:

(i) the numerator of which is:

(A) the sum of the quantity of actual statewide greenhouse gas emissions, measured in short tons CO2e, in each of the preceding five years, minus

(B) the sum of the quantity of target statewide greenhouse gas emissions, measured in short tons CO2e, in each of the preceding five years, pursuant to subdivision four of this section; and

(ii) the denominator of which is the sum of the quantity of target statewide greenhouse gas emissions, measured in short tons CO2e, in each of the preceding five years, pursuant to subdivision four of this section; and

(b) calculate the cumulative environmental integrity metric, which shall equal a fraction, expressed as a percentage:

(i) the numerator of which is:

(A) the sum of the quantity of actual statewide greenhouse gas emissions, measured in short tons CO2e, in each of the preceding years that are after two thousand eighteen, minus

(B) the sum of the quantity of target statewide greenhouse gas emissions, measured in short tons CO2e, in each of the preceding years that are after two thousand eighteen, pursuant to subdivision four of this section; and

(ii) the denominator of which is the sum of the quantity of target statewide greenhouse gas emissions, measured in short tons CO2e, in each of the preceding years that are after two thousand eighteen, pursuant to subdivision four of this section;

The statewide greenhouse gas emissions trajectory is defined as follows:

    • 3041. (4) For the purposes of calculating the five-year environmental integrity metric and the cumulative environmental integrity metric under subdivision two of this section, the authority shall refer to the following statewide greenhouse gas emissions targets:

(a) for the year two thousand twenty-one, eighty-five percent of two thousand eighteen emissions;

(b) for each year after two thousand twenty-one and before two thou sand twenty-seven, less than in the preceding year by four percent of the two thousand eighteen emissions; and

(c) for each year after two thousand twenty-six and before two thousand forty-two, less than in the preceding year by three percent of two thousand eighteen emissions; and

(d) for each year after two thousand forty-one, less than in the preceding year by two percent of two thousand eighteen emissions.

Carbon Fee Calculation

I spent a lot of trying to figure out how the annual adjustment was supposed to work.  The fee starts at $55 in 2022.  From 2023 to 2025 there is a five percent increase per year.  It starts to get more complicated for the years 2026 to through 2031.  There are limits for the five-year EIM relative to the observed five-year reductions. If the five-year EIM is less than -5% then the annual adjustment is 2%, between -5% and 5% the adjustment is 5%, if between 5% and 10% the adjustment is 7% and if it is over 10% the adjustment is 10%.  In addition, a cost-of-living adjustment is added.  The subsequent years incorporate an adjustment based on the cumulative EIM.  If the cumulative EIM is less than -1% and the five-year EIM is less then 5% then the adjustment is 2%.  If the cumulative EIM is greater than 3% or the five-year EIM is greater than 10% then the adjustment is 10%.  The in between combinations are so complicated that I could not calculate the values.  However, it turns out that based on my estimates that both the five-year EIM and the cumulative EIM exceed the 10% thresholds in 2026 and every year thereafter.

The EIM calculates values using the 2020 total New York greenhouse gas emissions as a baseline.  I assumed that value would equal the Climate Act total emissions and that is a problem.  At this time the only annual emissions available to the general public that incorporate all the unique New York adjustments are the 1990 Climate Act baseline.  I am hopeful that 2018 through 2020 Climate Act emissions totals will all be released by the end of the year when the 2020 values are supposed to be released. 

In order to estimate how the CCIA emissions reduction trajectory compares to the Climate Act integration analysis emission reduction trajectories I considered a couple of examples that calculated the annual EIM adjustment and applied it to the CCIA fees starting in 2026 for Integration Analysis Scenarios 2-4. The two examples tried to bracket the possible emissions trajectory.  The first assumed that the emissions in 2018 equaled the 1990 Climate Act baseline.  The second assumed that the emissions in 2018 equaled the 2020 integration analysis emissions.

There really isn’t much difference between the examples.  The CCIA emissions trajectory calls for more reductions earlier than any of the scenarios in either example.  The Integration Analysis scenarios are tuned to match the 2030 emission target and are on the order of 2% lower.  On the other hand, the CCIA emissions in 2030 are 20% less than the emissions target.  Consequently, the CCIA emission fee methodology ends up using the highest annual adjustment each year.

Discussion

I am not impressed by the numeracy of the authors of the CCIA.  The description of the emission fee conditions is unclear and I think there is an error relative to what I think they wanted to do.  As far as I can tell there have been no substantive revisions to the text since it was first drafted last year.  At the end of last year, DEC promulgated Part 496 that established the 2030 and 2050 emission limits for the state.  As far as I can tell the methodology was not linked to the interim target so that the emissions trajectory calls for more reductions sooner.  Furthermore, there were no estimates of emissions reductions expected as a result of the Climate Act implementation strategies.  As a result, the emission fee adjustments are at the highest level throughout the period. 

In 2034 and every year after, the CCIA emission fee exceeds the New York State value of carbon for all the scenarios in both examples but this analysis did not include a cost-of-living adjustment so the crossover point will be even sooner.  The value of carbon is the avoided negative societal costs due to climate change caused by the reduction of one ton of CO2.  When the emission fee exceeds that value, it means that the cost charged exceed the expected benefits.  In a rational world the CCIA fee would be capped at the value of carbon value.

This work accepted the Integration Analysis emission estimates for 2020 through 2050 without modification.  Note however, that the 2020 “modeled year reflecting historical trends” does not comport well with the observations.  It is unfortunate that the Integration Analysis – Key Drivers and Outputs spreadsheet did not include the electric supply emissions with the capacity and generation results tables because we would be able to easily verify whether the E3 modeled year adequately represents 2020.  What we can say is that the New York Independent System Operator Gold Book for 2021 stated that the gas and fuel oil generation in 2020 was 56,425 GWh and the Integration Analysis spreadsheet modeled value was 70,745 GWh, 25% higher.  Consequently, the assumption that the Integration Analysis emissions were a reasonable estimate of future emissions seems pretty weak.

Conclusion

The Integration Analysis includes estimates of annual emissions that can be used to estimate how the CCIA fee will evolve over time.  Based on the data available it appears that the CCIA emissions trajectory calculation requires early reductions greater than that necessary to meet the 2030 Climate Act target.  As a result, all years after 2025 are adjusted upwards by 10% per year.  It is not clear whether this is a feature or a bug in the minds of the CCIA authors.

I will update this analysis when the 2018 through 2020 emissions data are released.

Climate Action Council 11/30/21 Meeting: Scoping Plan Chapter Overview

According to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) the Scoping Plan will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda” and meet a “net-zero” goal of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  At the November 30, 2021 meeting (recording here), Climate Action Council feedback on the draft Scoping Plan was discussed.  The discussion of most of the chapters included a summary overview.  That information is useful of people who have not looked at this material before so this post consolidates all the overviews.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan. Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  A draft scoping plan has been prepared and distributed to the Climate Action Council but not to the public.

The November 30, 2021 meeting devoted much time to a description of the feedback received from the Council on the draft scoping plan.  I discussed the unresolved issues brought up and, in another post, the issues that I thought were controversial.  After publishing those and linking the Citizens Guide to them I realized that the background overviews would be a useful summary for people who are just getting introduced to the contents of the Climate Act.  If any of the chapter discussions piques your interest then I suggest you refer back to the two other posts.

Gas System Transition Chapter

The presentation (1:17:09 of the recording) noted that the natural gas system has to change to meet the targets: “A well-planned transition of the system is needed to ensure the transition is equitable and cost effective without compromising reliability and safety”.  They also noted that the issue was addressed by multiple advisory panels but none covered all the considerations.  Advisory panels provided the recommendations show on the following slide for the gas system transition.  This is a controversial topic primarily because the speed and scope of the transition mandated by the law does not necessarily square with the feasibility of the transition.

Electricity Chapter

The overview of this chapter (1:22:05) noted that by 2030 the 70% of the electricity used will come from renewable sources, that 10 GW behind-the-meter solar and 3 GW energy storage will be installed. 

Buildings Chapter

The overview of this chapter (1:26:24) noted that by 2030 heat pumps be used for the majority of new purchases for space and water heating, 1-2 million households will be electrified with heat pumps, and heat pumps provide space heating and cooling for 10-20% of commercial space. 

Transportation Chapter

The transportation discussion started at 1:34:56. The overview noted that by 2030 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales of ~100% for light-duty and 40% or more for medium-and heavy-duty vehicles are expected and that personal transportation in urbanized areas will shift to public transportation or other low-carbon modes. 

Industry Chapter

The industry chapter discussion started at 1:39:00.  The 2030 overview says there will be continued energy efficiency investments, switches to low carbon resources, including electrification to a limited extent, and that the heterogeneity of the sector calls for customized solutions to meet needs.  Heterogeneity means there are so many different industries and so many challenges to reducing emissions from all of them that they cannot say much. 

Agriculture & Forestry Chapter The discussion of this chapter starts at 1:46:55. The overview for 2030 states the plan is to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions in the agricultural sector from livestock operations and cropland management and increase carbon storage and sequestration in agricultural and forestry products through the avoided conversion of farm and forest lands, afforestation and reforestation, improved forest management practices, cropland management practices and harvested wood products

Economy-Wide Strategies Chapter

This discussion starts at 1:55:52. The State did not provide the Council with a draft of this chapter so the discussion only provided a summary of what will be included. The overview states the obvious that compliance of with Statewide GHG emission limits requires DEC regulations that shall “[e]nsurethat the aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases from greenhouse gas emission sources will not exceed the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits.”  The issue of funding has to be a major consideration and the overview states that it is necessary to “establish a source of funding to implement other policies identified in this plan, particularly policies that require state investment or state funding of incentive programs, after accounting for other funding streams”.  It goes on to mention the need to provide a market signal that will yield additional emission reductions as individuals.

Land Use Chapter

The land use chapter discussion starts at 1:55:48. The overview points out that this is a cross cutting topic with recommendations from Agriculture and Forestry, Transportation, and Land Use and Local Government Panels.  It notes that land use decisions affect the state’s carbon emissions, sequestration, and storage, and that it is necessary to balance the protection and restoration of natural and working lands, development, and clean energy siting.  There will be issues related to the plans to “arrange and design development and conservation” to meet the following:

  • Dense and targeted development patterns
  • Strategic open space conservation
  • Maximize natural and working lands
  • Aligned with transportation and infrastructure investments

Local Government Chapter

This chapter discussion starts at 2:01:39. The overview lists actions that local governments are expected to do: taking significant action and contributing directly to meeting Climate Act goals; develop partnerships between the State and local governments to help drive rapid adoption, widespread participation, and big impact, lead by example to help increase the priority of clean energy and sustainability for residents, businesses, and institutions and become increasingly engaged in providing education and training, outreach, and technical assistance.

Waste Chapter

The waste chapter discussion starts at 2:05:33. The overview stated that in 2030 there would be significant increase in organics diversion from landfills, existing landfill emission will be reduced through capping, emissions monitoring and leak reduction, and waste reduction, reuse, and recycling initiatives will be put in place.

Climate Justice Chapter

The discussion of this chapter started at 2:08:10. In parallel to the development of the Scoping Plan the Climate Justice Working Group has been working on plans to define disadvantaged communities, how best to direct benefits to disadvantaged communities, and set up community air monitoring programs.  All these are legal mandates of the Climate Act.

Just Transition Chapter

The Just Transition workgroup (starting at 2:10:55) is supposed to advise the Council on issues and opportunities for workforce development and training related to energy efficiency measures, renewable energy and other clean energy technologies, with specific focus on training and workforce opportunities for disadvantaged communities, and segments of the population that may be underrepresented in the clean energy workforce such as veterans, women and formerly incarcerated persons. principles –10 principles in support of a fair and equitable transition.

Health Chapter

The health chapter discussion starts at 2:14:42. The State’s health improvement plan is supposed to improve health outcomes, enable well-being, and promote equity across lifespans. 

Adaptation and Resilience Chapter

This discussion started at 2:18:42. This chapter will discuss preparations for the “impacts of present and future climate change”. 

Conclusion

The purpose of this post was simply to provide a general overview of the chapters of the forthcoming scooping plan.  The “transparent and open” Climate Act implementation process did not share the initial drafts to the public.  As a result, there is not much I can say about the scoping plan chapters at this time.

Climate Action Council 11/30/21 Meeting Unresolved Controversial Issues

According to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Plan) the Scoping Plan will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda” and meet a “net-zero” goal of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  At the November 30, 2021 meeting (recording here), Climate Action Council feedback on the draft Scoping Plan was discussed.  A previous post documented the unresolved issues that need to be reconciled before the draft Plan can be released.  Because it was so long, this article discusses the controversial unresolved issues and makes some observations on the status of the implementation process.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan. Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  A draft scoping plan has been prepared and distributed to the Climate Action Council but not to the public.

The November 30, 2021 meeting presentation included the following slide describing the next steps. Staff has implemented Council-approved changes to initial draft Scoping Plan but there still are unresolved issues.  In fact, they had to schedule another meeting to reconcile remaining issues so that the revised draft Scoping Plan can be distributed to Council members by December 10.  There is another meeting scheduled for December 20 when there will be a formal vote on the release of draft Scoping Plan for public comment.  The plan is to release the Draft Scoping Plan on January 1 if it is approved at the last December meeting. 

Note that the slide makes the point that the vote will pass based on a simple majority.  They emphasize the point that the vote is “Not an endorsement of any or all strategies and actions contained in the Draft”.  I am troubled by the last point that “Throughout 2022, CAC will discuss and deliberate, and consider public comments, towards a Final Scoping Plan” because that could mean that they will be changing the scoping plan outside the purview of the public participation process.  This post discusses the unresolved issues in the scoping plan draft that I thought were controversial.

Council Membership

It is important to know the makeup of the Council to understand the feedback.  There are 22 members on the Climate Action Council.  Twelve members are agency heads.  The remaining are non-agency “experts”, two appointed by the governor, three each appointed by majority leaders of the Assembly and Senate and one each appointed by the minority leaders of the Assembly and Senate.  Importantly, all but three are “chiefs” with high-ranking titles which presumably means that in order to provide any meaningful responses they have to rely on their staff to provide synopses of the material presented to the Council so that they can make comments and keep up with their other responsibilities.  There are only three “indians” who I expect would have to provide comments based entirely on their own work.

The ultimate purpose of the Scoping Plan is to guide the energy sector’s future consistent with the targets of the Climate Act.  Of the 22 members of the Council only 8 come from energy sector organizations or have backgrounds in the energy sector.  Four of the energy sector members are agency heads, two others represent renewable energy organizations, one an organization that represents both renewable and traditional energy organizations which leaves only one from the traditional energy sector.  Donna DeCarolis is the President of National Fuel Gas and is the only member outside of state agencies that has any responsibility to keeping energy available to customers and who has no ties to the zero-emissions agenda.  On the other hand, there are four appointees and one agency head that are primarily interested in environmental interests.  One of these members also represents environmental justice interests.  Therefore, it is irrefutable that the Council decisions will be biased.

Council Commenting Problems

In addition to the biases of the reviewers, there simply was not a lot of time available for them to give any detailed feedback.  The draft Scoping Plan was sent to the Council members in November and they were asked to provide comments on what was described as an over 300-page document in time so that staff putting together the document could respond before the 11/30 meeting.  Clearly that is insufficient time for a thorough review and considered responses from staff. 

Another issue is who is doing the review.  I cannot help but wonder whether any of the agency heads and leaders of organizations had the time to read the draft scoping plan at all.  I suspect they may have assigned their staff to review the document.  Furthermore, with respect to the 12 State agency I doubt that they would submit any critical comments.

Importantly, given that the Scoping Plan is primarily about the energy system I submit that most commenters are not qualified for this responsibility.  I have always maintained that the Climate Act put the cart before the horse by passing legislation with specific targets without doing a detailed engineering analysis how it might work, whether the technology is available for it to work, and how much it could cost.  It is unreasonable to think that any of the 22 members of the Council could provide meaningful input about the feasibility of the Scoping Plan scenarios in the timeframe they had for review given their backgrounds.  Consequently, it is not clear why the Council should exclude anything from the draft scoping plan or consider choosing a recommended scenario. There is another over-arching problem with this process.  Last summer I described how the precautionary principle is driving the Climate Act based on the work of David Zaruk, an EU risk and science communications specialist, and author of the Risk Monger blog.  In a recent post, part of a series on the Western leadership’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, he described the current state of policy leadership that is apropos to the content of the issues raised:

“The world of governance has evolved in the last two decades, redefining its tools and responsibilities to focus more on administration and being functionary (and less on leadership and being visionary). I have written on how this evolution towards policy-making based on more public engagement, participation and consultation has actually led to a decline in dialogue and empowerment. What is even more disturbing is how this nanny state approach, where our authorities promise a population they will be kept 100% safe in a zero-risk biosphere, has created a docilian population completely unable and unprepared to protect themselves.”

Zaruk explained that managing policy has become more about managing public expectations with consultations and citizen panels driving decisions and that describes the Advisory Panels that provided recommendations to the Climate Action Council.  He says now we have “millennial militants preaching purpose from the policy pulpit, listening to a closed group of activists and virtue signaling sustainability ideologues in narrowly restricted consultation channels”.  I later wrote an article that predicted this would be the likely outcome for panel recommendations.  That is exactly what happened with the advisory panels. Too many recommendations were based on ideology and not reality.  Unfortunately, some of the more vocal members on the Council are also preaching purpose from their policy pulpit and issues raised reflect that dynamic.

Discussion

This discussion of the unresolved issues will focus only on those issues where there are apparent differences of opinion amongst the Council membership.  If I did not think there was any controversy I did not discuss the material presented.  The presentation for the meeting provides an excellent summary of the contents of the Scoping Plan because there is an overview in each chapter.  For the sake of time, speakers skipped the overview and talked about the feedback for key points to incorporate that they thought were not controversial and described the unresolved issues.  In my opinion there were many instances when the key points to incorporate were plenty controversial but that discussion will have to wait until another time.

General Feedback

At 1:13:38 of the video recording,  general feedback contentious unresolved issues were discussed.  The first issue raised was that the Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG) input on implementation strategy recommendations (including rejection of certain recommendations and the need for more robust plans/efforts in transportation and waste) were not integrated well enough in the draft.  Staff authors did not think it was appropriate for them to take items out of consideration so they asked the Council to decide about the recommendations.  Eventually I will have to address the CJWG input process in more detail but that will be a long post.  In brief, my concerns about virtue signaling ideologues with no relevant energy sector expertise making policy are much greater for this group than any other Climate Act group or panel.  They simply do not accept that concerns for energy reliability and affordability have to be balanced against their expectations.  There are Council members that agree with that premise and I believe they made these comments.  However, the recommendations to reject any policies and go even further for other policies are inappropriate simply because there are constraints and concerns that deserve to be addressed with public input beyond the Climate Act echo chamber.  It will be interesting to see if the Council votes to accept these recommendations.

At 1:14:34 of the video recording the second issue raised was a request for an analysis on energy affordability and impacts to consumer pricing as part of the scoping plan scenarios.  Sarah Osgood stated that the who pays aspect goes beyond the scope of the plan document and will be something that is addressed as part of the implementation process.  During the discussion of this topic, it became apparent that the State has not refined their analysis enough to be able to provide this information at this time.  In my opinion cost is a primary feasibility aspect and both industry representatives argued that it was necessary.  I think it is bad enough that the Climate Act itself picked targets without the benefit of a feasibility study but now claiming that the scoping plan will not include those costs either is inappropriate. 

There also were comments (1:15:21 of the video recording) in support of or rejecting specific strategies or actions (e.g., hydrogen, carbon tax) that staff thought appropriate to keep in at this time.  The response stating that this “Requires additional Council discussion to develop a consensus position” portends contentious arguments.  As described above, those arguments will not be based on fundamental understandings of the feasibility and consequences of, e.g., hydrogen or carbon tax, but on the uninformed emotions of Council members.  In my opinion the scoping document should leave all the alternatives in and recommend which one was preferred.  It will be interesting and telling how the Governor’s delegation (a majority of 14 appointed in one way or another by the Governor so whatever she wants she gets) decides to resolve these types of issues.

Gas System Transition

The gas transition system chapter is contentious (1:17:09 of the video recording):.  It is included in a separate chapter because it is controversial and because it covers multiple areas of the energy system.  The key points to incorporate at 1:19:21 of the video recording illustrate the depth of issues.  The one unresolved issue was “How do we balance decommissioning, leak detection, and decarbonization within the Scoping Plan and gas sector?”  This issue is the best example of particular individuals driving New York policy based on their personal ideologies.

It is important for anyone outside of the Climate Act echo chamber to understand that anything to do with natural gas in the Climate Act is based on the out-sized contribution of Dr. Robert Howarth.  He not only helped draft the Climate Act but also now is a vocal member of the Climate Action Council.  Most members of the Council have elevated his status to sainthood and unquestioningly accept whatever he says as gospel and this deference is also apparent in State agency documents.  However, his views are not universally accepted.  For example, the Climate Act requires New York to account for upstream emissions from fossil fuel used in the state because Howarth has claimed in a 2020 paper that “Some evidence indicates that shale-gas development in North America may have contributed one-third of the total global increase in methane emissions from all sources over the past decade (Howarth 2019).”  This paper and other similar papers claim that “methane emissions can contribute significantly to the GHG footprint of natural gas, including shale gas” and form the rationale of the Climate Act vilification of natural gas.

Despite the Climate Act mandate to provide a “detailed explanation of any changes in methodology or analysis, adjustments made to prior estimates, as needed, and any other information necessary to establish a scientifically credible account of change” any contradictory information has been ignored.  For example, there is a high quality, long-term monitoring network that measures methane (Lan et al., 2019) over the period when Pennsylvania shale-gas production increased tremendously.  According to the plain language summary for the report:

In the past decade, natural gas production in the United States has increased by ~46%. Methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas productions have raised concerns since methane is a potent greenhouse gas with the second largest influence on global warming. Recent studies show conflicting results regarding whether methane emissions from oil and gas operations have been increased in the United States. Based on long‐term and well‐calibrated measurements, we find that (i) there is no large increase of total methane emissions in the United States in the past decade; (ii) there is a modest increase in oil and gas methane emissions, but this increase is much lower than some previous studies suggest; and (iii) the assumption of a time‐constant relationship between methane and ethane emissions has resulted in major overestimation of an oil and gas emissions trend in some previous studies.

The fact that the relevant high quality, long-term monitoring network does not show a trend consistent with the work of Howarth is a fatal flaw in Howarth’s claims.  In addition, those measurements unequivocally support another contradictory analysis by Lewan that concludes his ideas, perspectives, and calculations on methane emissions from shale gas are invalid.  The bottom line is that the whole basis of the State’s irrational war on natural gas is based on the flawed analyses of one biased individual.

Electricity

The unresolved issues discussion for the electricity chapter (1:23:42) noted that were four unresolved issues.  The first, that the treatment of nuclear facilities in the draft was not sufficient, is not controversial.  All the other topics will be discussed further in 2022 because they are controversial.  The treatment of hydrogen, a mandate that renewable gas be used in non-distributed, non-combustion end uses only, and consideration of dual-fuel heating solutions that combine gas and electric heating sources as a possible solution to mitigate winter peak demand impacts are controversial and related. Hydrogen is a place-holder technology for the zero-emissions firm dispatch resource but it was not my impression that it had to be a non-combustion source.  Renewable natural gas has been proposed as an alternative source for power and home heating but that is not good enough for some on the Council.

I don’t believe that many of the Council members understand all the myriad issues associated with hydrogen and the implications associated with such an untested technology relative to reliability.  For example, Peter Iwanowicz, currently with Environmental Advocates of New York, is a vocal supporter of non-combustion solutions.  As far as I can tell there is nothing in his education that suggests that he understands the energy system and his experience seems limited to advocacy organizations and environmental agency positions outside of the energy sector.  Consequently, I doubt that he understands the problem trying to address the need for zero-emissions firm capacity resources using hydrogen.  That he wants to limit the use of hydrogen to non-combustion electricity generation (fuel cells) is terrifying inasmuch as there is a chance that it could become state policy.  It is a magical solution unworthy of any consideration for a reliable electric system in the time frame of the Climate Act.

The renewable natural gas and dual-fuel heating solution are opposed by the ideologues that believe methane in any form is unacceptable.  They only hear what they want to hear and disregard anything that does not match that position.  I do not think their position can be reconciled with the need for a resilient energy system because making everything electric forces reliance on a single source of energy that can be shutdown by weather, such as an ice storm. 

Buildings Chapter

Three unresolved issues were discussed (1:30:24 of the video recording) in the buildings chapter.  The first asked why there was no discussion of a dual-fuel path, using hybrid heating systems and existing gas infrastructure, comparable to the NYC pathways study.  This is similar to the dual-fuel electricity issue discussed above.  Staff stated that there isn’t time to do this now and suggested that the Council discuss this next year.  One of the issues with this problem is that the anti-natural gas authors of the Climate Act deliberately gamed the emissions accounting conventions to prevent the use of methane from any source.  Because all emissions have to be reduced, the result is that they need hydrogen for uses where combustion is necessary such as “transportation, industrial purposes, and electricity reliability”. In my opinion the special interest authors snuck this requirement in either deliberating ignoring the impacts or unaware of the challenges introduced with them.  The dupes who voted for the Climate Act had no idea of the consequences so now we are stuck with them.  The Climate Act’s failure to develop a rational, feasible plan is a recipe for reliability crises.

Another unresolved issue is a recommendation to use more ground source heat pumps.  Apparently even the commenters get the point that reliance on air source heat pumps that do not work when the temperature gets really cold is a bad idea so the “solution” is to use more ground-source heat pumps.  In a world where costs don’t matter that might be a solution but the impact to New York State would certainly be increased costs.  Staff proposed to respond with a ground source/district heat pump sensitivity analysis to “explore the system benefits and cost implications of a transition toward a heating appliance sales share dominated by ground source and district heat pumps.” 

One of the big issues with the electric system is the problem that electric loads will certainly go up when everything is electrified.  The ideologues subscribe to a “smart-planning” solution that includes heat pumps, advanced metering infrastructure, time of use rates, and energy storage. This wasn’t particularly controversial but it is another indicator that Council members don’t understand that there are technological limits to what can be done.  The public surely has no idea that not only will their homes have to be completely electrified but their appliances will be monitored and controlled by big brother.

Transportation Chapter

The unresolved transportation issue discussion started at 1:37:05. There was one unresolved where there were opposing views in the comments.  There is debate over the inclusion of low carbon fuels for hard-to-electrify vehicles and equipment, including renewable diesel and hydrogen.  The question proposed to the Council was whether two options for the use of low carbon fuels should be included in the Scoping Plan for public comment or whether the Council should discuss this in 2022 after getting public comment.  In my opinion this should be included in the Scoping Plan.  If it is not included then when can the public provide input? 

Local Government

There were three unresolved local government issues (2:01:50) but only the last two were controversial.  The first controversial issue is that the Council should consider using the state’s permitting and registration powers to avoid fossil fuel development while cities and local governments update their comprehensive plans.  The response stated that “state permitting powers can’t anticipate local government action, this chapter can recommend that guidance on local government moratoriums be expanded to reference fossil fuel infrastructure (e.g., gas stations) during comprehensive plan and zoning updates.”  There is a definite vibe from the Council that because the law says that emission reductions are necessary that it is necessary to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure now.  I am not sure whether someone on the Council has raised this as problematic but I am sure the general public would question it.  Finally, and continuing with the theme that methane is evil, was a comment that local government strategy should not only prioritize methane recovery from wastewater treatment and landfills but extend beyond just on-site energy production.  The response was to seek direction from the Council regarding multiple scenarios for public comment.

Waste Chapter

There was one unresolved controversial waste chapter issues (2:05:38 of the video recording).   The controversial issue was whether the Climate Act bans the use of waste combustion as a market player or disposal technique. The controversy is whether the 2040 zero-emission electricity requirement bars the use of incineration as a waste management option if the incinerator also produces electricity.  The Staff response stated that the applicability of the zero-emission electricity requirement and the specifics of how it will be implemented, will be addressed by the PSC, including how waste combustion for electricity generation will be handled.  In my opinion it is wishful thinking to believe that the waste stream will be reduced so much that incineration won’t be necessary.  If there is a need to incinerate then not using the electricity seems counter-productive. 

Climate Justice Chapter

There were two unresolved issues but only the second was semi-controversial (2:10:30).  That comment said that the draft should include “a specific discussion on gender and climate and the need to include a gender lens for women, femmes and girls on the front line of the climate crisis”.  Staff asked the Council to discuss this topic and provide guidance.  I think was labeled as unresolved only because it came up so late in the process that it was not discussed.  However, I also believe that there is a concern whether this is in fact a problem in New York.

I believe this comment came from Raya Salter a lawyer representing environmental justice interests on the Council.  I also think that she raised the problem because of a COP 26 United Nations Climate Change conference session stating that women bear the brunt of the climate crisis.  During the call she commented in the chat window that it should not be controversial and the Council ultimately agreed.  However, in my opinion while it is understandable that this is a global concern the UN description of the problem suggests that this may not be a relevant problem in New York.  For example, one of the pictures illustrating the UN webpage reference above shows women carrying their latest rice crop on bicycles in Vietnam.  In New York one of the strategies for emissions reduction is “active transportation” that encourages the use of bicycles.  I cannot help but wonder if the Vietnamese ladies would prefer to have a fossil-fueled truck so they could stop using active transportation.  More importantly the UN concern is for those ladies who spend their days trying to survive in the open, totally at the mercy of weather.  That is not the case in New York.

Conclusion

The Climate Action Council is supposed to develop a plan to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Based on the issues discussed at this meeting I think there are several dynamics at play, none of which are in the best interest of most New Yorkers. 

The underlying premise of the authors of the Climate Act and dupes who voted for it was that transitioning the New York energy system to net-zero by 2050 was only a matter of political will.  As a result, the targets were chosen without doing a detailed engineering analysis to determine how it might work, whether the technology is available for it to work, and how much it could cost.  Now it is a law and some members of the Council frequently point out that zero-emissions are mandated, period. Whether they don’t understand that could prove to be impossible, don’t want to understand the technological limitations, or are so invested in their personal agenda that they don’t care despite understanding the risks I don’t know, but it is not an appropriate dynamic for keeping the lights on.

The second dynamic is the underlying war on natural gas.  Despite all the many benefits of natural gas, the law and some of the most vocal members of the Council vilify its use.  There is no benign way to make electricity and safely provide energy for today’s society.  If there were options to natural gas that could ensure reliability, maintain affordability, and not have their own set of environmental impacts likely comparable to the use of natural gas, then the irrational war might be in the best interests of New York but, as any unbiased evaluations of all the impacts and risks shows, no such options exist.

The Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG) presents another dynamic.  The Climate Act’s clean energy and climate agenda is not limited to simply transitioning the energy sector to meet the net-zero target.  Equity and environmental justice concerns are also significant aspects of the law.  While there is no question that those are appropriate goals, the problem is that the advocates on the CJWG and the Council appear to be place addressing those goals before the need for a reliable and affordable energy system.  I don’t think that mis-placed emphasis will work out well.

The Scoping Plan will be used to inform the Energy Plan that governs the New York energy system.  It is becoming apparent that the Scoping Plan alone won’t be able to adequately guide the energy sector’s future to meet the targets of the Climate Act because it appears that it won’t address technological and affordability feasibility.  The Hochul Administration has the Council votes to do whatever they want so the decision how this will be resolved is at the Governor’s discretion.  A friend describes the current situation well: these morons are apparently fully at ease with the equivalent of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute assuming that the concept of a parachute will be developed, proven technically and economically feasible, and delivered to the imbecile that jumped out of the airplane in time to provide a soft landing. 

Climate Action Council 11/30/21 Meeting Unresolved Issue Documentation

According to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Plan) the Scoping Plan will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  At the November 30, 2021 meeting (recording here), Climate Action Council feedback on the draft scoping plan was discussed.  This post documents the unresolved issues that need to be reconciled before the draft plan can be released.  Because it is so long there is a separate article discussing the controversial unresolved issues.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Background

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan. Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Those recommendations were translated into specific policy options in an integration analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  A draft scoping plan has been prepared and distributed to the Climate Action Council but not to the public.

The November 30, 2021 meeting presentation included the following slide describing the next steps. Staff has implemented Council-approved changes to initial draft Scoping Plan but there still are unresolved issues.  In fact, they had to schedule another meeting to address those so that the revised draft Scoping Plan can be distributed to Council members by December 10.  There is another meeting scheduled for December 20 when there will be a formal vote on the release of draft Scoping Plan for public comment.  The plan is to release the Draft Scoping Plan on January 1 if it is approved at the last December meeting.  This post discusses the unresolved issues in the scoping plan draft.

Initial Draft Scoping Plan Feedback Resolution

One of the primary goals of the November 30, 2021 Council meeting was to discuss the revisions necessary to the draft plan needed to get Council members comfortable with issuing it.  The presentation asked whether material was representative of the work that was presented to the Councils and whether that material was presented objectively.  Starting at 1:06:08 of the video recording, there was an overview of the feedback received from 13 chapters and suggestions to address unresolved issues were offered.  This section documents the unresolved issues.  There is a discussion of the contentious issues in another article.

General issues were discussed starting at 1:11:08 of the video recording.  At 1:13:38 four general unresolved issues were discussed.  The Climate Justice Working Group provided input on implementation strategy recommendations (including rejection of certain recommendations and the need for more robust plans/efforts in transportation and waste) that were not integrated well enough in the draft.  Staff authors did not think it was appropriate for them to take items out of consideration so they asked the Council to decide about the recommendations.  There was a request for an analysis on energy affordability and impacts to consumer pricing as part of the scoping plan scenarios.  Sarah Osgood stated that this goes beyond the scope of the plan document and will be something that is addressed as part of the implementation plan.  There also were comments in support of or rejecting specific strategies or actions (e.g., hydrogen, carbon tax) that staff thought were appropriate to keep in at this time.  The response stating that this “Requires additional Council discussion to develop a consensus position” portends contentious arguments at the upcoming resolution meeting.

Gas System Transition

The presentation (1:17:09 of the recording) noted that the natural gas system has to change to meet the targets: “A well-planned transition of the system is needed to ensure the transition is equitable and cost effective without compromising reliability and safety”.  They also noted that the issue was addressed by multiple advisory panels but none covered all the considerations. 

There was only one unresolved issue: How do we balance decommissioning, leak detection, and decarbonization within the Scoping Plan and gas sector?  This is a controversial topic because the Administration and some members of the Council are bound and determined to eliminate the gas system as quickly as possible without much concern about the consequences.  The response was to plan well to protect consumers and address resiliency concerns but this clearly is an issue that the Council will continue to discuss throughout 2022.

Electricity Chapter

The overview of this chapter (1:22:05) noted that by 2030 the 70% of the electricity used will come from renewable sources, that 10 GW behind-the-meter solar and 3 GW energy storage will be installed. 

There were four unresolved issues.  The first is that the treatment of nuclear facilities in the draft was not sufficient. The response is that it will be addressed with a sensitivity analysis for relicensing options.  All the other topics will be discussed further in 2022 so, apparently, they do not plan to resolve them before the draft Scoping Plan is released.  The treatment of hydrogen, a mandate that renewable gas be used in non-distributed, non-combustion end uses only, and consideration of dual-fuel heating solutions that combine gas and electric heating sources as a possible solution to mitigate winter peak demand impacts all directly affect the feasibility of the Climate Act. 

Buildings Chapter

The overview of this chapter (1:26:24) noted that by 2030 heat pumps be used for the majority of new purchases for space and water heating, 1-2 million households will be electrified with heat pumps, and heat pumps provide space heating and cooling for 10-20% of commercial space. 

Three unresolved issues were discussed.  The first asked why there was no emphasis on dual-fuel path, using hybrid heating systems and existing gas infrastructure, comparable to the NYC pathways study.  Staff proposed to that the Council discuss this next year but also noted that the Climate Act language makes this incompatible with meeting the goals.  Staff proposed to push this off for Council discussion in 2022. In this draft, they will discuss the integration analysis scenarios to date and note that even with significant deployment of renewable natural gas (RNG) in the buildings sector, the scope of RNG use throughout the economy is limited due to the Climate Act emissions accounting conventions and the need to mitigate statewide emissions from all sectors, while the highest-value allocation of hydrogen is limited mostly to transportation, industrial purposes, and electricity reliability.  They will also discuss the how to address Con Ed district system which is powered by green hydrogen in the integration analysis scenarios, “resource efficient electrification” in certain building types like large commercial buildings, which likely will phase in electrification over time within a given building thus requiring  a transition period of dual-fuel, and finally some limited role for dual fuel systems in the coldest parts of the state, for a transitionary period. 

Another unresolved issue is a recommendation to use more ground source heat pumps (including community-scale thermal loops) vs. air source heat pumps.  Staff proposed to respond with a ground source/district heat pump sensitivity analysis to “explore the system benefits and cost implications of a transition toward a heating appliance sales share dominated by ground source and district heat pumps.”  However, they also noted that the speed and scale of the transformation needed to achieve NY’s climate goals, suggests that most heat pumps will be air source. 

The final comment said that they need more consideration of the distribution/demand side and to think about integrated system solutions including heat pumps, advanced metering infrastructure, time of use rates, and energy storage. Although there isn’t a lot of controversy with the response, it is just that they don’t have an answer for this draft.

Transportation Chapter

The transportation discussion started at 1:34:56. The overview noted that by 2030 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales of ~100% for light-duty and 40% or more for medium-and heavy-duty vehicles are expected and that personal transportation in urbanized areas will shift to public transportation or other low-carbon modes.  There were two unresolved issues.  The first is a debate over the inclusion of low carbon fuels for hard-to-electrify vehicles and equipment, including renewable diesel and hydrogen. Jared Snyder asked the Council whether they would leave both scenarios in and ask for public comment or take it out of the document. The second was the possibility that utilities could own distributed charging stations as an extension of metered services.  With regards to utility ownership of charging stations they don’t see evidence to date of market failure or of a benefit from utility.

Industry Chapter

The Industry chapter discussion started at 1:39:00.  The 2030 overview says there will be continued energy efficiency investments, switches to low carbon resources, including electrification to a limited extent, and that the heterogeneity of the sector calls for customized solutions to meet needs.  Heterogeneity means there are so many different industries and so many challenges to reducing emissions from all of them that they cannot say much.  There were two unresolved issues.  The first is the question whether the document should make a recommendation or put forward a position on whether the DEC should exercise the alternative compliance option under climate act for particular industries to achieve local emissions reductions through offsets.  The authors propose to add some language saying it might be an option.  The other issue is whether the chapter addresses “concerns of local manufacturing companies that rely on fossil fuels to make sure they will still be comfortable investing in the state”.  The response is that the text will mention incentives.

Agriculture & Forestry Chapter

The discussion of this chapter starts at 1:46:55. The overview for 2030 states the plan is to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions in the agricultural sector from livestock operations and cropland management and increase carbon storage and sequestration in agricultural and forestry products through the avoided conversion of farm and forest lands, afforestation and reforestation, improved forest management practices, cropland management practices and harvested wood products.  The only unresolved issue is for a recommendation providing funding to measure methane emissions from NYS farms.  The proposed solution is to mention funding opportunities.

Economy-Wide Strategies

This discussion starts at 1:55:52. The State did not provide the Council with a draft of this chapter so the discussion only provided a summary of what will be included. The overview states the obvious that compliance of with Statewide GHG emission limits requires DEC regulations that shall “[e]nsurethat the aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases from greenhouse gas emission sources will not exceed the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits.”  The issue of funding has to be a major consideration and the overview states that it is necessary to “establish a source of funding to implement other policies identified in this plan, particularly policies that require state investment or state funding of incentive programs, after accounting for other funding streams”.  It goes on to mention the need to provide a market signal that will yield additional emission reductions as individuals. 

Land Use Chapter

The land use chapter discussion starts at 1:55:48. The overview points out that this is a cross cutting topic with recommendations from Agriculture and Forestry, Transportation, and Land Use and Local Government Panels.  It notes that land use decisions affect the state’s carbon emissions, sequestration, and storage, and that it is necessary to balance the protection and restoration of natural and working lands, development, and clean energy siting.  There will be issues related to the plans to “arrange and design development and conservation” to meet the following:

  • Dense and targeted development patterns
  • Strategic open space conservation
  • Maximize natural and working lands
  • Aligned with transportation and infrastructure investments

There were four unresolved issues associated with land use.  Environmental planning dogma states that it is necessary to manage development patterns and there was a suggestion that Incentives based on proximity of generation to current load centers and/or economic development sites would be appropriate.  The authors plan to include the language.  There was a suggestion to add a recommendation placing a moratorium on deforestation for the purpose of renewable energy.  The response claims that even though there is not a moratorium, there already is “a recommendation to mitigate the impact from renewable energy projects on forests” but agreed to add language.   It does add the caveat that “a full moratorium on deforestation could pose challenges to meeting statewide energy goals. However, limiting deforestation of natural, mature forests to prevent high GHG emissions should certainly be considered.”  There was a recommendation to encourage cities to adopt moratoriums while they adopt comprehensive plans and zoning updates that are consistent with the Climate Act and the response was to add language to that effect.  The final issue was to expand funding in the Environmental Protection Fund to allow for the “critical mass of smart growth comp plans and zoning to truly impact development patterns and land use/transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions”.  The proposed solution was to change some wording.

Local Government Chapter

This chapter discussion starts at 2:01:39. The overview lists actions that local governments are expected to do: taking significant action and contributing directly to meeting Climate Act goals; develop partnerships between the State and local governments to help drive rapid adoption, widespread participation, and big impact, lead by example to help increase the priority of clean energy and sustainability for residents, businesses, and institutions and become increasingly engaged in providing education and training, outreach, and technical assistance.

There were three unresolved issues.  Someone on the Council noted that several towns and cities have voted to electrify their buildings or fleets and suggested including those examples and Staff agreed.  Another issue is that the Council should consider using the state’s permitting and registration powers to avoid fossil fuel development while cities and local governments update their comprehensive plans.

The response stated that “state permitting powers can’t anticipate local government action, this chapter can recommend that guidance on local government moratoriums be expanded to reference fossil fuel infrastructure (e.g., gas stations) during comprehensive plan and zoning updates.”  Finally, there was a comment that local government strategy should not only prioritize methane recovery from wastewater treatment and landfills but extend beyond just on-site energy production.  The response was to seek direction from the Council regarding multiple scenarios for public comment.

Waste Chapter

The waste chapter discussion starts at 2:05:33. The overview stated that in 2030 there would be significant increase in organics diversion from landfills, existing landfill emission will be reduced through capping, emissions monitoring and leak reduction, and waste reduction, reuse, and recycling initiatives will be put in place.

There were three unresolved issues.   The first was whether the Climate Act ban the use of waste combustion as a market player or disposal technique. The Staff response stated that the

applicability of the zero-emission electricity requirement and the specifics of how it will be implemented, will be addressed by the PSC, including how waste combustion for electricity generation will be handled.  The second issue noted that the draft should clarify how to address the treatment of the remaining waste for disposal after existing recommendations are adopted.  Staff proposed to explain that DEC will track technology developments to inform further evaluation by the Council in future Scoping Plan review and use the best technologies for limiting emissions of GHGs and co-pollutants.  Finally, there was a request to prioritize regular measurement and monitoring of methane emissions from landfills.  Staff said that new technology will be used when proven.

Climate Justice Chapter

The discussion of this chapter started at 2:08:10. In parallel to the development of the Scoping Plan the Climate Justice Working Group has been working on plans to define disadvantaged communities, how best to direct benefits to disadvantaged communities, and set up community air monitoring programs.  All these are legal mandates of the Climate Act.

There were two unresolved issues.  The first issue is the need agency guidance to prioritize emissions reductions in disadvantaged communities, prevent placing additional burdens on disadvantaged communities, and keep in line with greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals.  Staff suggested that DEC draft guidance could serve as a model for other agencies.  The final issue was that the draft should include “a specific discussion on gender and climate and the need to include a gender lens for women, femmes and girls on the front line of the climate crisis”.  Staff asked the Council to discuss this topic and provide guidance.

Just Transition Chapter

The Just Transition workgroup (starting at 2:10:55) is supposed to advise the Council on issues and opportunities for workforce development and training related to energy efficiency measures, renewable energy and other clean energy technologies, with specific focus on training and workforce opportunities for disadvantaged communities, and segments of the population that may be underrepresented in the clean energy workforce such as veterans, women and formerly incarcerated persons. principles –10 principles in support of a fair and equitable transition.

There were four unresolved issues.  Commenters suggested that the chapter should include a focus on economic development opportunities and the potential to solve multiple challenges at once –like how we can retain and add new economic growth throughout the state.  Staff proposed to use results from the Jobs Study to identify specific sub-sectors and portions of the supply chain especially ripe for growth in New York State and therefore presenting strong economic development opportunities.  Another commenter wanted the chapter to say something stronger on equal pay standards and staff offered to refine language to include strengthened embrace of labor standards. Another commenter suggested the need to engage the business community more to bring forward creative solutions that benefit themselves, have replicable attributes and global implications.  Staff promised to work with members of the Just Transition Working Group to craft augmented language along these lines.  Finally, there was a suggestion that communities with prior plant closures (e.g., coal) should be prioritized ahead of natural gas plant closures given the greater environmental impact and legacy.  Staff said they will add a general/illustrative list of factors that should be taken into consideration.

Health Chapter

The health chapter discussion starts at 2:14:42. The State’s health improvement plan is supposed to improve health outcomes, enable well-being, and promote equity across lifespans.  There wasn’t anything that needed to be resolved

Adaptation and Resilience

This discussion started at 2:18:42. This chapter will discuss preparations for the “impacts of present and future climate change”.  There were no unresolved issues.

Conclusion

I think this website can provide a service to the public by summarizing the material presented to the Climate Action Council on the Scoping Plan that will frame the future energy sector of New York.  Much of the material presented at meetings is full of jargon and needs background to understand.

This post documents the unresolved feedback issues from the Council on the initial draft of the Scoping Plan.  Overall the presentation was useful because there were good summaries of what will be in the scoping plan when it is released. I thought that focusing on the unresolved issues would foreshadow the upcoming debates about the scoping plan.  A forthcoming companion article on the controversial unresolved issues will provide more insight into those issues and the agendas driving the Climate Act Scoping Plan

Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act Implications of Trelina Solar Project Approval

On November 30, 2021 the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) granted approval to Trelina Solar Energy Center, LLC (Trelina) to build and operate an 80-megawatt solar farm in the Town of Waterloo, Seneca County.   It is proof positive that the overriding driver of any environmental decision in New York State is support of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act). 

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety and affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

Trelina Solar Project

The Trelina Solar Project is an 80 megawatt (MW) solar farm in the Town of Waterloo, Seneca County, New York.  The developer, NextEra Energy Resources, has 22 projects in New York.  “It operates primarily as a wholesale power generator, providing power and environmental attributes to utilities, retail electricity providers, power cooperatives, municipal electric providers and large industrial companies. It owns and operates more than 21,000 megawatts of generating assets located primarily in 36 states and Canada as of year-end 2018.” 

According to the press release, “This solar farm and other renewable energy projects currently under development are vital to meet the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s aggressive carbon reduction and clean energy targets to combat climate change,” said Siting Board Chair Rory M. Christian. “The Trelina solar farm will benefit all New Yorkers by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, boosting clean-energy investment, creating clean-energy jobs, and improving our environment.”

The press release touts the benefits of the project. 

According to the developer, the project construction will employ between 85 and 128 construction workers, including onsite labor, electricians, equipment operators, construction managers, and foreperson jobs. Projections for direct local expenditures during project development and construction were approximately $16 million, with construction payroll being the highest at approximately $12.6 million.

Up to 90 percent of the total payroll is expected to be paid to workers in the region. In addition, there will be opportunities for local businesses to supply materials to support construction of the project, and service industry businesses such as hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues will benefit from an increase in worker activity throughout construction.

The solar farm will result in annual payments to local landowners in association with the lease and easement agreements. Payments over 30 years are estimated to total $64.9 million. The facility will be located on 418 acres within a 1,067-acre project area privately leased or purchased land. The solar farm is expected to begin commercial operation in 2022.

During the operation of the project, the developer expects to spend approximately $485,059 in total direct annual expenditures. Trelina expects expenditures for materials and equipment costs will be spent locally. The developer expects that agreements with the town, county and local school districts will provide approximately $10.7 million in additional benefits.

According to the press release, the Siting Board’s decision “follows a detailed review and robust public participation process to ensure that the solar farm meets or exceeds all siting requirements”.  However, upon further review those claims ring hollow.

Agricultural Impacts

Careful reading of the press release reveals the fact that agriculture is not mentioned once.  That is curious because this area is one of the more productive areas of farmland in the state.  That piqued my interest enough to look at the application documentation in more detail.

On April 16, 2021, Michael Saviola, an Associate Environmental Analyst with the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets (“Department”) submitted his prepared testimony on the Trelina Solar Project application.  His testimony is very interesting. After describing his background, experience and job responsibilities, his testimony stated that the purpose of his review and evaluation of the application was (Page 4, Line 18):

To determine the nature and extent of potential impacts of the proposed Project on agricultural land. More specifically, to determine if the Project as proposed follows the Department’s Guidelines for Agricultural Mitigation for Solar Energy Projects. The Department strives to minimize the permanent conversion of productive agricultural lands, and where not possible, offers technical assistance to reduce and/or mitigate impacts to agricultural land.

He notes that the Department of Ag and Markets does not have an opinion on the need for utility-scale solar generation but (Page 4, line 23):

The Department discourages the conversion of farmland to a non-agricultural use. This effort is in accordance with Section 4 of Article 14 of the 2018 New York State Constitution, which provides for the conservation of agricultural lands, as well as NYS Agriculture and Markets Law (AML), Article 25-AA, §300, which more specifically states:

“It is, therefore, the declared policy of the state to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural land for production of food and other agricultural products. It is also the declared policy of the state to conserve and protect agricultural lands as valued natural and ecological resources which provide needed open spaces for clean air sheds, as well as for aesthetic purposes.”.

After acknowledging that the Department is aware of the Climate Act and supports the general initiative, the testimony goes on to state (Page 5, line 16):

The Department understands that although the legislative intent of AML supports the preservation of NYS agricultural resources for agricultural purposes, there is currently no law or regulation acting on such intent. Department policies are in place to act on the legislative intent. In past PSL Article 10 cases, the Department has stated its position with respect to policies pertaining to the conversion of agricultural lands, however, Administrative Law Judges decisions in prior Solar cases have not recognized the policy as a requirement for the proceeding. Despite this fact and considering that the Department is a statutory party to this and other proceedings under the PSL, the Department will continue to protest the conversion of agriculture land to a non-agricultural use.

The following section is very interesting on a couple of levels that I will discuss below (Page 6, Line 3):

Prior to large-scale solar development, the Department has not been associated with PSL Article 10 cases which convert large acreages of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses. Commercial wind generating facilities generally allow for farming activity to continue once the project is in-service. In comparison, the solar industry arguably eliminates the ability to perform normal viable agricultural operations within, and potentially immediately surrounding the facility. This constitutes a permanent conversion to a non-agricultural use. Due to increasing NYS energy goals encouraging renewable energy development, we see no reason facilities will not be upgraded and re-leased to maintain the growing or static renewable energy demand, in this case, 35 years from energization. The Department further asserts that as long as NYS incentives for the development of renewable energy exists, the complete decommissioning of solar electric energy generation, and full resumption to agricultural use is not likely to occur.

The Department recognizes the financial benefits of participating landowners; however, farm operator(s) lease payments are not viewed by the Department as a benefit to agriculture when agricultural crops, livestock and livestock products are downsized or eliminated.

In response to the question “What Department policies that (sic) are subject to the proceeding”, he responded (Line 20, page 6):

As previously mentioned, The Department discourages the conversion of farmland to a non-agricultural use. However, to support the New York State’s CLCPA initiatives, the Department has developed a siting policy supportive of solar development efforts on agricultural lands if (his emphasis added) the proposed projects are properly sited on lands other than the State’s most productive farmland. The Department’s goal is for projects to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland. Soils classified with the soil groups 5-10 are identified as having soil limitations. The only responsible position the Department can take to stay true to the 7 AML Article 25-AA §300 and to support the NYS CLCPA renewable energy initiative is to ensure the preservation of agricultural areas involving soils classified as soil groups 1-9 for the production for food and fiber, as well as not object to proposed development on lesser productive soils, i.e. agriculture lands comprised on classified mineral soil groups 5-10.

Saviola’s testimony then addressed construction impacts.  That part of the testimony also includes a description of the impact on agriculture of commercial solar infrastructure.  He made recommendations for mitigating impacts during construction. 

The most damning testimony came in response to the question whether the facility layout follows the Department’s Solar Guidelines and does it align with the Department’s siting policy (Line 11, page 11):

In general, access roads should follow field edges and the solar arrays should not be sited in a manner in which agricultural areas become orphaned as described in my testimony above. Additionally, the Department finds the Applications proposed siting is not consistent with the Department’s siting policy because it will occur on more that 10% of active farmland classified as Prime Farmland (Generally, Mineral Soil Groups 1-4) within the proposed limits of disturbance. The Department estimates that greater than 68% of the of the limits of disturbance includes the conversion of farmland classified as Prime Farmland Soil (Mineral Soil Groups 1-4). The Application states that solar panels will cover 325 acres, however areas located outside of fenced areas will likely become fallow or orphaned as a result of screening requirements and setbacks. This will eliminate crop production on much more than 325 acres of agriculture lands for a minimum of 30 years -worth of crop yields from some of the most productive farmland soils in the State. While the Applicant describes the impact to agricultural land and farming, in general, as temporary, a 30-year loss of the production of crops, livestock and livestock products constitutes a permanent conversion to a nonagricultural use. Although a decommissioning plan has been prepared, there is virtually no reasonable assurance that the project will be decommissioned and that the full resumption back to agricultural use will be reestablished.

The testimony includes recommendations for reducing or eliminating agricultural impacts (Line 8, Page 12):

The Department recommends exploring some combination of the following technical mitigation activities to reduce the significance of the agricultural impact within the facility site:

• Reduction in the scope of the Project

• Incorporation of Agricultural Co-utilization

• Density of panels and design changes to reduce the facility footprint

• Alternative siting

The remainder of the testimony addresses issues with engineered drainage features.

Discussion

According to the press release, the Siting Board’s decision “follows a detailed review and robust public participation process to ensure that the solar farm meets or exceeds all siting requirements”.  That statement is demonstrably false. 

The petition for New York Department of Public Service Case Number: 19-F-0366 1001.4 Exhibit 4, Land Use states that the overall Project Area is 1,067 acres and “only approximately 44.4 percent will be used for Project Components within a fenced area of approximately 418 acres to generate 79.5 to 80 MW of renewable energy”.  The Land use exhibit goes on to state:

Additionally, although the Project is sited within mapped Agricultural Districts, the Facility will only occupy 0.3 percent of all lands designated as Agricultural Districts within Seneca County and 9 percent of all lands designated as Agricultural Districts within the Town of Waterloo (Section 4(a)). Finally, of the 474.1 acres of total limits of disturbance proposed, 325.6 acres will occur on land classified as Prime Farmland which is only 4.9 percent of all Prime Farmland within the Town of Waterloo and 0.3% of the Prime Farmland and Farmland of Statewide Importance within Seneca County (Table 4-1 and Sections 4(r) and 4(w)). Further, of those 325.6 acres, only 10.05 acres will be permanently disturbed by racking support poles, access roads, collection (substation, switchyard, inverter pads), and stormwater management structures (filtration basins, rip rap). The remainder will be restored after construction.

Note, however, that the Ag and Markets testimony notes that “The Department’s goal is for projects to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland.”  It also notes that “The Department estimates that greater than 68% of the of the limits of disturbance includes the conversion of farmland classified as Prime Farmland Soil”.  In other words, there is no way that this project meets the Department’s goal.

The application argues that the project only disturbs 4.9% of all the prime farmland in the Town of Waterloo and presumably would argue that means they meet the intent of the Department policy.  The problem with that is there is no master plan for development and no assurances that other more responsibly sited facilities could not be constructed in the Town of Waterloo that would raise the town total over the 10% goal of the Department.

The Ag and Markets testimony also argues against the claims that only 10.05 acres will be permanently disturbed.  The testimony explains that 474.1 acres will be permanently disturbed because “as long as NYS incentives for the development of renewable energy exists, the complete decommissioning of solar electric energy generation, and full resumption to agricultural use is not likely to occur”.

Conclusion

The fact that the Ag and Markets testimony was ignored proves that primary driver of environmental decisions is whether the action comports with the Climate Act.  I have previously described unintended consequences of the Climate Act solar development land rush on agriculture (here and here).  Until I discovered this testimony, I was under the impression that the Department of Ag and Markets was neglecting this issue.  Now, it is apparent that staff for the Department of Ag and Markets are trying to preserve prime agricultural land.  Unfortunately, the Article 10 permitting process is politically driven and the politicians behind the Climate Act are only concerned with the Climate Act agenda. 

I believe that there is a serious problem with Climate Act implementation inasmuch as renewable development is proceeding without an overall strategy to address all the requirements of the Climate Act and protect the environment and affected sectors.  All the currently proposed industrial solar projects are being developed without overall direction and the Article 10 process intended to ensure that all siting requirements are met or exceeded is not providing that protection.  As a result, it is unlikely that all this will work out in the best interests of the state’s agriculture sector, affected communities, or neighbors to the projects.

Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act Scoping Plan First Look

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) codifies a New York approach to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.  The October 14, 2021 Climate Action Council meeting briefly discussed the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  This post describes the organization of the initial draft of the scoping plan as presented at the October 14 Climate Action Council meeting.

I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act 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.   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 Implementation

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Both the Council and the advisory panels are composed of political appointees chosen more for their direct involvement in the energy and climate agenda than their expertise in the energy sector so the strategies proposed were more aspirational than practical. 

Developing a plan to transform the energy sector of the State of New York is an enormous challenge so the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants are providing technical support to translate the recommended strategies into specific policy options in an integration analysis.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  In mid-November documentation consisting of slide decks and spreadsheets was made available for the analysis but the lack of supporting descriptions makes interpretation of the slides difficult.

The integration analysis models the complete New York energy sector.  The modeling includes a reference case that projects how the economy and energy sector will evolve out to 2050 in the absence of any Climate Act policies or mandates.  Also included are four mitigation scenarios (shown below) that are compared to the reference case.  This analysis forms the basis for the contents of the scoping plan that will be released in early 2022.

Scoping Plan

The video recording of the October 14, 2021 Climate Action Council provided the first look at the scoping plan.  It included an initial draft Scoping Plan walkthrough starting at 3:48:04 of the recording. Note, however, that it was near the end of the session so it was only a cursory discussion.  There is a one slide outline of the organization of the Scoping Plan that is discussed at 3:48:47. Not shown in the outline, but mentioned, was that there would be technical appendices included in the scoping plan document.

The presentation skipped the following three pillars discussions.  I have not spent much time on the climate justice working group (CJWG) effort discussed in the next two slides.  When they get around to making their recommendations to the Climate Action Council, I will post a summary. Note that DAC is a dis-advantaged community.

The health pillar is a key factor in their benefit-cost claims.  The largest health benefit is from a reduction in inhalable particulates.  I have explained previously that I cannot accept their health benefit modeling methodology and results until they demonstrate that the observed state-wide reduction of inhalable particulate concentrations from 2000 to 2020 has produced health benefits on the order of 15 times greater than the integration analysis predicted health benefits due to Climate Act inhalable particulate concentration reductions.

The presentation skipped (at 3:51:50 in the recording) to the map of greenhouse gas emission categories, the advisory panels and the chapters in the scoping plan.  The slide just shows how the panel recommendations were incorporated into the scoping plan.

The next seven slides in the presentation highlight various sector strategies.  Starting at 3:52:52 in the recording there was an explanation of the format of the strategy slides.  Each contains an overview sector and vision including current status and vision for 2030 and 2050 and summary of the mitigating sector strategies on the left.  On the right there is more detailed strategy information by theme.  For your information, I list links for the presentations by each panel to the Climate Action Council and provide my impression of the initial summaries here.

In the following I highlight some of the strategies that will be included in the scoping plan when it is released next year.  For the transportation sector note that the they have pushed the date for 100% light-duty zero-emission vehicles up to 2030 as opposed to the current legally mandated date of 2035.  In addition, they somehow believe that it is possible to get 40% or more zero-emission sales for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2030.  They also presume that a “substantial portion” of personal transportation in urbanized areas will be shifted to public transportation or other low-carbon modes.  By 2050 all vehicles have to be zero emissions.  Note that “Some segments of hard-to-electrify sectors (aviation, freight rail) will rely on hydrogen and renewable biofuels, as needed”.

The buildings highlights presume that by 2030 heat pumps will become the majority of new purchases for space and water heating and that 1-2 million households will be electrified with heat pumps.  In 2050 they expect that 85% of homes and commercial building space statewide will have electrified with heat pumps.

The electricity sector highlights slide is deeply concerning to me.  The only difference between the overview and the mandated Climate Act targets is that they expect more behind-the-meter solar to be installed by 2030 than the 2025 Climate Act target.  The following slide for the Industrial sector includes a statement that says “Requires research, development, and demonstration to prove technologies at scale”. The power sector strategies have the same constraint but there is no recognition of that fact.  In this slide reliability is mentioned in the eighth of ten strategies.  All this despite a reliability planning speaker session that warned that “it will not be enough to depend on today’s technology to develop a reliable electric system with net-zero emissions”.  At the time I wrote that the ultimate question is whether the Climate Action Council will address the issues raised by the professionals or cater to the naïve dreams of the politically chosen members of the Power Generation Advisory Panel.   Based on this presentation I fear they are catering to magical solutions touted by the uninformed.

The industry slide is unchanged from the advisory panel recommendations.  Kudos to the fact that their strategies recognize the technological challenges faced by a transition to low-carbon processes.

The agriculture and forestry sectors also seem to be very similar to the advisory panel recommendations.  I worry that their plan to “increase carbon storage and sequestration in agricultural and forestry products through the avoided conversion of farm and forest lands, afforestation and reforestation, improved forest management practices, cropland management practices and harvested wood products” will fail.  Currently solar developers are rushing to develop as much as they can, as fast as they can, and as easily as they can, and that means plopping down hundreds of acres of solar panels on prime farmland.  There is no plan or avenue to address this issue at this time.

I think one can argue that the waste sector has a lot of wishful thinking in their strategies.  It basically boils down to planning on waste reduction, reuse, and recycling initiatives that are so effective that landfills are “only used sparingly for specific waste streams”.  That has been a goal of the state for decades but has never panned out.  It is not clear why the climate action plan will fare differently.

The final slide lists state-wide and cross sector strategies.  For the economy-wide policies it says that the scoping plan will seek “input on options for economywide policies that price carbon emissions”.  Climate action activists want to put a price on carbon but no one dares to let the public know what that will entail and what it will cost.  The gas system transition recommendations to reduce emissions from the natural gas system through “an orderly transition that is equitable, cost-effective, and maintains system safety and reliability” is another strategy that avoids the inevitable public pushback when the time comes to say you cannot use natural gas in your home.  The other recommendations sound appealing but won’t have major impacts on emissions.

Conclusion

It is terrifying to me that the Climate Act Scoping Plan that is intended to drive the next energy plan for New York State appears to overlook the importance of electric system reliability.  The organization slide for the plan does not mention reliability and the power generation sector strategies mention reliability only in passing.  It is important to note that the ideologues who have been allowed to shape the scoping plan strategies apparently do not recognize that the zero-emissions dispatchable resource necessary to keep the lights on does not exist. When the strategies are reviewed by the organizations charged with electric system reliability next year it will be time to decide if the transition is really only a matter of political will or if the risks are too great with today’s technology.

Steven Koonin sums it up better than I can:

Emissions are best reduced gradually. The prevailing narrative that we must immediately undertake massive actions to eliminate global emissions by mid-century is not supported by the science. A crash elimination of emissions from our energy systems would be extraordinarily disruptive, raising energy costs and degrading reliability, stranding assets, and displacing workers. Those systems are slow to change, in part because they must be highly reliable and require large capital investments. While a zero-emissions electrical grid is central to decarbonization strategies, we don’t yet have the technology to create a grid that is also reliable and affordable. The recent EU electricity crisis, caused in large part by relying upon intermittent wind energy without adequate back up, illustrates the critical importance of reliability.