NY Climate Act Implementation – Electric Generation De-Carbonization Pathways

On July 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act). It is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and eliminate the use of fossil fuel for electricity production by 2040. New York’s politicians were sure that implementing these goals was simply a matter of political will so they offered no plan how it would be done.  On June 24, 2020 Energy plus Environmental Economics (E3) presented results of their emissions reductions pathway analyses to the New York Climate Action Council which gives the first inkling of what the law may suggest will be done.  This post analyzes the electric generation analysis approach.

I am following the implementation of the CLCPA closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker.  Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern.  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.

I did a post on the Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in New York State Presentation  that can be viewed on the video of the webinar.  The Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in New York State – Final Report  itself and two appendices: Appendix A: Methods and Data  and Appendix B: Literature Review of Economy-Wide Deep Decarbonization and Highly Renewable Energy Systems  were included in the meeting materials.  This post addresses electric generation in the final report and Appendix A.

E3 Modeling

The E3 analysis uses models to simulate which combinations of resources can be used to meet the Climate Act goals, how the transmission grid can provide those resources and the renewable capacity needed to maintain reliability.  I will address these three models below.

E3 used their PATHWAYS model to “create strategically designed scenarios for how the State can reach its 2030 and 2050 GHG goals. The model is built using ‘bottom-up’ data for all emissions produced and energy consumed within the State.   It identifies GHG reduction measures from transportation, buildings, industry, electricity, and other sectors, and captures interactions among measures to create a detailed picture of emissions reductions and costs through 2050”.  E3 notes “that as a ‘stock rollover’ model, PATHWAYS considers realistic timing of investments to replace appliances, vehicles, buildings, and other infrastructure. It pays special attention to the dynamics between electricity generation and new loads from transportation and buildings, as well as the role of low-carbon fuels such as advanced biofuels, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels”.

I believe there is a major problem with their “stock rollover” model.  As far as I can tell, it does not consider the readiness of the technology proposed.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently published “Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation” that notes:

“Without a major acceleration in clean energy innovation, net-zero emissions targets will not be achievable. The world has seen a proliferating number of pledges by numerous governments and companies to reach net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the coming decades as part of global efforts to meet long-term sustainability goals, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change. But there is a stark disconnect between these high-profile pledges and the current state of clean energy technology. While the technologies in use today can deliver a large amount of the emissions reductions called for by these goals, they are insufficient on their own to bring the world to net zero while ensuring energy systems remain secure – even with much stronger policies supporting them.”

I have shown that E3 ignored these limitations in its assessment of the technology needed to provide electricity when they claimed “Deep decarbonization in New York is feasible using existing technologies”.  That statement mis-characterizes the actual situation.  As IEA points out feasibility depends upon making all parts of the technological application process, what they call the value chain, commercially viable.  The fact is that for the E3 technologies proposed to address the winter peak problem, one or more aspects of commercial viability, availability limitations, or public perception make the E3 recommendations risky bets for future reliability and affordability.

In order to consider effects of the transmission grid on the de-carbonization effort, E3 used their RESOLVE model:

Our modeling approach also incorporates detailed electricity sector representation using E3’s RESOLVE model. RESOLVE is used to develop least-cost electricity generation portfolios that achieve New York’s policy goals, including 100% zero-emission electricity, while maintaining reliability.

For this study, RESOLVE was configured with six zones: two zones representing the upstate and downstate portions of the New York electricity system and four zones representing the external markets that interact with New York.

It is beyond the scope of my analysis to quantitatively determine whether this resolution is sufficient to represent the New York grid relative to the generation portfolios.  Qualitatively, however, the fact that New York City, which has specific transmission load constraints and a requirement for a minimum level of in-city generation, is lumped with Long Island suggests that this is a significant deficiency.

In my comments on the resource adequacy hearing and elsewhere I have argued that actual short-term meteorological data must be used to correctly characterize the renewable resource availability for New York in general and in areas downwind of the Great Lakes in particular. This is because the lakes create meso-scale features, most notably lake-effect snow and clouds, that can affect solar resources many miles from the lake shore. It is important that the solar and wind resources be evaluated based on geographically representative short-term data so that site-specific temporal effects can be included. E3 calculates the “effective load-carrying capability” which they define as the amount of “perfect capacity” that could be replaced or avoided with wind, solar, or storage while providing equivalent system reliability.

The values in this analysis were developed using E3’s reliability model, RECAP. The model assesses generation resource adequacy for a power system based on loss-of-load probability analysis but is inherently flawed for this application because it does not consider the observed renewable resource availability which can only be quantified by a detailed look at historical meteorological data such as I have proposed.

Electricity Demands

E3 correctly notes that it will be challenging to meet increased electricity demand due to electrification of vehicles and buildings while at the same time reducing, and eventually eliminating, GHG emissions while maintaining system reliability.  E3 predicts that electricity demand may increase by 65% to 80% depending on the “scale and timing of electrification”.  The electricity requirements depend upon how much of a role bio-fuels and synthetic fuels can play in replacing fossil fuels.  This analysis suffers from the lack of consideration of technical readiness for those technologies.  The IEA report lists very few bio-fuel and synthetic fuel technologies that have reached sizeable deployment and have all designs and underlying components at high technological readiness levels.

Peak Demands

The report explains that the transformation will “change the timing and magnitude of consumers’ electricity demands and create a “winter peaking” system in New York, owing to new demands from electric space heating”.  They go on to claim “Flexibility in electric vehicle charging patterns and building loads can significantly reduce peak demands and the need for new electric generating capacity. Flexible loads can serve a similar role to battery storage, shifting demand to times of high renewables output.”

“Figure 17 illustrates this evolution of the system peak—and the impacts of electric load flexibility over time”.  Because I think winter load is the greater future concern, I will discuss winter instead of summer information.  Figure 17 Annual summer and winter peak electricity demands shows how the peak electricity demand is expected to change.  I was unable to find the corresponding data for the annual summer and winter peak electricity demands portion shown in the figure but I estimate from the figure that the winter statewide peak load will be 24 GW in 2020 and in 2050 the peak load will be 35 GW with flex loads and 43 GW without flex loads.

The bottom portion of Figure 17 Average hourly loads by month is confusing at first glance.  It shows the average hourly load as it varies by each month.  E3 used their models to generate load shapes and develop their claim that there is 8 GW of peak load shaving available in 2050.  There is insufficient information to critique that claim but I am struck by the appearance of the 2020 and 2050 hourly load shapes.  In 2020 heating is a small component of load but in 2050 it will be much larger.  Consequently, I expect that the components of the load shape will change so I would expect some kind of change in the shape.  Instead it appears that the load is just larger and there is no change in the shape.  Importantly it is not clear why the load can be shaved.  Where do you shift the heating component that makes up the sharp increase early in the morning?  If you heat your home at 3:00 AM it will be cold by 7:00 AM during the peak.  Moreover, note that there does not appear to be as much flex load available at the peak later in the day that is roughly the same magnitude.  Consequently, I am not convinced of their arguments that 8 GW of load can be shaved off the winter peak.

Resource Portfolios

E3 claims that New York State has “access to diverse in-state renewable energy resources and zero-emissions technology options, as well as access to adjoining states, provinces, and regional transmission systems which offer additional options for zero-emissions energy supply”.  The E3 analysis used their RECAP model to determine “the new resources required to reliably meet electricity demand in buildings, transportation, and industry with 100% zero-emissions electricity for the upstate and downstate regions of New York”.

Although E3 claims that their analysis models the reliability contributions of intermittent and limited-duration resources, the fact that they did not use a comprehensive and more representative meteorological data set as input makes that claim weak in my opinion.  The worst-case reliability problem in the no-fossil-fuel future is very likely to be the worst-case wind and solar resource availability period not the peak load.  Unfortunately, it is possible that the winter conditions that create future peak loads may also exacerbate renewable resource availability so the two conditions may overlap.  I don’t think anyone has adequately addressed this issue yet.

E3 claims: Our analysis finds that New York can reliably meet growing electricity loads with 100% zero-emissions electricity by relying on a diverse mix of resources, including:

          • Onshore and offshore wind
          • Large-scale and distributed solar
          • In-state hydro and existing and new hydro imports from Quebec
          • Existing nuclear capacity
          • Existing and new combined cycles (CC) and combustion turbines (CT) utilizing zero-emissions biogas
          • New natural gas-fired combined cycles with carbon capture and sequestration (CC-CCS)

Eventually I will try to quantify the resources of each of these resources so that I can compare their projections with others.  The lack of data in this regard makes that task daunting.  I do want to make one observation.  Figure 18, Projected Installed Capacity (top) and Annual Electricity Generation (bottom), shows huge increases in bioenergy installed capacity in both scenarios.  However, note that the annual generation for those categories is small.  I cannot imagine a business case for developing that kind of capacity for such limited output so I believe it is likely that bioenergy will have to be heavily subsidized to make it available as they propose.

Transmission

E3 explains:

New investments in transmission will be needed to enable the delivery of 100% zero-emission electricity, including:

          • Local transmission upgrades to integrate new renewable resources
          • Additional transmission to deliver renewable resources from other regions, especially Quebec, into New York
          • Bulk transmission capacity from upstate New York to downstate load centers

Although New York has started the process of adding bulk transmission capacity it is not clear how much more will be needed.  I have yet to see anyone explain if any of the off-shore wind will be considered in-city generation for reliability purposes.  The DPS White Paper on CES procurements to implement the Climate Act includes a proposal for a Tier 4 procurement to encourage will directly extend financial support for renewable energy delivered into the New York City control zone but that discussion did not address in-city generation requirements.

 Firm Capacity

E3 explains that “Firm capacity is the amount of energy available for power production which can be guaranteed to be available at a given time. As the share of variable resources like wind and solar grows substantially, firm capacity resources will be needed to ensure year-round reliability, especially during periods of low renewables output.”

Firm capacity allows the system to have adequate resources available during prolonged periods of low renewable energy output. I agree with the E3 description that “The State’s need for firm resources would be most pronounced during winter periods of high demand for electrified heating and transportation and lower wind and solar output”.  E3 says that the hourly loads in their analysis are based on six years of historical weather 2007-2012.  I asked E3 what monitoring locations were used but never heard back.  I believe these data are from the National Weather Service climatological sites.  If that is the case they are not representative of the whole of New York and that NYS Mesonet data available from every county in the State should be used instead.

Conclusion

The first proposal to meet the Climate Act targets that was presented to the Climate Action Council can only be considered an overview.  The E3 analysis does not impress me.  While their models give the veneer of respectability to the projections, the reality is that the inherent over-simplifications of their models under-estimates the difficulties of the transition in New York and gives a false sense of security to their assurances that implementation will succeed.

Despite the limitations, the analysis does make important points.  I agree with their conclusion that the transition will “change the timing and magnitude of consumers’ electricity demands and create a “winter peaking” system in New York, owing to new demands from electric space heating”.  They point out that a multi-day period of low renewable energy availability will be a particular problem in the winter and state that: “Firm capacity is the amount of energy available for power production which can be guaranteed to be available at a given time. As the share of variable resources like wind and solar grows substantially, firm capacity resources will be needed to ensure year-round reliability, especially during periods of low renewables output.”

After their presentation to the Climate Action Council, members asked E3 about the use of renewable natural gas as one of the firm capacity resources.  Apparently, some believe that renewable natural gas is not a renewable energy resource according to the Climate Act.  Be that as it may, I suspect that E3 has found that without sufficient firm capacity resources the only alternative to maintain reliability will be extraordinary amounts of energy storage.  Energy storage is very expensive and E3 might have included renewable natural gas energy to limit energy storage use to keep the costs down.

Although E3 claims to bring “clear, unbiased analysis to the critical issues facing the energy industry today” I don’t think that is possible to be unbiased and work for the New York Climate Action Council.  New York’s Climate Act is predicated upon the belief that decarbonization is only a matter of political will.  Unfortunately, that belief is inconsistent with the firm capacity challenge for the winter peak.  It will be interesting to see how the Council deals with inconvenient issues that challenge the notion that this transition is not pushing the envelope of electric system reliability.

New York Peaking Power Plants and Environmental Justice Summary

New York State energy and environmental policy is more about optics than facts.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the recent spate of opinion pieces, reports, and even policy proposals related to peaking power plants.  I evaluated the basis of these items in a series of three posts but because they are very technical I have elected to summarize this issue in this post.

I think this is an important because the vilification of peaking power plants is getting all sorts of undeserved attention.  Although the peaking plants are alleged to be a primary driver of the environmental burden in neighboring environmental justice communities that is unlikely to be the case.  Combine that with the enormous costs of energy storage and the difficulty siting enough renewables within the city to replace these plants that means that a clean energy “solution” is likely not in the best interests of society, particularly in the admittedly over-burdened environmental justice communities.

This post is a summary of three detailed technical posts.  The PEAK Coalition recently released a report entitled: “Dirty Energy, Big Money”.  My first post provided information on the primary air quality problem associated with these facilities, the organizations behind the report, the State’s response to date, the underlying issue of environmental justice and addressed the motivation for the analysis.  My second post addressed the rationale and feasibility of the proposed plan relative to environmental effects, affordability, and reliability.  Finally, I discussed the  Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy report Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State that provided technical information used by the PEAK Coalition.

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40 years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations.  I have been involved with the peaking power plants in particular for over 20 years both from a compliance reporting standpoint and also evaluation of impacts and options for these sources.  This background served me well preparing this post.  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.

The Problem

There are two drivers for peaking power plant issues.  In order to provide electricity to everyone who needs it when they need it the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) has to balance power availability with the load on the system.  NYISO is responsible not only for the real-time deliver of power but also for reliability planning.  If the load did not vary this would be much less difficult but the reality is that load varies diurnally and seasonally.  Most important is meeting demand when loads are highest in the summer and winter when it is necessary to provide electricity to maintain the health and well-being of customers. Ultimately the problem boils down to the fact that there are short periods when so much load is needed that there are units dedicated by intent or circumstances to provide just that load during the year.  This is expensive and inefficient but is in my opinion a problem with no easy solution.

The second driver for this issue is that the hot and humid conditions that cause the high energy use in the summer peak are also the conditions conducive to ozone formation and higher levels of PM2.5.  New York State has been working on the issue of emissions and air quality on high electric demand days specifically since at least 2006.  While there is an undeniable link between high energy demand and the high emissions that create peak ozone levels there is on over-riding requirement to keep the power on when it is needed most.

The reports both suggested that the payments for the peaking power were unreasonable.  The PEAK Coalition believes that these plants “receive exorbitant payments from utilities and other energy service providers just for the plants to exist”.  This is not my area of expertise but based on the turnover of ownership and other factors I don’t believe that they are the profit centers the PEAK Coalition believes they are.  Importantly, the units do run when power is needed most so there is a reason for them to exist.

The Analysis

I found that the basis for the technical aspects of the PEAK Coalition report is b work by Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy.  PSE evaluated Federal data peaking power plants across the country based on fuel type, capacity, technology and how much they ran.  This is a blunt approach that cannot address any of the nuances that have resulted in some units running for short times.  In New York for example, there are simple cycle turbines in New York City that were built specifically to provide peaking power.  There also are some large oil-fired units that run little because their fuel costs are so high.  Off the top of my head I also note that there are units that burn oil and run only when needed due to natural gas supply constraints but there certainly could be other reasons some units run so little.  As a result the simplistic proposal for replacement is only valid for some of the facilities at best.

In order to prove the need for a clean energy alternative, PSE combined the peaking power plant data with ambient air quality data to show that the peaking plants often run at the same time that there are National Ambient Air Quality Standard exceedances which is a well-known fact.  PSE also developed a “cumulative vulnerability index that integrates data on health burdens (asthma, heart attacks, premature birth rates); environmental burdens (ozone, particulate matter, toxics, traffic proximity, lead paint, and hazardous facilities); and demographic indicators (low-income, minority, linguistically isolated, and non-high school-educated populations)”.  All of these data were combined to make the claim that these plants need to be replaced.

However, I don’t think that the PSE approach made a convincing case that the peaking power plants are a primary driver of environmental burdens on neighboring communities.  Their vulnerability index lists other factors but makes no attempt to attribute impacts to each factor.  The ultimate problem with this approach is that the peak unit justification relies on environmental burdens from ozone and particulate matter air quality impacts.  However, ozone is a secondary air pollutant and the vast majority of ambient PM2.5 from power plants is also a secondary pollutant.  As a result, there is enough of a lag between the time emissions are released and creation of either ozone or PM2.5 that the impact is felt far away.  That means that the accused peaking power plants do not create the air quality impact problems alleged to occur to the environmental justice communities located near the plants.  In fact, because NOx scavenges ozone the peaker plants reduce local ozone if they have any effect at all.

The Solution

Dirty Energy, Big Money states “Experts have found—and real-world examples have proven—that battery storage and renewable generation may be less expensive to develop and manage than the rarely used but heavily polluting fossil fuel power plants, while also meeting or exceeding the same performance standards”.  This statement is just plain wrong as I showed in detail.  As soon as energy storage is added to the renewable “solution” the projected costs rise exponentially and there are no real-world examples supporting this as a proven policy approach.  Moreover, the difficulties and cost of siting enough renewable energy within New York City to meet the in-city generation requirements also suggest enormous costs.

New York’s irrational war on natural gas continues in this vilification of peaking power plants.  I do not dispute that there is a New York City peaker problem where old, inefficient combustion turbines designed to provide peak power are being used to provide critically needed power when needed most. In order to force their replacement the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC_promulgated new  limits for the simple cycle turbines such that they will be required to install controls or shut down. They should be replaced and probably should have been replaced long ago so the question is why hasn’t this happened.

In my opinion the continued operation of the old simple cycle turbines in New York City is the result of New York’s de-regulated market place.  I am absolutely sure that in a regulated environment the responsible utility would have made a case to the Department of Public Service that replacement with cleaner, more efficient generation was needed, the Department would have agreed  and after it was approved the utility would have been guaranteed a reasonable return on their investment.  However, in the de-regulated market there wasn’t a strong enough financial incentive to replace the old units.  Before I retired in 2010, I worked on two separate permit applications for new, efficient, and cleaner replacement power for one set of the old combustion turbines.  In both instances the permits were approved but the replacements were never built, apparently because the company decided that the business case was not strong enough to warrant the investment.

According to the plans submitted to comply with DEC’s peaking power plant rule only one company is planning to build replacement peaking power. I fear that in today’s political climate that the proposed re-powering of Gowanus will not be permitted because it is new fossil fuel infrastructure.  However, it is fundamentally different inasmuch as the proposed plant is on a barge.  If New York aspirational climate agenda works out is won’t be needed and then it can simply be moved away to another location to serve as a bridge source of energy elsewhere.  However, I am unconvinced that the clean energy alternatives proposed will work, much less be affordable.  Therefore this proposed project is invaluable insurance for reliability and affordability.

Conclusion

The claims that peaking power plants are dangers to neighboring environmental justice communities are based on emotion.  In the evaluation I did of the PSE analysis and the PEAK Coalition report, I found that the alleged impacts of the existing peaking power plants over-estimates impact on local communities relative to other sources.  The existing simple cycle peaking turbines in New York City are old, inefficient and much dirtier than a new facility and clearly should be replaced.  However, they reliably produce affordable power when needed most.  In order to maintain that affordability and reliability I think it is best to rely on a proven solution such as the proposed Gowanus re-powering project.  The solar plus energy storage approach advocated by PSE and the PEAK Coalition will likely increase costs significantly if it works.  I cannot over-emphasize the fact that it may not work because solar and energy storage is not a proven technology on the scale necessary to provide New York City’s peaking power requirements.  Sadly in the rush to prove politically correct credentials this unproven technology may be chosen despite the risks to power reliability.

PSE Healthy Energy: New York State Peaker Power Plants

Update June 30, 2020:  I wrote a layman’s summary on this issue here.

Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit research institute that studies the way energy production and use impact public health and the environment. One of their recent programs is the Energy Storage Peaker Plant Replacement Project.  That work formed much of the technical basis for the PEAK Coalition report entitled: “Dirty Energy, Big Money”.  I have prepared two posts on that document (here and here).  This post addresses the PSE report Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State.

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40 years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations.  I have been involved with New York peaking power plants in particular for over 20 years from a compliance reporting and operations standpoint and also evaluated impacts and options for this kind of source.  This background served me well preparing this post.  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.

Energy Storage Peaker Plant Replacement Project

PSE defines the alleged problem in the introduction to this project as follows:

The United States relies on more than 1,000 natural gas- and oil-fired peaker power plants across the country to meet infrequent peaks in electricity demand. These peaker plants tend to be more expensive and inefficient to run for every megawatt-hour generated than baseload natural gas plants and emit higher rates of carbon dioxide and health-harming criteria air pollutants. Peaker plants are also typically disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities, where vulnerable populations already experience high levels of health and environmental burdens.

The text for the New York specific report describes the problem similarly:

Across New York, 49 oil- and gas-fired peaker power plants and peaking units at larger plants help meet statewide peak electric demand.  These include both combustion turbines designed to ramp quickly to meet peak demand, and aging steam turbines now used infrequently to meet peak needs. More than a third of New York’s peaker plants burn primarily oil, and three-quarters are over 30 years old resulting in numerous inefficient plants with high rates of greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions for every unit of electricity generated. Some of these plants are in very urban areas: ten plants have more than a million people living within three miles. One-third of the plants are located in areas the state considers to be environmental justice communities, where vulnerable populations typically already experience high levels of health and environmental burdens. New York has set energy storage targets and recently designed peaker plant emission reduction targets, providing an opportunity to replace inefficient, high-emitting peaker plants in vulnerable communities throughout the state with energy storage and solar.

Their proposed solution:

Renewable energy and energy storage systems are beginning to emerge as competitive replacements for this fossil fuel infrastructure. Simultaneously, numerous states across the country are designing incentives and targets to support energy storage deployment. Together, these developments provide a unique opportunity to use energy storage to strategically displace some of the most polluting peaker power plants on the grid.

In the Energy Storage Peaker Plant Replacement Project PSE did a screening analysis across nine states that identified peaker power plants that “may be prime candidates for replacement based on operational and grid characteristics, and whose replacement may yield the greatest health, environment and equity co-benefits”.  They claim that their approach “aligns state efforts to adopt energy storage with environmental and societal goals”.

The following section is the summary of the report.  Based on my review of the New York State-specific results I believe further study is needed to actually determine if all the peaker units identified can actually be considered candidates for replacement with energy storage and solar.  I also worry that the PSE analysis is mis-leading inasmuch as it does not address the fact that peaker plants fulfill niche operational backup roles that vary widely across the country.  I am familiar with New York State peaker plants and will show why that is important in New York.

PSE Summary

“The majority of New York’s peaker plants are located in densely urban areas in New York City and Manhattan, a region that is in non-attainment for federal ozone standards. These include old, inefficient  and oil-burning units near populations that experience high cumulative environmental health and socioeconomic burdens.  The state’s new emission reduction standards for nitrogen oxides, along with its energy storage deployment goals, provide a clear opportunity to target inefficient and polluting facilities for replacement with cleaner alternatives, particularly in urban areas. In the attached table, we provide operational, environmental and demographic data for New York peakers and nearby populations. Indicators such as nearby population, emission rates, heat rate (a measure of efifciency), operation on poor air quality days, capacity factor, typical run hours, and location in an environmental justice community or in an import-constrained load zones downstate can help inform whether a given plant might be a good target for replacement with storage, solar+storage, demand response, or other clean energy alternatives. These data should be accompanied by engagement with accompanied by engagement with affected communities to determine replacement priorities and strategies.”

The New York report has four sections: New York State Policy and Regulatory Environment, New York State Peaker Plants, Nearby Populations, and Emissions and the Environment.  I will address those sections in the following.

New York State Policy and Regulatory Environment

There isn’t much to comment on in this section.  The PSE report only describes New York’s climate initiatives.  Although the summary notes that New York has new emission reduction standards for nitrogen oxides, it does not highlight the fact that the regulation was specifically intended to address emissions from the old, inefficient simple cycle combustion turbines in New York City.  I described New York’s specific initiatives in my background post on the PEAK Coalition Dirty Energy, Big Money report.

New York State Peaker Plants

This analysis and report were intended to provide background information to support “clean energy alternatives” for peaker plants.  A primary component of that information is identification of peaker plants.  The technical documentation describes peaker power plants and the selection criteria used in their screening analysis.  PSE states “The phrase peaker plant commonly refers to fossil fuel-burning power generation used to meet peak demand on the electric grid, but the term itself does not have a precise definition”.  Actually, for EPA reporting purposes there is an exact, regulatory definition.  40 CFR Part 75  §72.2, states that a combustion unit is a peaking unit if it has an average annual capacity factor of 10.0 percent or less over the past three years and an annual capacity factor of 20.0 percent or less in each of those three years.

PSE chose to select peaking power plants based on the following criteria: fuel type: oil & natural gas; Capacity: ≥ 5 MW; capacity factor: ≤15% (3-yr. avg.); unit technology type: simple cycle combustion turbine, steam turbine & internal combustion; application: entire peaker plants & peaking units at larger plants; and status: existing and proposed units.  Relative to the peaking power plants subject to EPA reporting requirements, the biggest difference is that the PSE criteria selects small units between 5 and 15 MW that are so small that their emissions and impacts are generally considered insignificant.  Those facilities do not report continuous emissions monitoring data that the units >15 MW do.

Briefly, PSE collected data from EPA and EIA then screened it with their criteria to identify peaking units.  They calculated operational and emissions data.  Then they compared operational data with ambient monitoring data and found periods when the peaking units operated during periods of high ambient levels.  This is a straight-forward number crunching exercise and I have no comments on the methodology.

The technical and policy documentation for the Energy Storage peaker plant replacement project includes a section titled “Grid requirements: transmission constraints and capacity needs” that includes a discussion of New York.  For the most part PSE relied on the New York Independent System Operator analyses of the peaker plants. They note that the impacts of removing capacity is highly location dependent quoting NYISO reports: “lower amounts of capacity removal are likely to result in reliability issues at specific transmission locations” and that NYISO did not “attempt to assess a comprehensive set of potential scenarios that might arise from specific unit retirements”.  Despite the fact that NYISO cannot make specific recommendations PSE goes ahead and makes recommendations for five plants in New York City and five plants on Long Island that are “replacement opportunities” in PSE Peaker Documentation Table 5.3.

While I am certainly no expert on New York City reliability requirements I believe that there are ramifications not considered by PSE.  The NYISO Gold Book Data for Table 5.3 Replacement Opportunities table provides additional data for the PSE opportunities.  First note that PSE did not identify peaking units that operate at facilities with other units.  There is a combustion turbine at Northport and Arthur Kill that operates with the capacity factor listed.  PSE apparently does not understand that the primary purpose of those units is for black starts, that is to say when they provide power necessary to start the steam turbine units when there is no off-site power available.  In theory battery storage could be used for that but because of reliability considerations the battery would have to always be kept with enough energy to start the plant for the very rare occasion when there is a blackout.  There is no way that could be cost-effective.  My table also lists the fuel burned and it is instructive that all but one of the units listed can burn kerosene or number 2 fuel oil.  There are specific requirements for minimum oil burning when there is a possibility that the gas supply could be cut off.  Because this is not the standard peaking power plant replacement scenario, I am not sure whether battery storage would be cost-effective for this requirement.

Advocates for “clean energy alternatives” point out that New York has a law that requires that no electricity will be generated by fossil fuels in 2040.  Until such time that the State has a plan to meet that goal that explains how reliability and affordability can be maintained, then I will continue to believe that meeting that aspirational goal is more than simply a matter of political will.  For example, the Gowanus power plant has a nameplate capacity of around 540 MW. For all the Article Ten solar energy applications currently in the queue 5.4 acres per MW was the lowest spatial requirement.  That means that solar panels totaling at least 4.6 square miles will be needed to replace this source of in-city generation. While that may be possible, there are a host of logistical issues starting with the need to provide the power where it is needed when it is needed.  New York City is a load pocket relative to the rest of the grid but there are numerous smaller load pockets within the city.

Nearby Populations

The report notes that “Ten of the New York peaker plants each have more than a million people living within a three-mile radius. The most urban plants tend to also be in relatively low-income, minority communities, due to both the location of some facilities in low-income, environmentally overburdened communities of color.”  In my background post on the PEAK Coalition Dirty Energy, Big Money report I described the environmental justice concept of dis-proportionate impacts.  I do not know how to deal with dis-proportionate impacts when the location of some facilities impact rich communities at the same time they impact low-income communities.

PSE developed a “cumulative vulnerability index that integrates data on health burdens (asthma, heart attacks, premature birth rates); environmental burdens (ozone, particulate matter, toxics, traffic proximity, lead paint, and hazardous facilities); and demographic indicators (low-income, minority, linguistically isolated, and non-high school-educated populations)”.  It is vital to determine the effect of the peaker power plants relative to all the other impacts on the admittedly over-burdened environmental justice communities.

Emissions and the Environment – Air Quality Impacts

In order to determine the relative impact of peak power plants we have to consider their air quality impacts.  In order to be permitted to operate, all power plants have to evaluate the potential impacts of their emissions relative to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).  There are two types of standards.  Primary standards provide public health protection, including protecting the health of “sensitive” populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards provide public welfare protection, including protection against decreased visibility and damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings.  Air quality models combine information about the emissions, operating characteristics, and meteorological conditions to estimate the ambient concentrations from the power plants and those estimates are compared to the NAAQS.  If the contribution from the facility directly causes an exceedance of any NAAQS limit then the plant cannot operate until changes are made to reduce the impact.  If nothing can be done to reduce the impacts lower than the limits then it cannot be permitted to operate.

The air quality modeling used to permit a power plant to operate considers pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide that are directly emitted by the plant.  Power plants also emit pollutants that are precursors to other pollutants that form in secondary reactions.  Modeling secondary pollutants is more complicated and ascribing the impacts of particular facilities on air quality is more difficult.  Permit conditions for secondary pollutants such as ozone and inhalable particulate matter can also limit emissions of the precursor pollutants.

In my opinion the most difficult air quality issue today is ozone attainment because the emission source characteristics and meteorological conditions are not only complex and difficult to understand but also because making the reductions necessary are costly and impactful.   Ground-level ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Those pollutants are emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, natural sources and other man-made sources and when they chemically react in the presence of sunlight, they create ozone.  Ozone is most likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments but because NOx and VOC as well as ozone can be transported long distances by wind, rural areas are affected and urban areas are affected by sources far upwind.

It has been observed that when widespread transportation restrictions are implemented (e.g. during the Atlanta Olympics) that there is a marked improvement in ozone levels.  However, the fact is that there is little societal desire to maintain the draconian restrictions of automobile use that produce those improvements.  For peaking power plants, the problem is that the conditions most conducive to create ozone are also the hot and muggy conditions that increase electricity demand for cooling, so the peak load of electric generation produces the most emissions at the worst time.  However, in order to provide the power necessary to keep the lights on when people really want and need it, the existing power grid has peaking facilities.  In my second post on the PEAK coalition report I described the process used to determine if these units are needed and why I think they have not been replaced yet.

Recall that PSE developed a cumulative vulnerability index that integrates data on environmental burdens including ozone and particulate matter.   The point of this entire discussion is that ozone is a secondary air pollutant and the vast majority of ambient PM2.5 from power plants is also a secondary pollutant.  In other words, there is a lag between the time of relevant emissions and creation of either ozone or PM2.5.  As a result, the accused peaking power plants do not create the air quality impact problems alleged to occur to the environmental justice communities near the peaking power plants.  In fact, because NOx scavenges ozone the peaker plants reduce local ozone if they have any effect at all.

Conclusion

The PSE report notes that “These data should be accompanied by engagement with accompanied by engagement with affected communities to determine replacement priorities and strategies.”  I do not want anyone to misunderstand that I am not arguing that something should not be done about New York City’s simple cycle combustion turbine peaking power plants.  They are old, inefficient and relatively dirty.  However, in order to do the right thing, we need to understand all the background information.  The PSE analyses and the PEAK Coalition vilification of fossil-fired power plants only tells one side of the story and, inasmuch as most of the alleged environmental impacts are based on ozone and PM2.5 impacts, they misleadingly imply much more of an environmental benefit to the affected communities than will actually occur if the existing power plants are replaced by the latest generation of natural-gas fired power plants.

As noted in my post on the feasibility of the “clean energy alternative”, I have reservations about that proposed solution.  Even though the cost for developing renewable energy resources is allegedly cheaper than the cost of equivalent fossil-fired energy resources, the cost to ensure that electricity is available when and where it is needed for the two resources are not even close.  Because renewable energy is intermittent energy storage is required and my feasibility post demonstrated those costs are immense and would have to drop by an order of magnitude to make the solar+storage option comparable in cost.

Post Script

The PSE report Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State includes a table that lists all the power plants in New York State that meet their screening criteria defining a peak plant.  The title of the report suggests that this list contains facilities that could be replaced by energy storage.  However, it includes steam turbine units that burn residual oil.  Because those units burn an expensive fuel, they don’t run much but because their operating costs are relatively low, they can be kept available for the rare occasions when they are needed. I was working at one of the named Upstate plants, Oswego, when the 2003 Northeast blackout occurred.  When the transmission system lost power, three nuclear units nine miles east of the plant had to shut down.  In order to bring the system back on-line, both of Oswego’s 850 MW units were turned on, ran for a combined 231 hours and generated 71,684 MWh.  I cannot think of any scenario where it would be in the best interest of New York to build enough energy storage to replace the Oswego power plant for this type of incident.

PEAK Coalition Dirty Energy, Big Money: Rationale and Feasibility

Update June 30, 2020:  I wrote a layman’s summary on this issue here.

New York State energy and environmental policy is more about optics than results.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the recent spate of opinion pieces, reports, and even policy proposals related to peaking power plants.  In May 2020, the PEAK Coalition released a report entitled: “Dirty Energy, Big Money”.  The focus of the study is the “peaker” power plants that operate when energy demand in New York City spikes above normal levels.  Because I have been involved with this issue and these plants for over 20 years, I want to review the report.

This is my second post on this topic.  The first post provided information on the primary air quality problem associated with these facilities, the organizations behind the report, the State’s response to date, the underlying issue of environmental justice and address the motivation for the analysis.  This post addresses the rationale and feasibility of the proposed plan relative to environmental effects, affordability, and reliability.

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40 years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations.  I have been involved with the peaking power plants in particular for over 20 years both from a compliance reporting standpoint and also evaluation of impacts and options for these sources.  This background served me well preparing this post.  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 Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit research institute that studies the way energy production and use impact public health and the environment. Their report Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State formed much of the technical basis for this PEAK Coalition analysis.   I discuss that report here.

The full title of Dirty Energy, Big Money includes: “How Private Companies Make Billions from Polluting Fossil Fuel Peaker Plants in New York City’s Environmental Justice Communities—and How to Create a Cleaner, More Just Alternative Public Health Impacts”.  The table of contents includes sections on public health impacts, New York’s reliability process and payments, clean energy alternatives and the benefits of the PEAK Coalition proposed alternative.  I will address each of these topics.

The report has a table of Peaker Power Plants Operating in New York City which is based on a Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy report: Opportunities for Replacing Peaker Plants with Energy Storage in New York State.  The peaking units included in that report cover not only small combustion turbines with nameplate capacities down to 16 MW but also steam turbine boilers such as Ravenswood ST03 with a nameplate capacity of 1,027 MW.  The problem with using that overview analysis in this instance is that the impacts and alternatives for such widely different power plants are completely different.   Unfortunately, the report does not address the differences and suffers as a result.

Public Health Impacts

The PEAK coalition description of air quality public health impacts claims that “When New York’s gas-fired peaker plants are operating, they can account for over one-third of New York’s daily power plant NOx emissions,” but the citation is from a press release so I could not track down the basis for that claim.  This is one example of the problem resulting from the broad definition of peaker plants that considers both steam turbine boilers and combustion turbines.  Because steam turbine boilers have relatively tall stacks and hot plumes there are very few direct impacts on local neighborhoods from their emissions simply because there is no opportunity for the plume to reach the ground so close.  The press release is apparently referring to the older simple cycle combustion turbines that either have to retire or install controls by May 1, 2023.  More importantly, the discussion of health impacts focuses on PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less that is small enough to be inhaled deep into the lung) and ozone.  Neither of those pollutants is associated with local impacts from natural gas and oil-fired power plants because they are primarily a result of secondary pollutant effects meaning that they result from reactions with other directly emitted pollutants.  Those reactions take time and by the time they occur the air mass has moved away from the local neighborhoods.

The primary public health reference was the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) Air Pollution and the Health of New Yorkers report.  The PEAK Coalition quotes the conclusion from that report: “each year, PM2.5 pollution in [New York City] causes more than 3,000 deaths, 2,000 hospital admissions for lung and heart conditions, and approximately 6,000 emergency department visits for asthma in children and adults.”  Each year they claim exposures to ozone concentrations above background levels cause an estimated “400 premature deaths, 850 hospitalizations for asthma and 4,500 emergency department visits for asthma.”  What is not made clear is that these conclusions are for total air pollution in NYC and are based on air quality conditions from 2005-2007.

The DOHMOH report describes PM2.5 and its sources:

Fine Particles (PM2.5) are small, airborne particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. Major sources of PM2.5 include on-road vehicles (trucks, buses and cars); fossil fuel combustion for generating electric power and heating residential and commercial buildings; off-road vehicles (such as construction equipment); and commercial cooking (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Emissions Inventory). Fine particles can also become airborne from mechanical processes such as construction or demolition, industrial metal fabrication, or when traffic or wind stirs up road dust.

An article entitled Fine Particulate Matter Constituents Associated with Cardiovascular Hospitalizations and Mortality in New York City by Ito et al., 2011 concludes that “Local combustion sources, including traffic and residual oil burning, may play a year round role in the associations between air pollution and cardiovascular disease outcomes, but transported aerosols may explain the seasonal variation in associations shown by PM2.5 mass”.  Residual oil burning at the PEAK coalition peaker power plants is a backup fuel source used when there is a scarcity of natural gas or there are transmission constraint requirements that require a minimum oil burn.  Because of the fuel use characteristics, the tall stacks, and the conversion time between SO2 emissions and sulfate aerosols it is unlikely that these power plants have neighborhood impacts.  It is more likely that traffic sources are a larger contributor to EJ communities near the power plants.

There is one more aspect of the DOHMOH PM2.5 report that needs to be addressed.  The report specified four scenarios for comparisons (DOHMOH Figure 4) and calculated health events that it attributed to citywide PM2.5 (DOHMOH Table 5).  Based on their results the report notes that:

Even a feasible, modest reduction (10%) in PM2.5 concentrations could prevent more than 300 premature deaths, 200 hospital admissions and 600 emergency department visits. Achieving the PlaNYC goal of “cleanest air of any big city” would result in even more substantial public health benefits.

It is important to note how the air quality has improved since the time of this analysis.  The NYS DEC air quality monitoring system has operated a PM2.5 monitor at the Botanical Garden in New York city since 1999 so I compared the data from that site for the same period as this analysis relative to today (Data from Figure 4. Baseline annual average PM2.5 levels in New York City). The Botanical Garden site had an annual average PM2.5 level of 13 ug/m3 for the same period as the report’s 13.9 ug/m3 “current conditions” city-wide average (my estimate based on their graph).  The important thing to note is that the latest available average (2016-2018) for a comparable three-year average at the Botanical Garden is 8.1 ug/m3 which represents a 38% decrease which is substantially lower than the PlaNYC goal of “cleanest air of any big city”.

The DOHMOH analysis used a linear no-threshold health impact analysis.  As a result, it is possible to estimate the air quality health effects of the observed decrease in PM2.5 using their model (Modified Table 5. Annual health events attributable to citywide PM2 5 level).  Note that in DOHMOH Table 5 the annual health events for the 10% reduction and “cleanest” city scenarios are shown as changes not as the total number of events listed for the current levels.  My modified table converts those estimates to totals so that the numbers are directly comparable.  I excluded the confidence interval information because I don’t know how it would be modified.  I tested the linear hypothesis by scaling the “current level” scenario number of events to the proportion of the PM 2.5 concentrations for the “current level” and the other two scenarios.  My estimated health impacts were all within 1% which demonstrates that is all the DOHMOH analysis did.  Therefore, I could estimate the health impact improvements due to the observed reductions in PM2.5 as shown in my modified table.

I do not believe that the linear no-threshold air quality health impact model is correct.  I could be convinced, however, if the DOHMOH could demonstrate that the observed health impacts improved as predicted by the model.  Until such time as someone validates the performance of this kind of model I recommend caution in these results.

The DOHMOH report also describes ozone:

Ozone is not emitted directly from fuel combustion; it is produced by chemical reactions involving nitrogen oxides (NOx)—a mixture including nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—volatile organic compounds and sunlight. O3 concentrations typically peak in the afternoon and are highest in the summer, when daylight hours are long and temperatures are high. Although NOx emissions from vehicles contribute to higher ozone in urban areas, in city locations where fresh NOx emissions are concentrated, NO reacts with, and removes, ozone from the atmosphere in a reaction known as ozone “scavenging.” As a result, concentrations in urban areas with an abundance of NOx from traffic sources tend to have somewhat lower concentrations of ozone than more suburban locations downwind from the city center.

For the purposes of this evaluation of localized neighborhood impacts from the peaker plants note two things.  Because ozone is a secondary pollutant the emissions from the peaker plants do not create ozone that affects neighbors.  The reason the DEC put controls on the peaking turbines last year was because of their impact on ozone levels downwind in Connecticut.  Moreover, as the DOHMOH report explains if there is any effect of these power plants on the neighborhoods it would be a reduction in ozone because of “scavenging”.

New York’s Reliability Process and Payments

The description of New York’s energy reliability process provides a good overview and appropriately stresses the importance of reliable energy to prevent blackouts and brownouts.  It describes the process which determines the energy mandates, procurement process and specifies energy needed for peak energy demand.  Despite apparently understanding the process and the importance of having power available for peak demands, the capacity market is vilified as unwarranted “big money”.  The de-regulated market needs a mechanism to pay the power plant owners for their services.  If the load did not vary diurnally, seasonally, and was not subject to high energy demands, payments would be simple.

However, because it is not simple, the market mechanism includes both payments for electricity provided but also for capacity.  The report states “This means that all peaker plants in New York City collect millions of dollars every year just to be “on standby” to produce very little energy —sometimes for only a few days each year.”  That is true but it neglects the obvious point that if they were not available for those few days each year there would not be enough energy and brownouts and blackouts would be the result.

I do not dispute that there is a New York City peaker problem where old, inefficient combustion turbines are being used to provide critically needed power when needed most. In order to force their replacement the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation promulgated new  limits for the simple cycle turbines such that they will be required to install controls or shut down. The compliance date for that regulation is May 2023 and the state may grant a two-year compliance extension to peaker plants deemed a “reliability resource by the NYISO or transmission owner”.

In my opinion the New York City peaker problem is the result of New York’s de-regulated market place.  I am absolutely sure that in a regulated environment the responsible utility would have made a case to the Department of Public Service that replacement with more efficient generation was needed and after it was approved the utility would have been guaranteed a reasonable return on their investment.  However, in the de-regulated market there wasn’t a strong enough signal to replace the old units.  Before I retired in 2010, I worked on two separate permit applications for new efficient and cleaner replacement power for one set of the old combustion turbines.  In both instances the permits were approved but the replacements were never built, apparently because the company decided that the business case was not strong enough to warrant the investment.

The PEAK Coalition apparently believes that there are problems with payments for the existing generators.  I have neither the background or time to evaluate those claims in detail so I cannot comment on them.  The fact that there has been a lot of turnover in ownership for New York’s peaking units suggests that no one is making great profits under the existing system.  Moreover, it should be kept in mind that in the de-regulated market, generation owners have no obligation to serve.  If they cannot make money they will just shut down.

Clean Energy Alternatives

This report proposes replacing peaker plants with “renewable and clean energy alternatives”.  It states:

However, solar and wind power alone cannot replace peaker plants, because the power they produce cannot be dispatched on command, and they have limitations on when they generate energy (e.g., solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can only generate optimal energy amounts on sunny days). For this reason, wind and solar energy systems are known as variable renewable energy sources. Combining battery storage technologies with renewables can address this limitation. Replacing peaker plants with batteries has now become a viable and profitable solution, due to the rapidly declining cost of energy storage systems.  Ideally, the batteries replacing peaker plants would be charged with local, renewable energy resources.

The motivation for the PSE peaker project that provides the technical basis of this report appears to support the use of batteries as a clean energy alternative to fossil-fired power plants.  By motivation I mean the likely source of funding for their analysis.  As a result, it is no surprise that batteries are touted as the solution.  Unfortunately, the PEAK coalition report fails to temper the enthusiasm of the battery “solution”.  Statements such as “Experts have found—and real-world examples have proven—that battery storage and renewable generation may be less expensive to develop and manage than the rarely used but heavily polluting fossil fuel power plants, while also meeting or exceeding the same performance standards” are suspect at best.

For example, I will consider options to build new generation to replace the energy produced at the Astoria Gas Turbine, Gowanus Generating Station, and Narrows Generating Station peaking plants on a typical high-load day – June 18, 2018.  All three plants operate simple-cycle combustion turbines that can burn natural gas or kerosene. All three facilities are on the order of 50 years old and, in my opinion, should be replaced.

The peak hourly load in this example was 752 MW so I used US Energy Information Administration (EIA) construction cost data for electric generators installed in 2017 information to estimate costs.  The report provides $/kW estimates for different technologies, locations and configurations.  I estimated the cost of a new combined cycle power plant similar to the one proposed to re-power Gowanus and Narrows and what was proposed for the two permit applications for re-powering the Astoria gas turbine facility.  According to EIA the average construction cost ($/kilowatt of installed nameplate capacity) of a combined cycle unit was $829 so a replacement facility would cost $674 million.  The average construction cost ($/kilowatt of installed nameplate capacity) of a utility-scale solar PV facility using crystalline silicon, axis-based tracking panels is $2,135 so a replacement facility would cost $1,606 million or nearly twice as much.   The average construction cost ($/kilowatt of installed nameplate capacity) of a land-based wind turbine facility (plant size 200-500 MW) is $1,526 so a replacement facility would cost $1,148 million.  It is often said that renewable energy is cheaper than fossil-fired energy but these numbers from 2017 clearly are refute that presumption.

The bigger problem, and one that should always be kept in mind that even if the cost of a solar and wind are equal to or a little less than the cost of a new fossil-fired plant, renewable energy is not dispatchable.  In this example I will only address the storage needed to handle the output for the existing peaking turbines but because renewable energy is diffuse transmission lines are needed.  Fossil-fired units provide grid support services but solar and wind generators do not.  Those support services are not considered in this example.

My interpretation of the PSE proposed alternative and the PEAK Coalition plan is to rely on energy storage to replace the output of the existing combustion turbines.  The Calculated Cost Breakdown for a U.S. Li-ion Standalone Storage System for June 18 2018 Example Peak provides the information necessary to estimate the energy storage batteries necessary to replace the turbines as well as the estimated battery requirements.  I simply estimated battery configurations needed by picking a capacity to cover the minimum needed for as long a period as possible and then repeated the process until the storage capacity met the observed load.  For example, at Astoria there were six hours of load and a battery with 280 MW capacity operating for six hours combined with a battery with 200 MW operating for one hour could completely cover the generation at that facility.  This simplistic approach also does not include energy losses due to charging and discharging.

I relied on two National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) reports to estimate the costs of energy storage: “2018 U.S. Utility-Scale Photovoltaics-Plus-Energy Storage System Cost Benchmark” and “Life Prediction Model for Grid-Connected Li-ion Battery Energy Storage System”.  I estimated the parameters used by NREL to project costs so that I could calculate the cost of any battery configuration.  Keep in mind that I did not try to optimize battery resources in any way so these should be considered first-cut estimates.  I estimate that $1,797 million of Li-Ion batteries would be required to replace the power assuming that the battery capacity equals the observed generation.

It turns out that assumption is wrong because the second NREL report abstract notes that “The lifetime of these batteries will vary depending on their thermal environment and how they are charged and discharged. Optimal utilization of a battery over its lifetime requires characterization of its performance degradation under different storage and cycling conditions.”   The report concludes: “Without active thermal management, 7 years lifetime is possible provided the battery is cycled within a restricted 47% DOD operating range. With active thermal management, 10 years lifetime is possible provided the battery is cycled within a restricted 54% operating range.”  Because of the high cost of the batteries I assume that it would be best to extend the lifetime as much as possible.  When the 54% operating range constraint is added, more batteries are required and cost to replace the power produced by these three peaking plants on June 18, 2018 would be $3,651 million.  One other thing needs to be pointed out. If we assume that the life expectancy of the combustion turbines, solar arrays and wind turbines is 30 years that means that the battery storage for the renewable power would have to be replaced twice over the lifetime of the facilities.

Furthermore, the energy storage estimates in this example have no real-world counter parts.  According to the Hornsdale Power Reserve website “At 100MW/129MWh, the Hornsdale Power Reserve is the largest lithium-ion battery in the world, and provides network security services to South Australian electricity consumers in concert with the South Australian Government and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)”.  According to the PEAK coalition report “In October 2019, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the development of a 316-MW, 8-hour-duration battery at the Ravenswood Generating Station in Long Island City”.

Dirty Energy, Big Money states “Experts have found—and real-world examples have proven—that battery storage and renewable generation may be less expensive to develop and manage than the rarely used but heavily polluting fossil fuel power plants, while also meeting or exceeding the same performance standards”.  This statement is just plain wrong.  As soon as energy storage is added to the renewable “solution” the projected costs rise exponentially and there are no real-world examples for policy decisions.

Benefits of the PEAK Coalition Proposed Alternative

The report claims that “Replacing peaker plants with renewable energy and battery storage, if done right, brings a host of benefits in addition to efficient, clean, dispatchable electricity.”  The report does not explain how a “done right” replacement with renewable energy and battery storage could be accomplished.  For example, there is no apparent recognition that the NYISO currently requires that at least 80% of New York City’s electric generating capacity needs be met through in‐City generation. My impression is that the presumption is that the PEAK Coalition believes that solar can be used in the city.  However, I think the space requirements make that unlikely.  For ten Article Ten solar energy applications currently in the queue, 5.4 acres per MW was the lowest spatial requirement.  For my example of 752 MW of peaking power, 602 MW would have to be produced in the city and at 5.4 acres per MW that means that there would have to be five square miles of solar panels.  I am sure that there are no open areas that size so the panels will have to be installed on buildings.  That would add to the costs substantially.

The lack of any kind of plan is not the only issue with proposed alternative.  The benefits listed are as superficial and innumerate.  Consider the discussion on resiliency per: “A transition toward renewable energy and energy storage technologies can provide energy resiliency, backup power, and other benefits at the local level”.  I do not consider an energy system resilient when it is unavailable half the time like solar or is subject to the vagaries of weather like the wind.  The current emphasis is on the summer peak but New York’s aspirational climate targets will require electrification of heating a necessity which means the winter peak will become much more of an issue.  As a result, the worst-case load situation may not be the annual peak peak but could be a combination of high load and low renewable energy inputs.  That is not the sign of a resilient system.  It gets worse when the report states “Resiliency planning is particularly important for critical facilities throughout the five boroughs, including hospitals, evacuation centers, cooling centers, and food distributions hubs” and gives an example of a solar array on a school that serves as an evacuation center during emergencies.  If the facility is critical then redundant energy supplies not based on intermittent renewables are needed.  If there is an ice storm and the power lines go down then what?  The obvious, but politically incorrect solution, is to have a natural gas fired turbine generate the power needed by the micro-grid.

Another benefit claimed is reduced air pollution and resulting health improvements.  The report states “Using renewable energy to charge batteries eliminates greenhouse gas emissions. Statewide, it is estimated that adding 1,500 MW of energy storage would avoid one million tons of CO2 emissions”.  In order to get the one million ton reduction the addition of 1,500 MW would have to displace the large steam boilers PSE includes in their peaker category.  Those are not candidates for battery storage replacement.   The report claims: “With over 1.2 million New Yorkers living within a one-mile radius of a fossil fuel peaker plant, the reduction of air pollutants from peaker plants would have a significant impact on the health and quality of life of people living in the five boroughs of New York City”.  As previously explained in this post, that claim is very unlikely to be true.

Another benefit claimed would address the energy burden on under-resourced communities.  The report explains that energy poverty is a serious issue in New York City and goes on to claim that a significant portion of utility bills is directly related to payments for the “outdated fossil fuel peaker plants”.  I do not understand how environmental and social justice organizations can support the idea that the renewable and energy storage transition will lead to lower costs when every jurisdiction that has tried to implement those resources has seen marked increases in prices.  I am convinced that New York’s climate aspirations will result in much higher prices and the communities that these organizations purport to serve will be impacted the most.

The final benefit claimed is that the proposed transition will mean that “Instead of capacity payments going to private hedge funds or equity firms that own fossil fuel peaker plants, billions of dollars in ratepayer funds could instead be used to invest locally in publicly-owned and community-owned, distributed renewable and battery storage alternatives in New York City.”  The numbers shown in this report suggest that the transition will be far more expensive that investing in a natural-gas fired combined cycle power plant.  According to EIA the power plant that could provide the energy produced by three old peaking power facilities on June 18, 2018 would cost $674 million and would last at least 30 years.  If in-city solar were built it would cost $1,606 million and could also last 30 years.  The fatal flaw in the economic argument is the need for energy storage.  I estimate that, based on NREL estimates, energy storage would cost $3,651 but would only last ten years.  It is very unlikely that energy storage can come down significantly from the $10.953 million 30-year cost.

Policies to Advance the Transition

I only have one comment on this section.  The report notes that “New York City, strict fire safety rules make it very challenging to install energy storage batteries in most buildings, though there are clear guidelines for siting these batteries outdoors.”  There is a reason for those strict fire safety rules, namely that if the batteries are operated improperly, they can catch fire.  The health impacts of the toxic pollutants emitted during a battery fire are a real concern that cannot be overlooked.

 Conclusion

I will conclude this post by addressing one paragraph:

“Fossil peaker plants in New York City are perhaps the most egregious energy-related example of what environmental injustice means today. Throughout one of the most diverse and technologically developed cities in the world, numerous polluting oil and gas peaker plants in the City are sited in low income communities and communities of color. These environmental justice communities continue to bear the brunt of the harmful impacts from dirty energy and industrial infrastructure that pose significant public health and environmental hazards. At the same time, private companies receive billions of dollars to keep this polluting infrastructure in place.”

As shown here, the evidence presented for the egregious environmental injustice claim is more rhetoric than fact.  There is no benign way to make electricity but affordable and reliable electricity is a necessity for public safety, health and welfare.  Today’s question is whether New York City can risk reliability on unproven technology at the scale needed for its needs and can afford the costs needed to make intermittent and diffuse renewable energy available when and where it is needed.  I do not dispute that there is a problem with peaker power plants in New York City but this study over-estimates the effects of the existing plants and under-estimates the difficulty replacing them with anything other than fossil fuels.

 

 

PEAK Coalition Dirty Energy, Big Money: Background on the Issues

Update June 30, 2020:  I wrote a layman’s summary on this issue here.

New York State energy and environmental policy is more about optics than results.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the recent spate of opinion pieces, reports, and even policy proposals related to peaking power plants.  In May 2020, the PEAK Coalition released a report entitled: “Dirty Energy, Big Money”.  The focus of the study is the “peaker” power plants that operate when energy demand in New York City spikes above normal levels.  Because I have been involved with this issue and these plants for over 20 years, I want to review this report.

At first glance there are enough technical issues for a blog essay but when I started to research the article, I realized that I needed to do a background post on the primary air quality problem associated with these facilities, the organizations behind the report, the State’s response to date, the underlying issue of environmental justice and address the motivation for the analysis.  This post addresses those aspects of the report and will be followed up by a post on technical issues and another post on the analysis that was the basis of the technical claims.

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40 years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations.  I have been involved with the peaking power plants in particular for over 20 years both from a compliance reporting standpoint and also evaluation of impacts and options for these sources.  This background served me well preparing this post.  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.

 Air Quality Background

In my opinion the most difficult air quality issue today is ozone attainment.  Ground-level ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Those pollutants are emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, natural sources and other man-made sources and when they chemically react in the presence of sunlight, they create ozone.  Ozone is most likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments but because NOx and VOC as well as ozone can be transported long distances by wind rural areas are affected and urban areas are affected by sources far upwind.  Ultimately the problem is that the conditions most conducive to create ozone are also the conditions that increase electricity demand for cooling so the peak load of electric generation produces the most emissions.  In order to provide the power necessary to keep the lights on when people really want and need it, the existing power grid has facilities that were designed to operate infrequently.  In New York City that capability is exemplified by 86 simple-cycle turbines currently operating.

The PEAK Coalition defines their problem with the existing situation as follows:

“On days with extreme weather, like heat waves or sub-zero temperatures, residents consume more energy to stay cool and warm, which puts excessive demand on the grid. In response to this increased demand in electricity, highly polluting power plants known as “peakers” fire up in the South Bronx, Sunset Park, and other communities of color throughout New York City. These inefficient peakers spew harmful emissions into neighborhoods already overburdened by pollution, exacerbating widespread health problems. Peaker plants are a prime example of how low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of a host of energy and industrial infrastructure that poses significant public health and environmental hazards.”

Note that the Coalition quite rightly points out that these power plants also operate in the winter when energy demand also increases.  As New York State implements its aspirational greenhouse gas emission reduction goals natural gas and oil heating will have to be replaced by electric heating so demand will be further increased.

State Response

The air quality problem in the Northeast is so complicated that the Clean Air Act created the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) specifically to with EPA on transport issues and for developing and implementing regional solutions to the ground-level ozone problem in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.  New York State has been actively involved with this organization since its inception. The first related presentation that I could find that specifically addressed emissions and air quality on high electric demand days was in 2006.  While there is an undeniable link between high energy demand and the high emissions that create peak ozone levels there is on over-riding requirement to keep the lights on.

DEC worked for years with other agencies, the New York Independent System Operator and other stakeholders to address this aspect of the peaking units.  Ultimately in late 2019 they promulgated new  limits for the simple cycle turbines such that they will be required to install controls or shut down. The compliance date for that regulation is May 2023 and the state may grant a two-year compliance extension to peaker plants deemed a “reliability resource by the NYISO or transmission owner”.  The reliability analyses and expected responses are evolving at this time.

Advocates believe that EJ communities are New York City’s most climate-vulnerable people.  New York State recently enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) that establishes Statewide GHG emission reduction requirements and renewable and clean energy generation targets. The CLCPA also includes “multiple provisions that recognize that historically disadvantaged communities often suffer disproportionate and inequitable impacts from climate change”. The DEC is currently revising its proposing revisions to 6 NYCRR Part 242, “CO2 Budget Trading Program” that implement regulations for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  The proposed revisions expand its applicability to include certain smaller sources that are also named in this report.

PEAK Coalition

The PEAK Coalition has been organized to “end the long-standing pollution burden from power plants” in New York City’s environmental justice communities.  According to their overview the following organizations are in the PEAK Coalition: UPROSE, THE POINT CDC, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA), New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), and Clean Energy Group (CEG).  UPROSE promotes “sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood through community organizing, education, indigenous and youth leadership development, and cultural/artistic expression”.  THE POINT Community Development Corporation is “dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx”.  NYC-EJA is a “non-profit, city-wide membership network linking grassroots organizations from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in their struggle for environmental justice”.  NYLPI has “fought for more than 40 years to protect civil rights and achieve lived equality for communities in need”.  CEG is a “leading national, nonprofit advocacy organization working on innovative policy, technology, and finance strategies in the areas of clean energy and climate change”.

Report Acknowledgements

The following is the text from the report’s acknowledgement section:

Dirty Energy, Big Money was prepared by the PEAK Coalition and produced in collaboration with a national network of research partners. This report would not have been possible without the help of many dedicated people. We want to thank the exceptionally hard working and talented teams at Strategen Consulting and at Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy for their assistance.

The authors would also like to thank the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, New York Power Authority, and New York City Council member Costa Constantinides for their continued support in helping advance the transition to a cleaner and more equitable energy system.

Finally, PEAK also thanks the numerous individuals and organizations that provided constructive technical feedback during the stakeholder review period. These efforts dramatically improved the quality of the final product.

This report was made possible through the generous support of the Scherman Foundation’s Rosin Fund. The views reflected in the report are entirely those of the authors.

Environmental Justice

This section provides an overview of environmental justice as background to the report.  EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”. They state that this goal will be achieved “when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work”.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) defines environmental justice as the “fair and meaningful treatment of all people, regardless of race, income, national origin or color, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Environmental Justice allows for disproportionately impacted residents to access the tools to address environmental concerns across all of DEC’s operations”.

Ultimately environmental justice (EJ) is another way of expressing the Golden Rule and I fully support the concept and intent of incorporating specific requirements to address this in environmental decision-making.  So far so good.  However, I am a numbers guy and have had trouble figuring out how this should be applied in practice.  New York State’s Article 10 permitting process for siting major electric generating facilities references the DEC regulation Part 487 “Analyzing Environmental Justice Issues in Siting of Major Electric Generating Facilities Pursuant to Public Service Law Article 10”.  In my opinion, New York’s approach to environmental justice is keyed to disproportionate impacts.

The definition of disproportionate is critical to the ramifications of New York EJ regulation.  However, the definition is so vague that interpretation is a problem.  Disproportionate impact analysis requires comparison between the EJ community and a “Comparison Area”.  The Comparison Area is defined as a community in the same county and adjacent to the EJ community.  Section 487.9 Comprehensive Demographic, Economic and Physical Descriptions (d)(2) defines the measures used for the comparison:

In evaluating the significance of any adverse environmental and public health impacts of the proposed facility, the applicant shall measure the impacts against regulatory thresholds or standards, as applicable, and shall also consider the following:

    1. scope, magnitude, frequency, and duration of the impacts on the environment, public health, and quality of life in the Impact Study Area;
    2. nature of the impacts on sensitive populations including children and the elderly;
    3. degree of increased risk in the event of natural or man-made disasters; and
    4. any other information necessary to evaluate significance of the adverse impacts.

For the purposes of illustrating the potential difficulties defining disproportionate impacts, consider the following example for the air quality impacts of a facility on three communities.  In all the examples, the total impact is less than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard so the concern is whether the effect of the facility is disproportionate.  Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue represent the Environmental Justice Community of Monopoly where the lowest rents are charged.  The comparison communities are the adjacent properties of Oriental, Vermont and Connecticut Avenues (grey community) and Park Place and Boardwalk (blue community) where the highest rents are charged.

The Disproportionate Impact Table illustrates the wide range of relative impacts for this simple example.  If the EJ community is impacted by the facility and impacted by cumulative impacts while the comparison communities are not affected by either, then the impact is clearly disproportionate.  If all the impacts are the same then the impact clearly is proportionate. However, neither situation is likely.  Adjacent communities likely have similar direct and cumulative impacts and must have the same background. Even when dealing with a specific numerical limit, interpretation is ambiguous.  For example, if the impacts to the EJ community and the grey comparison community are the same, but the blue community has very much lower impacts is that disproportionate to the EJ community?

As previously noted, I support the concept that EJ communities should not be disproportionately impacted by power plants.  Assuming that stakeholders can agree on what constitutes a disproportionate impact then we can move forward.  The problem that I believe is coming up now is that the EJ advocacy organizations are demanding zero risks in order to redress past injustices.  For example, in May 2017 Governor Cuomo announced New Locally Sourced Microgrid to Power the Empire State Plaza but the following February the New York Power Authority announced additional studies for the project in response to intense EJ advocacy efforts.  In September 2019 the microgrid plan was cancelled much to the delight of the local EJ advocates.  While the microgrid plan did have effects on the local community they represent orders of magnitude less impacts than the original facility but that was not good enough.  There is no benign way to generate electricity.  I worry that emotional arguments will color future EJ discussions and prevent rational decision-making for cost-effective solutions.

Motivation for the Report

The overview of the report notes that The PEAK coalition will be the “first comprehensive effort in the US to reduce the negative and racially disproportionate health impacts of a city’s peaker plants by replacing them with renewable energy and storage solutions”. Their collaboration brings “technical, legal, public health, and planning expertise to support organizing and advocacy led by communities harmed by peaker plant emissions”. They propose a “system of localized renewable energy generation and battery storage to replace peaker plants”.  This is supposed to “reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, lower energy bills, improve equity and public health, and make the electricity system more resilient in the face of increased storms and climate impacts”. I will address those claims in another post.

As noted, the CLCPA includes specific requirements to address EJ community concerns, DEC has promulgated a law that will shut down 100 of the old and inefficient simple cycle turbines as soon as possible without endangering reliability and the proposed revisions to New York’s RGGI rules expands applicability to many of the sources that are called out in the report.  It seems to me that this shows that the Cuomo Administration has delivered on its promises to the EJ community so why did this report come out at this time.

The conclusion of the report suggests that the timing is an example of not letting a crisis go to waste.

“As the nation faces an unprecedented public health crisis with the COVID-19 respiratory virus, the historic and disproportionate environmental burdens imposed on the most vulnerable among us by burning fossil fuels can no longer be ignored as a serious public health threat. COVID-19 has cast a light on the existing health disparities and vulnerability in environmental justice communities. New research links the direct correlation between long-term exposure to air pollution and significantly higher rates of death in people with COVID-19, which we are seeing now in environmental justice communities long-plagued by health disparities and vulnerability due to the exposure to air pollution from peaker plants—nearly always sited in under-resourced communities.”

I believe that this “new research” is referring to a Harvard study that on April 24, 2020 claimed “ that an increase of 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2%, 15%”.  Several days earlier this report was claiming that the increase in death rate was 15%.  But a new study from University of Washington and Stanford University researchers reports an inverse relationship between smoking and death from COVID-19 — i.e., countries with higher rates of smoking had lower rates of death from COVID-19.  As noted here, smoking is a very intense exposure to PM2.5. In breathing an hour of average US air, you will shallowly inhale less than 9 micrograms of PM2.5. Compare that with smoking a single cigarette during which you will deeply inhale anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 micrograms of PM2.5.  I suggest that it is premature to claim any effect on COVID-19 from air pollution.

Conclusion

While I support the concept of addressing environmental justice concerns, I also suspect that criticizing aspects of their demands is something akin to disparaging mom and apple pie.  The primary reason I prepare these analyses is that I believe that cheap and reliable energy, in general, and electricity, in particular, is a basic human right so that should be a primary social and environmental justice concern.  I am convinced that that New York State energy policy is going raise the cost of energy significantly and I worry that it will risk electric reliability as well.  I intend to follow this background post up with an evaluation of the technical claims and proposed solutions in this report to see how they rate in that context.

 

Indian Point Replacement Power – Even Worse than I Thought

In April 2017 Governor Cuomo announced the closure of the Indian Point Energy Center by April 2021 and last week I updated my analysis of the effect on New York’s energy grid.  Robert Bryce, writing on the Real Clear Energy blog recently wrote about an aspect of New York wind development that I did not know about that is important relative to the replacement of Indian Point power.

In my previous blog post I noted that there has been no renewable capacity added since the announcement that Indian Point would be closed.  I believe that is a result of detailed permitting requirements that include environmental and public health impact analyses, studies regarding environmental justice and public safety, and consideration of local laws. I concluded that in the past 12 months wind projects totaling nearly 1,300 MW have been permitted and will show up as power that I presumed could be claimed for use as replacement for Indian Point.

Mr. Bryce notes that siting renewable energy projects is precipitating land-use battles that are not only about property rights and home rule but also devolve into issues with geography and class.  What was news to me was that he explains how New York is becoming “a wind-energy plantation for New England” with massive projects proposed in the state’s poorest counties.  In particular, he describes one project:

“The 126-megawatt Cassadaga Wind Project is now being built in Chautauqua County, New York’s westernmost county. The project includes 37 turbines, each standing about 500 feet high, spread over 40,000 acres (62 square miles). The project is owned by Innogy, a subsidiary of the Essen, German-based utility E.On.”

On January 18, 2018 the New York Department of Public Service published the Order Granting Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need, With Conditions which approves the application to build the facility.  Buried in this document is the following: “the output of the Facility is contracted for out-of-state purchase”.  Mr. Bryce explains that generation will be credited toward renewable goals in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  He notes that in an email:

“a spokesperson for Innogy confirmed that the buyer of the power to be produced by Cassadaga ‘is a group of seven New England utilities procured through the New England Clean Energy request for proposals’ in 2016. How will the juice from New York get to New England? It won’t. Instead, the Innogy spokesperson told me that the energy produced by the turbines at Cassadaga ‘will be used to serve local energy requirements in areas surrounding the project. Export to areas outside New York would require dedicated point-to-point transmission lines’.”

As a result, the Cassadaga Wind Farm cannot be considered as part of the renewable energy that will replace the emissions-free energy produced by Indian Point.

Mr. Bryce also reviewed data published by the Department of Energy and the New England Power Pool to look the overall picture.  He found that “of the nearly 4 million megawatt-hours of wind energy produced in New York in 2018, the state exported 1.2 million megawatt-hours, or 30 percent, to New England. When the Cassadaga wind project begins operating, it will likely add another 364,000 megawatt-hours per year in renewable-energy credits to that export total”.  That means even existing renewables are unavailable to replace Indian Point electric energy.

In April 2020, Governor Cuomo initiated and rammed through the legislature the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (AREGCBA) as part of the 2020-21 state budget.  This legislation is intended to ensure that renewable generation is sited in a “timely and cost-effective manner”.  It does this by preventing local communities to enact rules on renewable energy facilities or prevent them from being built.  The so-called “community benefit” portion of this provides a  Host Community Benefit that “can take the form of a bill discount or credit, or a compensatory or environmental benefit for the impacted electric utility customers”.  In my opinion, this means that the State will provide hush money payoffs to bribe those customers in the community where the renewable energy is being proposed who are not directly impacted by the renewable development to override the rights of community members who are directly impacted.

I am troubled by the entire paragraph in the Cassadaga permit application approval Order Granting Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need, With Conditions that notes that the output of the facility will be credited out-of-state:

“As the Examiners demonstrated, the goals of the State Energy Plan are not restricted to renewable electricity consumed within the state, but are also oriented toward national and international goals of reducing carbon and transforming the energy industry. For that reason, the Examiners’ finding was not changed by the fact that the output of the Facility is contracted for out-ofstate purchase. This conclusion is bolstered by the decision of the Appellate Decision in a previous Article X proceeding that production of electricity within the state is beneficial irrespective of the contract path of the output. No party took exception to the RD’s proposed findings and determinations on this issue, and we adopt them.”

As egregious as the community benefit payola scam is, the thought that the rationale used to justify renewable energy development, even if the power is not to be used in New York, could lead to a situation where the community benefit payments are paid by New York ratepayers for facilities that benefit out-of-state interests is mind-blowing.  My biggest concern about New York’s aspirational climate targets is the cost so adding costs to New Yorkers for projects that will not help meet those targets is completely unacceptable.

With respect to Indian Point replacement power, the fact that there are New York renewable facilities that should not be counted towards replacement underscores the short-sighted innumerate decision for closure.  The closure of Indian Point was not coordinated with implementation of renewable energy to replace it.  It is not clear how many renewable energy facilities operate this way because the wind energy owners consider it business confidential so the numbers are not readily available.  Finally, note that the lack of transparency also means that it is entirely possible that the renewable energy credits are being double-counted with more than one jurisdiction claiming the benefits.

Indian Point Closure Update – May 2020

In April 2017 Governor Cuomo announced the closure of the Indian Point Energy Center by April 2021. According to the Governor “the aging 2,000 megawatt nuclear power plant, located 25 miles north of New York City, has presented numerous threats to the safety of over 20 million residents and the environmental health of the area”.  In April 2020 Indian Point 2 was shutdown.  This post updates some of my previous posts on this subject.

This is a follow-up to five previous posts published between January 2017 and March 2018 on Indian Point replacement power.  The first and a subsequent update considered New York State projects that had been permitted to see if there was replacement power in the pipeline that could replace its output.  I also analyzed whether renewables and energy efficiency were a realistic alternative and concluded that approach was unlikely to succeed. I also looked at a proposal from the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortiums to use energy storage as a potential replacement for Indian Point.  I concluded that would also not likely succeed.  Finally, I reviewed the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) response to the question about the replacement power needed to replace Indian Point’s output. 

In July 2019, at a press conference announcing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“Climate Act”) Cuomo said “The environment and climate change are the most critically important policy priorities we face – they literally will determine the future – or the lack thereof.”  Indian Point 2 (1,299 MW nameplate capacity) has an in-service date of August 1973 and Indian Point 3 (1,012 MW nameplate capacity) was placed in service in April 1976.  The 2020 NYISO Gold Book notes that the 2020 summer capability of the two units is 2,067 MW. The owner, Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., had applied for renewal of the operating licenses in April 2007, seeking an additional 20 years of operation beyond the original expiration dates of 2013 and 2015. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the operating licenses for the Indian Point nuclear power plant, Unit 2 and Unit 3, on Sept. 17, 2018 so the units would have been able to run until 2033 and 2035, respectively.  However, under the settlement between Entergy and the state of New York announced a settlement under which Entergy closed Unit 2 by April 30, 2020 and will permanently close Unit 3 by April 30, 2021. 

New York Control Area Energy Production

In order to fully grasp the innumeracy of shutting down 2,0067 MW of CO2-emission free generation at the same time the Climate Act legislates that electricity generation in 2040 will not include any fossil-fired power, we need to look at the energy production numbers in New York.  In the following table I have extracted the energy production by fuel type numbers from the NYISO Gold Book and combined that with the operating data from Indian Point 2 and 3.

NYISO Gold Book Figure III-3:  NYCA Energy Production (GWh) by Fuel Type

  2016 2017 2018 2019
Generator Fuel Types Production Production Production Production
Gas 7,787 6,697 7,594 7,273
Oil 136 74 152 104
Gas & Oil 52,450 44,135 47,526 44,068
Coal 1,493 567 692 425
Nuclear 41,638 42,175 43,003 44,788
Pumped Storage 836 795 811 583
Hydro 26,314 29,554 29,045 30,141
Wind 3,943 4,219 3,985 4,454
Other 2,881 2,919 2,729 2,648
Solar 54 47 49 52
Total 137,532 131,183 135,585 134,536
         
Indian Point 2 6,050 8,352 8,001 8,352
Indian Point 3 9,076 6,953 8,334 8,343

While it is clear by the energy production numbers that Indian Point has a significant contribution to the state’s power production the percentages make the point even better.  The two units generated approximately 12% of all the power produced over the last four years.

NYISO Gold Book NYCA Energy Production (%) by Fuel Type

  2016 2017 2018 2019
Generator Fuel Types Production Production Production Production
Gas 5.7% 5.1% 5.6% 5.4%
Oil 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1%
Gas & Oil 38.1% 33.6% 35.1% 32.8%
Coal 1.1% 0.4% 0.5% 0.3%
Nuclear 30.3% 32.1% 31.7% 33.3%
Pumped Storage 0.6% 0.6% 0.6% 0.4%
Hydro 19.1% 22.5% 21.4% 22.4%
Wind 2.9% 3.2% 2.9% 3.3%
Other 2.1% 2.2% 2.0% 2.0%
Solar 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
         
Indian Point 2 4.4% 6.4% 5.9% 6.2%
Indian Point 3 6.6% 5.3% 6.1% 6.2%

New York Climate Act Energy Production Targets

The Regulatory Impact Statement for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposed revisions to 6 NYCRR Part 242, “CO2 Budget Trading Program” states the following:

“Finally, the primary objective of the State’s clean energy and energy storage commitments are to combat climate change, reduce air pollution, and ensure a reliable and diverse low carbon energy supply. In January 2019 as part of the State of the State, Governor Cuomo announced the most aggressive clean energy targets in the nation under New York’s Green New Deal – a nation leading clean energy and jobs agenda. This includes a significant increase of the New York’s Clean Energy Standard where the share of the State’s electricity coming from renewable resources will go from 50 percent to 70 percent by 2030. This will be supported by several critical components:

Quadrupling New York’s offshore wind target to 9,000 megawatts by 2035, up from 2,400 megawatts by 2030.

Doubling distributed solar deployment to 6,000 megawatts by 2025, up from 3,000 megawatts by 2023.

Deploying 3,000 megawatts of energy storage.

More than doubling new large-scale land-based wind and solar resources through the Clean Energy Standard.”

Two of the critical components, offshore wind (9,000 MW) and distributed solar deployment (6,000 MW) total 12,933 more MW than Indian Point 2 and 3.  Assuming an offshore wind capacity factor of 42.5% and fixed-tilt PV solar capacity factor of 20%, then the energy produced by these components could total 33,507 GWh for offshore wind and 10,512 GWh for the distributed solar.  While that all sounds good, there are issues.  For starters, given the alleged urgency for implementing emission reductions for the Climate Act, I would think that timing the closedown until after replacement power was at least permitted would have been appropriate.  More importantly, the problem is not as much the power, it is the energy produced that is of concern as shown below.

Future Energy System Implications

Power is the rate work is performed and is described in MW while energy is the amount of work performed measured in MWh.  The Climate Act  includes a provision to outlaw the use of fossil fuels for electric generation by 2040 and another provision to reduce all fossil fuel emissions to 85% of 1990 levels by 2050 despite not having come up with a plan to change the electric system to meet the energy requirements.  I maintain that it is absolutely necessary to use historical wind and solar insolation data to determine the resources available to meet expected load when transportation and heating are electrified.  My particular concern is the inevitable winter peak periods.

In one analysis I found that there were two no wind energy output periods on 3-4 January 2018 during an intense cold snap when electric load is high as shown in the New York Off-Shore Wind Generation Estimate for 9000 MW CLCPA Off-Shore Target table.  I was surprised to see that the wind resource went to zero during a high load period not only when the winds were light on January 3 but also when a deep low pressure developed and the wind speeds exceeded 25 m/s on the very next day.  The wind generation estimate table lists the output from a single 10.2 MW wind turbine, 80 turbines in the Equinor proposed offshore wind facility and for all 9,000 MW of Cuomo’s CLCPA target for off-shore wind.  It is important to note that adding even more wind turbines still does not preclude the need for substantial energy storage.  While all the New York off-shore wind resource may not go to zero simultaneously that resource is going to be highly correlated across the available area so they all will track closely.  Keep in mind that this example winter peak period occurs at the time that solar energy is very much reduced due to length of the day, angle of the sun and potential snow covering panels.

I followed up on that analysis with an attempt to estimate how much energy storage would be required for this example winter peak.  One of the unmentioned difficulties with Li-Ion battery storage is that they can only be operated over a limited range to get them to last ten years, i.e., they must use active thermal management and cycle the battery within a restricted 54% operating range.   As shown in the Combined Energy Storage Capacity and Cost With Storage 54% Limitation table, in order to meet the 2040 no fossil-fuel requirement I estimate that the price of energy storage alone will  be $96.0 billion, and, because they still only have a lifetime of ten years they will have to be replaced in 2050 at an estimated additional cost of $80.4 billion.  The expected cost of the batteries needed for just energy storage is the sum or $176.3 billion.  

One of the critical components mentioned above is to deploy 3,000 megawatts of energy storage.  It is very frustrating that many of the forecasts for energy storage just list the power capacity.  It makes a huge difference when trying to figure out how well the energy storage will be able to handle the peak load forecasts in an all-renewable energy system.  In the absence of that information, I assumed that the 3,000 MW will have four hours of storage or 12,000 MWh.  In the example given above I estimated that much more energy storage capacity and energy would be needed – 40,926 MW with energy potential of 278,519 MWh in 2040 and 30,556 MW of battery storage with 236,667 MWh of energy potential in 2050.  The critical point is that the overview estimates to date apparently only look at annual numbers.  In order to keep the electric power on when society needs it most, winter peak load analyses have to be done. 

That is not all, unfortunately.  In an earlier post on Indian Point I pointed out I originally thought the only energy storage issue was building enough batteries to store the renewable energy for when it is needed. 

Not surprisingly, it turns out that it is more complicated than that.  PG&E recently reported on the results of a battery storage demonstration project that described how their batteries were used on the grid. The project participated in the day ahead energy market which is used to procure the majority of supply to meet that day’s predicted electric load.  The California ISO also has a real-time energy market and the battery system provided services for short-term fluctuations from the day ahead forecast.  In addition to the energy market, batteries can be used for the ancillary services of frequency regulation and spinning reserves.  Finally, the report notes that it takes more energy to charge the batteries than battery discharges.  Also note that the energy storage association has a longer list of battery technology applications.  Until such time that New York proves that renewable energy and energy storage can keep the power on when it is needed most I think we are headed blindly to a bad ending.

Capacity Change Reality

Previously (here and here), I considered New York State projects that had been permitted to see if there was replacement power in the pipeline that could replace its output.  The NYISO Gold Book also documents changes in the changes of capacity of New York generating sources since the announcement of the closure plan.  I extracted data from the Gold Books since 2017 when Cuomo announced the closure of Indian Point to see how the market has reacted to the loss of Indian Point’s carbon-free generation.  I list the 2017 and 2020 summer capacity for each generator fuel type taken directly from the Gold Book.  There are four types of changes listed in these data: deactivations when a unit is retired, additions and uprates when a new unit is added or existing unit is modified to increase capacity, reclassifications when a unit’s fuel type is changed, and ratings changes which occur based on performance testing.   The biggest change over the last three years has been the addition of new combustion turbines totaling 1,868 MW. 

NYISO Gold Book Table II-1a: 2017 to 2020 Summary of Changes in Summer Capacity (MW)

Generator 2017   Additions Reclassi- Ratings 2020
Fuel Types Capacity Deactivations & Uprates fications Changes Capacity
Gas 3,588 -4 1,124 23 -5 4,725
Oil 2,499 -33 0 0 -50 2,416
Gas & Oil 18,529 -274 744 0 231 19,230
Coal 1,011 -291 0 -23 -21 676
Nuclear 5,375 0 0 0 16 5,391
Pumped Storage 1,407 0 0 0 0 1,407
Hydro 4,251 0 0 0 -4 4,247
Wind 1,740 0 0 0 -1 1,739
Other 378 -25 0 0 5 359
Total 38,778 -627 1,868 0 171 40,191

Note that there has been no renewable capacity added over this period.  I believe that is a result of detailed permitting requirements that include environmental and public health impact analyses, studies regarding environmental justice and public safety, and consideration of local laws. In April 2020, NYS passed the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (AREGCBA) as part of the 2020-21 state budget.  This legislation is intended to ensure that renewable generation is sited in a “timely and cost-effective manner”.   In any event, in the past 12 months wind projects totaling nearly 1,300 MW have been permitted and will show up on this table once construction is complete. 

Importantly, those who say that the closure of Indian Point won’t increase fossil-fired emissions are mistaken.  Because the fuel costs of existing renewable projects are essentially zero all the output of existing projects is already spoken for and no increased output to respond to Indian Point closure is possible.  Replacement renewable replacement power has to be new sources.  Nuclear and hydro are normally lower cost sources than fossil fuel sources.  As a result, the only source left source left to replace Indian Point’s lost energy are fossil plants.

The NYISO recent full 2020 summer assessment notes that despite a 506 MW decrease of the capacity margin surplus for baseline peak weather conditions, there is margin above the baseline plus needed operating reserves.  However, if extreme weather conditions occur there is no capacity margin surplus and the system may have to rely on emergency operating procedures to provide relief.  The presentation notes that 2,273 MW have been deactivated this year but that 1,177 MW of natural gas fired power has been added.  It appears that the closure of Indian Point 2 should not affect reliability this summer unless there are extraordinary conditions.

Conclusion

Governor Cuomo said “The environment and climate change are the most critically important policy priorities we face – they literally will determine the future – or the lack thereof.”  Nonetheless the hypocritical implementation of his policies suggests that there are other factors driving these initiatives.  The closure of Indian Point was not coordinated with implementation of renewable energy to replace it.  I am positive that this will result in increased CO2 emissions for some part of the more than a decade useful life of these units that has been short-circuited.  In this instance, the alleged environmental impacts of Indian Point were more of a concern than climate change.  On the other hand, there is no requirement for a cumulative environmental impact of all the renewable energy resources needed by the Climate Act.  (By the way, that is a moot point until the State actually comes up with the plan to convert the electric system completely away from fossil fuels.)  Compounding the risk that the environmental impacts of the Climate Act could be worse than the averted climate change impacts is the AREGCBA law that now circumvents the requirements for detailed site-specific requirements for environmental and public health studies now in place.  So, on one hand, environmental risks trump climate change risks but on the other hand climate change risks overrule the obvious need to consider environmental impacts of massive wind, solar, and transmission deployment.

Finally, the State will undoubtedly claim that it will be cheaper to use offshore wind, distributed solar deployment, and doubling new large-scale land-based wind and solar resources through the Clean Energy Standard than building new fossil-fired generation to replace electric energy from Indian Point 2 and 3.  However, the fact is that the renewable resources come with a hidden price tag because of the necessity of including energy storage for the periods when intermittent wind and solar are unavailable and grid services because diffuse wind and solar require transmission support.  Not only are there significant cost financial implications, the fact that no jurisdiction anywhere has successfully implemented an electric system with such a high dependency upon renewables without becoming dependent upon adjoining electric systems for support, should give the State sufficient incentive to re-consider the ambitious schedule for the aspirational targets of the Climate Act until proper feasibility and cumulative environmental impact analyses have been completed.

New York Energy Efficiency Goals

One of the cornerstone presumptions in New York’s energy future plan is that increasing future energy efficiency efforts will play a key role in the transition to a cleaner, greener electric grid.  In the summer of 2019 the Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) which was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country when Cuomo signed the legislation.  Among the targets of that legislation is: conserve 185 trillion British thermal units (TBTUs) of annual end-use energy use by 2025, of which at least 20 percent should be from energy efficiency improvements in disadvantaged communities.

Energy efficiency is a major component of New York’s energy planning because if less energy is used then less energy will need to be generated. That concept is not debatable and I support energy efficiency efforts, in no small part, because they can be directed at those least able to pay for the inevitable higher prices resulting from government intervention into energy supply.  The question addressed in this post is whether New York’s energy efficiency programs have done well enough that we can expect this to be a substantive component for future energy reduction goals.  This post will look at two New York energy efficiency goals: one made in the past and one a key component for future energy needs.

Energy Data Used to Evaluate the Goals

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) publishes an annual a comprehensive summary of energy statistics and data on energy consumption, supply sources, and price and expenditure information for New York State called Patterns and Trends.  For anyone interested in New York energy information this is a great resource.  One thing that I particularly like is that when you click on a table there is a link to a spreadsheet with all the data.  For space reasons the report does not list all the numbers but the downloadable spreadsheet includes everything.

Unfortunately, during the Cuomo Administration, the annual updates are lagging further and further behind.  In January 2011, the report updated with data through the end of 2009 was published 13 months after the end of that year.  The latest report available, Patterns and Trends – New York State Energy Profiles: 2002-2016,  publication date is January 2019 but it did not get released for another month so it came out 26 months after the end of the year.  Clearly, the 2017 data update will be even later.

2002 Energy Plan Energy Efficiency

The 2002 Energy Plan includes energy resource assessments including Energy Efficiency  that serves as an excellent overview of energy efficiency (EE) assessment for anyone wanting more background information.  This assessment summarizes how New York’s EE programs evolved between 1990 and 2001 during the transition from traditional utility regulation to today’s de-regulated system.  In those 11 years collective energy efficiency expenditures invested “more than $2.9 billion”.   For example, according to Table 4, NYSERDA-Administered System Benefit Charge Energy Efficiency Spending with Projected and Actual Achievements (1998-2006), in this assessment, reductions to annual electric energy production totaled 11,655 (GWh) for an investment $758.7 million.  Statewide achievements between 1990 and 2001 included

      • Cumulative savings of 57,256 GWh of electricity and 1,688 MW of summer peak demand.
      • Cumulative annual savings in 2001 were 7,095 GWh, or about 5.2% of the approximately 137,000 GWh of electricity sales to ultimate consumers during that year.
      • Cumulative summer peak demand reductions in 2001 were 1,688 MW, or about 5.4% of the 30,982 MW peak that occurred during that summer.

The 2002 State Energy Plan provided “policies, strategies, and recommendations to provide New York with fairly priced, clean, and efficient energy resources”.  The Executive Summary includes the following energy efficiency goal: “The State adopts the goal of reducing primary energy use per unit of Gross State Product (GSP) 25% below the 1990 level of energy use, by 2010.”  I will determine whether the State made that historic goal below.

National Grid Natural Gas Supply Energy Efficiency Goals

In response to the New York Department of Public proceeding related to denial of service requests National Grid prepared a summary report to help “enable an agreed long-term solution(s) with New York State by June 2020” so that the solution(s) can be in place and in operation by the winter of 2021/2022.  EE projections and programs play a key part in this plan to ensure adequate natural gas supplies.  In the report,        National Grid discussed historical demand growth and made two projections, a high-demand and a low-demand scenario, to bound their analysis. In the high demand scenario, they assume that 80% of the State energy efficiency targets are achieved and in the low demand scenario they assume that 100% of the targets are achieved.  In order to meet future energy requirements, they also included a no-infrastructure energy efficiency project to “reduce Design Day demand through intensive weatherization measures, such as air-sealing and maximized insulation”.

The State’s 2002 EE goal was normalized relative to the state gross domestic product.  As a result, the result of that test is irrelevant to determining whether we can have confidence in the energy use projections in the National Grid demand growth projections and their no-infrastructure energy efficiency proposal.  What we need to look at is the actual energy use and energy use per customer.

2002 Energy Plan EE Goal Evaluation

The 2002 Energy Plan EE goal is to reduce primary energy use per unit of Gross State Product (GSP) 25% below the 1990 level of energy use, by 2010.  Table 2-5b, New York State Factors Influencing Energy Demand and Expenditures, lists the Gross State Product and Table 3-1b, New York Consumption of Energy by Fuel Type, lists energy use for the State.  The Evaluation of the 2002 State Energy Plan Goal table lists the annual values from the downloaded spreadsheets for each table, calculates energy use per GSP and then lists the % reduction from 1990 for each year since 1990.  In 2010, the reduction in this parameter was 30.1% easily exceeding the 2002 Energy Plan goal of a 25% reduction.

On the face of it this is good news but we also have to ask why did the State meet the goal.  Total energy use actually went up 3.2% since 1990.  However, the State Gross Product went up 47.5% and that increase more than made up for the energy use increase such that the energy use per GSP parameter went down.

A couple of points for context.  Energy use is a function of multiple effects including the weather (extreme heat or cold increases energy use), the economy (when more businesses are making things they use more energy), as well as how efficiently the energy is being used.  As a result, a single year to a single year comparison could be mis-leading.  Clearly, however, the fact that the energy use per GSP exceeds the goal means that the State effectively met that goal.  I think it is also a laudable achievement to increase the GSP that much and keep the energy use since 1990 pretty close to a small increase.  On the other hand, the aggressive New York state-wide goals for the future will need to rely on reductions in energy use not just energy use per GSP.

Confidence in the Future Projected EE Goal

While I am impressed that the State met its 2002 energy efficiency goal, in the context of actual energy reduction I believe that it is more important to reduce total energy use and energy use per customer served.  If those data suggest that EE is working as well as suggested by the State then we can have confidence that meeting future energy use goals will be achieved.  This section describes the data I used and how it was processed to look at that energy use itself.

For this analysis I used data from the following Patterns and Trends appendices that provide electric and gas number of customers and electric and gas sales.

Appendix F-2, New York State Electricity Customers by Sector by Utility

          • Table F-2a. Residential Sector Electricity Customers by Utility
          • Table F-2b. Commercial Sector Electricity Customers by Utility
          • Table F-2c. Industrial Sector Electricity Customers by Utility

Appendix F-3, New York State Electricity Sales by Sector by Utility

          • Table F-3a. Residential Sector Electricity Sales by Utility (GWh)
          • Table F-3b. Commercial Sector Electricity Sales by Utility (GWh)
          • Table F-3c. Industrial Sector Electricity Sales by Utility (GWh)

Appendix F-5, New York State Natural Gas Customers by Sector by Utility

          • Table F-5a. Residential Sector Natural Gas Customers by Utility
          • Table F-5b. Commercial Sector Natural Gas Customers by Utility
          • Table F-5c. Industrial Sector Natural Gas Customers by Utility

Appendix F-6, New York State Natural Gas Sales by Sector by Utility

          • Table F-6a. Residential Sector Natural Gas Sales by Utility (Millions of Cubic Feet)
          • Table F-6b. Commercial Sector Natural Gas Sales by Utility (Millions of Cubic Feet)
          • Table F-6c. Industrial Sector Natural Gas Sales by Utility (Millions of Cubic Feet)

Both sets of data include values for the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.  Note that these data are only available back to 2001.  Although the primary emphasis is on the goal for natural gas usage, I will include both electric and gas information.

The New York State Natural Gas System Customers, Natural Gas Sales, and Natural Gas Use per Customer Data and Trendstable lists the parameters that I think are more appropriate to evaluate the likelihood that energy efficiency can reduce the amount of natural gas that will be needed for the worst case heating requirements.  In 2016 the amount of natural gas used in the residential sector has increased 9.7% since 2002, in the commercial sector the amount used went down 12.8% and in the industrial sector the amount used went down 9.0%.  The amount of natural gas used per customer went up 3.9%, commercial sector was down 21.1% and industrial sector was down 56.6%

I have issues with these data that should be kept in mind.  In the industrial sector note that the number of industrial customers just about doubled from the 2001 to 2006 years.  Looking at the utility data in Table F-5c this was because of an increase at Brooklyn Union Gas.  I suspect this is more a reporting artifact than an actual change in the number of industrial customers.  Fortunately, that seems to be an exception in the data.

Recall that energy use is a function of weather, the economy and how the energy is used among other things that make the year to year variation and the choice of starting and ending points a concern when trying to determine what is actually going on.  In order to try to address this problem I calculated the percentage change of the energy use per customer for different periods.  The Alternate Natural Gas Use Trends Comparison table lists the change between the first eight year averages and the second eight year averages of the sixteen years of data available, the first five year averages and the last five year averages in the period of record, and the last five year averages relative to the proceeding five year averages.

Alternate Natural Gas Use Trends Comparison

Gas Use (Sales per Customer)
Residential Commercial Industrial
2001-2008 0.091 0.83 18.85
2009-2016 0.094 0.77 11.86
% Difference 3.0% -7.8% -37.1%
2001-2005 0.092 0.90 25.93
2012-2016 0.09 0.77 12.27
% Difference 2.8% -14.7% -52.7%
2007-2011 0.091 0.76 10.96
2012-2016 0.095 0.77 12.27
% Difference 3.8% 2.2% 12.0%

Both the commercial and industrial sectors show impressive reductions in use per customer in the first two alternatives.  However, the industrial sector values are skewed by the questionable number of customers data.  It is very concerning that during the period 2007 to 2016, when there was extensive energy efficiency investment, that the energy use per customer in all three sectors went up.

The New York State Electric System Customers, Electricity Sales, and Electricity Use per Customer Data and Trends table lists the same electric system parameters for completeness.  In 2016 the amount of electricity used in the residential sector has increased 15% since 2002, in the commercial sector the amount used went up 27% and in the industrial sector the amount used went down 14.8%.  The amount of electricity used per customer went up 20.9%, commercial sector use per customer went up 22.2% and industrial sector use per customer went up 63.16%.

As was the case with the natural gas numbers there are issues with the number of customers per sector.  For example, the number of  NYSE&G industrial customers went from ~2,700 in 2002 to 16,292 in 2003 and then back down to ~2,700 in 2004.  Something is wrong there.  Niagara Mohawk customers in 2001 and 2002 are also suspiciously different than the rest of the years.  Otherwise there are no suspect year to year variations.

I addressed the suspicious data issue and the variations due to other effects the same way as the natural gas data.   I calculated the percentage change of the energy use per customer for different periods.  The Alternate Electric Use Trends Comparison table lists the change between the first eight year averages and the second eight year averages of the sixteen years of data available, the first five year averages and the last five year averages in the period of record, and the last five year averages relative to the proceeding five year averages.

Alternate Electric Use Trends Comparison

Electric Use (Sales per Customer)
Residential Commercial Industrial
2001-2008 6.706 71.55 1,614.8
2009-2016 7.044 73.40 2,083.5
% Difference 5.0% 2.6% 29.0%
2001-2005 6.524 68.80 1,573.7
2012-2016 7.024 72.97 2,352.6
% Difference 7.7% 6.1% 49.5%
2007-2011 7.065 75.01 1,689.1
2012-2016 7.024 72.97 2,352.6
% Difference -0.6% -2.7% 39.3%

The sales per customer for all three sectors show increases in the first two alternatives.  However, the industrial sector values are skewed by the questionable number of customers data.  The good news is that contrary to the natural gas energy use, both residential and customer electric use per customer decrease which is what we would expect if energy efficiency programs were working well.  The industrial sector numbers show an increase but that is much more likely due to the changing character of industrial use, e.g., fewer customers but larger users.

Conclusion

I do not dispute that the energy efficiency concept that if less energy is used then less energy will need to be generated is a great thing.   In this post I looked at two New York energy efficiency goals: one made in the past and one a key component for future energy needs to see if results to date support this emphasis.

The 2002 Energy Plan included an energy efficiency goal to reduce primary energy use per unit of gross state product 25% below the 1990 level of energy use, by 2010.  I found data for gross state product and energy use, calculated the parameter used in the goal and determined the percentage reductions since 1990.  In 2010, the reduction in this parameter was 30.1% easily exceeding the 2002 Energy Plan goal of a 25% reduction.

However, upon closer examination, I found that the reason the goal was met was because the gross state product increased more than energy use increased.  The gross state product was included in the goal to try to reduce the economy’ effect on energy use.  This underscores the importance of evaluating energy efficiency programs based on actually reducing the amount of energy used.

At this time New York’s energy policy is counting on substantive reductions in energy use as part of the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, National Grid’s proposed options to address natural gas supply deficiencies in New York City and on Long Island assume that the New York energy efficiency will meet or exceed 80% of the CLCPA targets and that they could get substantive additional reductions from an intense weatherization project.

I calculated the natural gas and electric energy use per customer rates since 2001 to determine if the energy efficiency investments to date have been successful.  The problem is that energy use is not just a factor of energy efficiency but also weather and the economy.  To get around that I conclude the best I can do is compare the averages of the last five years to the proceeding five year.  For electricity the residential and commercial sector energy use declined as we would expect given the energy efficiency investments.  However, natural gas use increased in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.

This result raises concerns for me vis-à-vis National Grid’s proposed alternative options for supplying natural gas to New York City and Long Island.  I suspect that the State will force National Grid to choose options that rely on energy efficiency rather than ones that require new fossil-fuel infrastructure despite the fact that they will guarantee adequate supplies of natural gas. The fact that energy use per customer has gone up suggests that existing energy efficiency programs are not working as well as assumed and will not guarantee that additional natural gas is available on the coldest days.

NESE Pipeline Alternatives for National Grid

The Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) pipeline is a proposed pipeline to bring natural gas to New York City and Long Island.   I sent Comments submitted 27 March 2020 in a New York Department of Public Service proceeding related to denial of service requests by National Grid in New York City and Long Island which is associated with this project.  This post describes what is going on, the proposal to resolve the issue and my comments on the proceeding.  Be forewarned there is a lot of material to cover so this is a long one.

Purpose

The request for comments is in regard to a requirement to come up with alternatives to provide additional natural gas supply to National Grid’s service territory on Long Island.  In this section I explain what happened to the original plan to fix the problem and events leading up to the current discussion.  On May 15, 2019 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) denied a water-quality permit for the NESE natural gas pipeline that would bring more natural gas to New York City and Long Island.  On May 24, 2019 National Grid imposed a moratorium on new natural gas connections In New York City and Long Island because they could not guarantee enough supply for additional customers based in part because the pipeline was blocked.  In late November 2019 National Grid relented and started doing hookups for new customers following threats from Governor Cuomo to pull their license to operate.  The fact remains that the there is still a problem so National Grid has developed a collaboration for a “safe and reliable energy future”.  I submitted my comments in response to the public outreach program related to this effort.  Once that effort is complete all the feedback will be collected and reviewed, and the National Grid will issue a supplemental report that summarizes and includes public and customer input.  This is supposed to “enable an agreed long-term solution(s) with New York State by June 2020” so that the solution(s) can be in place and in operation by the winter of 2021/2022.

Water Quality Permit Denial

In order to ensure adequate supplies Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company (Transco) proposed the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE).  The permit application project description states:

The NESE Project is a 26-inch diameter pipeline proposed by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company LLC (Transco) that would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, traveling underwater in the Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay to approximately three miles offshore of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens Borough. Approximately 23.5 miles of underwater pipeline will be installed, of which approximately 17.4 miles would be in New York State waters.

The NESE Project would connect to the existing Rockaway Delivery Lateral in Queens and would provide 400,000 dekatherms per day of incremental capacity to National Grid to serve customers in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. According to Transco, the project is intended to support reliability as well as help displace the use of oil.

The NESE Project would be installed a minimum of 4 feet below the sea floor through a combination of jet trenching, clamshell dredging and horizontal directional drilling (HDD). Construction would be phased to avoid potential impacts to marine species. If permits are ultimately issued, compensatory mitigation would be required to offset unavoidable impacts to benthic resources, including shellfish.

On May 15, 2019, the NYSDEC denied the application for the required Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification based on their review of the permit and over 14,000 public comments received on behalf of 45,000 individuals. The full decision (PDF) is outlined in a letter by Daniel Whitehead, Director, Division of Environmental Permits, NYSDEC.  I summarize the rationale below.

Because this is an interstate pipeline project the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has to approve the application to build the pipeline.  On March 27, 2017, Transco submitted to FERC an application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for construction and operation of the Project. FERC issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on March 23, 2018. The NYSDEC submitted comments to FERC regarding the DEIS on May 14, 2018 and FERC issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Project on January 25, 2019. The FEIS outlined some of the numerous environmental impacts FERC anticipated from the construction and operation of the Project. On May 3, 2019, FERC issued Transco a Certificate for the Project subject to certain environmental conditions recommended in the FEIS. According to FERC, these conditions would mitigate many of the environmental impacts associated with the Project.

Even though FERC approved the project Transco still had to get a Water Quality Certificate from New York State.  After the usual iterations between the applicant and the NYSDEC, the application for the Certificate was deemed complete on January 30, 2019.  When the application went out for public comment well over 90 percent of the 14,000 public comments opposed the Department’s issuing a Certificate.  On the basis of their review of the application and public comments, NYSDEC determined that there would be significant water quality impacts.  This includes “significant water quality impacts from the resuspension of sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper. In addition, as proposed, the Project would cause impacts to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources.”

All environmental impacts involve tradeoffs.  If resuspension of sediments were the deciding criterion and prohibited in every instance then no project that disturbed an underwater surface could proceed – no bridges, no docks, nothing.  For that matter fisherman’s dredges that are towed along the bottom could be prohibited.  In a rational world, the fact that all those activities and the construction of a pipeline are short-term would be considered and if the overall long-term benefits to society out-weigh the transient impacts then the permit would be approved.  This instance is complicated by the fact that the sediments are contaminated, so mercury and copper limits could be exceeded.  Again, if this is the criterion, then no work that disturbs sediments in New York harbor should be permitted.  Another unavoidable impact is habitat disturbance and the same trade-offs apply.  However, the State could have required Transco to rehabilitate the disturbed shellfish beds after the pipeline was installed.

This is an example of hypocritical decision making by the Cuomo Administration.  NYSDEC rejected the National Fuel Gas Empire Pipeline application for a new 97-mile pipeline because it would have caused permanent impacts to 2.335 acres of wetlands within the 73.377 wetland acres impacted.  The poster child for Cuomo hypocrisy is the rejection of the Finger Lakes LPG application for an underground storage facility because of “significant adverse impacts on community character” when the only visible infrastructure was a small pond and a building. On the other hand agencies have approved the Cuomo-correct applications for off-shore wind farms which will permanently disturb much more of the seafloor than the NESE pipeline would have temporarily disturbed, approved projects that permanently disturbed wetlands but allowed the developer to create compensating wetlands, and approved wind and solar applications that have significant impacts on community character.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that the professional staff at NYSDEC and the other NYS regulatory agencies, if left to make permitting decisions based on their experience and the facts of the case, would have approved all of the rejected applications. The reason there were rejected was the Cuomo Administration.

National Grid Moratorium

National Grid’s problem is that they have determined that there is not enough current gas supply to serve future customers.  In their report they explained that 85% of the gas used on the coldest days is used for heating.   If they don’t have enough gas available then service to existing customers will be jeopardized and that means heating supplies will be at risk.  In my comments I provided references that conclusively show that cold weather is more impactful on health than hot weather and I have also shown that claims that hot weather is worse are based on a reporting artifact related to different lag times for hot and cold effects.  Therefore, National Grid has the moral responsibility to ensure heating supplies are available and the State should support those efforts.

Gas supply is regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) so the projection methodology is comprehensive and well-documented  When a utility company calculates how much supply they have, how much they are using and how much they will need in the future to argue that they need more supply  infrastructure, the first thing PSC staff does is generate their own analysis using the same methodology.  The two sides compare projections to determine if there are differences and reconcile the numbers.  My point is that the assumptions used in these calculations have been developed over the years to ensure adequate and reliable gas supply and they should not get changed at the whim of anyone.

Faced with their analyses that show they don’t have enough gas for future additions and with the rejection of the solution that they had planned to use to resolve the problem National Grid announced that they had to put a moratorium on new supply hookups.

Cuomo’s Response to the Moratorium

In the fantasy world of Cuomo’s New York, numbers, facts, and precedence don’t matter.  It is all about Andy.  Once people could not get the preferred alternative of a natural gas hookup they squawked and the politician saw an opportunity to cater to voters. His response was to have the Public Service Commission order National Grid to provide natural gas hookups.  According to the New York Post “The Public Service Commission said it has the authority based on a section in Public Service Law that says if a gas company is unable to meet the needs of reliable service to customers, the state has the power to step in”.   Following established State practice National Grid calculated how many customers they could handle and cut off any additional customers when the infrastructure proposed to resolve the problem was rejected by the State.  Obviously National Grid was unable to meet the needs of customers solely because the State would not let them,

Furthermore, Cuomo huffed and puffed a threat to revoke the operating license for National Grid if they did not comply.  Now here is where the precedence issue arises.  The Department of Public Service (DPS) and Public Service Commission are supposed to be independent.  In this instance an independent agency could have said “Sorry Governor but your politically driven appeasement of your voting base meant that there may not be enough gas supply available and in order to protect the citizens the prudent choice is to put a moratorium in place.”  The problem is that the DPS no longer independently serves the public interest.   In the summer of 2019 a group of retired Department of Public Service employees submitted a letter that stated “Until the current administration, Governors have generally respected the plain language of the Public Service Law (PSL), which … safeguards the mission of the DPS to serve not political interests but the public interest.” The letter signed by fifteen retired department workers states: “Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, has not done so.”

Like most bully threats there are questions whether Cuomo could have actually revoked National Grid charter to operate.  Nonetheless it was a thinly veiled threat to step in line or he would make doing business miserable.  National Grid is a business and in order to succeed financially they depend on a rate-making process that is entirely co-opted by the Cuomo Administration.  If National Grid steps out of line there is no question that his Administration will hurt them as often and as hard as possible.

National Grid Interim Solution

Not surprisingly National Grid caved and agreed to lift the moratorium for two years.  According to a Utility Dive report:

National Grid has identified new solutions to supply consumer gas needs in downstate New York since announcing the moratorium, company spokesperson Domenick Graziani told Utility Dive in an email. These include a “previously unavailable source of short-term peaking supplies,” which he declined to provide further details on.

The utility also anticipates reductions in demand due to energy efficiency and demand response programs, a new compression project that will provide additional long-term capacity to portions of Long Island and a greater-than-expected number of customers interested in shifting to “non-firm” service — that is, customers who switch to oil or other alternative fuels when asked to by National Grid. These customers are charged differently from residential and other “firm” customers and can be penalized if they don’t make the switch, according to Graziani.

As noted, before, environmental development issues involve tradeoffs and that is also true for energy development.  In this instance the “previously unavailable source of short-term peaking supplies” turned out to be trucked compressed natural gas.  This option requires a facility where the gas is compressed outside of Long Island and loaded into trucks that transport it to a vaporization facility on Long Island where it can be vaporized and added into a pipeline for delivery.  Natural gas can be transported from the production well to the user entirely by underground pipelines.  While there are safety and environmental issues related to that relatively simple approach there is no question that the CNG truck option through New York City is much riskier and that environmental impacts will be greater when additional handling components are added to the transport from well to user.  Elsewhere this “virtual pipeline” is widely condemned so it is not surprising that the National Grid spokesman declined to provide further details.

This is another instance of Cuomo administration hypocrisy: on one hand basking in the limelight as a leader against climate change by prohibiting new fossil fuel infrastructure but on the other hand needlessly risking safety and increasing environmental impacts with a solution only intended for use as a stop gap in emergencies.  Mark my word if there is CNG truck accident it will be anybody’s fault but Cuomo’s.

National Grid Collaboration

At this time National Grid is conducting an outreach program as described below:

For National Grid, serving our 1.9 million natural gas customers across Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau, and Suffolk is both a privilege and a responsibility. New York has seen dynamic economic growth in the Downstate region, expanding residential and non-residential building space, and thousands of oil-to-gas conversions over the last 10 years. These factors have resulted in a substantial increase in the demand for natural gas, placing stress on our existing gas network and threatening National Grid’s ability to meet our customers’ needs when demand is at its peak. This leaves little room for error in the face of unplanned supply interruptions or other contingencies.

As part of the settlement agreement with New York State that lifted the moratorium on new gas connections imposed in May 2019, we are taking numerous measures to ensure we have sufficient supply for the winters of 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, including increasing reliance on compressed natural gas (“CNG”) trucking when needed to meet peak demand.

Beyond the next two winters, however, continued growth in demand for natural gas creates a challenge that must be addressed. There are multiple potential solutions, each with its own considerations regarding safety, reliability, environmental and community impact, and cost. National Grid has prepared and provided to New York State an extensive Long-Term Capacity Report to facilitate constructive dialog in the quest to answer the challenges presented by increasing demand. The purpose of this Summary Report is to distill the content of that full report for the general public so that all may understand the issues involved and the potential solutions to be considered.

We wish this to be a collaborative process and encourage feedback, either through the public meetings hosted by National Grid in March 2020 or by sharing your thoughts via our online survey at www.ngrid.com/longtermsolutions.  This site also provides access to the full report and a link through which you can share feedback directly with the New York State Department of Public Service.

In other words, National Grid is desperately trying to appease the Governor who wants to play to the no fossil fuel infrastructure maniacs he actively courts.  To do that they have come up with this stakeholder process that lays out the problem and offers a number of alternative approaches to the problem.  All the while trying not to favor any of them.

My Submittal

National Grid has developed a slick website that provides information on the long-term solution options.  Also included are links to the reports, schedule of events, ways to submit comments, and transcripts from their meetings.  I will describe the summary report and reproduce some of the comments I submitted in italics.

In the first section of the summary National Grid describes the problem.  In order to define how much natural gas will be used they use the “Design Day” concept.  This is the plan for peak demand conditions as the level of gas delivery needed to serve all of our customers during an extreme cold weather event. In the Downstate NY region Design Day is defined as a 24-hour period that averages 0° Fahrenheit in Central Park. They note that approximately 85% of this Design Day capacity is used to heat homes and businesses—keeping people warm on the coldest of days.

I frankly could only stand listening to the comments made during the public meeting for a brief period but in that time two people complained about the use of 0° Fahrenheit as the design day because temperatures have been warming.  I am frustrated that they spout off numbers without any consideration that they have no responsibility in the event that they are wrong.  Moreover, I am sure that the choice of the design day temperature is proscribed by some PSC order somewhere to prevent gaming the system so it is unlikely that changing the number could be considered.  Nonetheless, I accessed Central Park data to see whether that value is representative to prepare the following comment:

I am a meteorologist so I checked the representativeness of the 0° Fahrenheit in Central Park criterion.  I used the Northeast Regional Climate Center CLIMOD 2 data portal to download Central Park daily minimum, maximum and average temperature data from 1869 to the present.  Over that period the lowest daily average temperature was -5.5° Fahrenheit and there were six other days with daily average temperatures less than or equal to the 0° Fahrenheit design day criteria.  Note also that on December 30 and 31, 1917 there were two days with average temperatures below 0° Fahrenheit in the midst of a seven-day period with daily average temperatures less than 10° Fahrenheit. 

I also evaluated hourly meteorological data for two NYS Mesonet stations (Rush and York sites from December 29, 2017 to January 8, 2018.  In that period the temperature did not get above freezing and on January 6, 2018 the average temperature was 0.8° Fahrenheit.  Based on my meteorology background and despite the fact that the most recent date with an average zero degree design day temperature in Central Park was 15 February 1943, I believe the weather conditions that caused a 0.8° Fahrenheit average day near Rochester in 2018 support the continued use of the 0° Fahrenheit in Central Park criterion.  Because 85% of the Design Day capacity is used for heating this design day criterion may not be stringent enough and certainly should not be adjusted upwards.

National Grid discussed historical demand growth and made two projections, a high-demand and a low-demand scenario, to bound their analysis. In the high demand scenario, they assume that 80% of the State energy efficiency targets are achieved and in the low demand scenario they assume that 100% of the targets are achieved.  Based on the projections and factoring in low-carbon solutions they predict that they will need to close a gap of 400 MDth/day between customer demand and available natural gas supply with the existing system.

In contrast to National Grid’s optimistic projection that they will reduce demand growth by over 50% I disagree.  In the first place, New York has already had extensive energy efficiency efforts in place during the time that demand growth increased 2.4%.  As a result, the easiest and most effective, aka low hanging fruit, energy efficiency projects have already been implemented.  Any future reductions will not be as cheap or effective.  Another problem is that natural gas works well for heating and cooking so it is the preferred alternative.  The “no new fossil-fuel infrastructure” argument is fine in theory but when faced with having to choose a poorer alternative I believe there will be plenty of pushback from the majority of the population that wants the advantages of natural gas and is not as motivated as the environmental advocacy folks so vocal in this proceeding. 

 This is particularly true with regards to home heating electrification because the preferred retrofit alternative is air source heat pumps.  My personal experience with this technology has been bad and I think that is a major problem for those who want to electrify heating. The word on the street is more often negative than positive.  In my case I did research to try to understand the problem.  In my 9/16/2019 filed comments on Resource Adequacy Matters, Case 19-E-0530, I included an analysis in an appendix entitled Air Source Heat Pumps that demonstrated the fundamental flaw with this technology.  In short, when the temperature drops below 20° Fahrenheit there simply is not enough energy to be transferred and converted to heat for the technology to work.  In the event of a seven-day cold snap like the one that occurred around New Year’s Day 1918 anyone without supplemental heat would freeze and the increased electrical load needed to provide supplemental electric resistance heating could lead to unprecedented peak loads.  Claims that improved air source heat pumps will solve this problem are unwarranted absent repealing the laws of physics.

 As a result, I do not think that the low demand case in which 80% of the State energy efficiency targets are achieved is likely.  More realistically the low demand will be 50% of the targets and the high demand 80%.  I am confident that 100% of the State energy efficiency targets will not be met.

Another aspect of the National Grid demand reduction plan is to use three low-carbon solutions: renewable natural gas, hydrogen blending and power-to-gas, and geothermal heat pumps.  National Grid claims that “with proper funding and support, we anticipate that these programs can cover 15–35 MDth of the Downstate NY gas supply gap”.

      • Renewable natural gas (RNG) facilities use biomass—such as landfills, wastewater treatment, food waste, and livestock manure— as feedstock for producing gas. National Grid currently has two RNG sites in their Downstate NY region: one on Staten Island and another at Newtown Creek expected to come online in the winter of 2020. They believe there is even more opportunity to expand RNG in their Downstate NY region.
      • Natural gas supplies can be augmented by blending in hydrogen gas produced by splitting water into hydrogen gas and oxygen gas through the process of electrolysis. Hydrogen blends, in the form of town gas, were used in heating for decades, both in the US and other countries. National Grid has proposed a two-year study to assess optimal parameters for incorporating hydrogen in the Downstate NY region.
      • By transferring heat to and from the ground, geothermal heat pumps offer an attractive, low-carbon alternative for providing central heating and cooling. Based on the success of a demonstration project that connected 10 homes with shared-loop ground-source heat pump (GSHP) systems, National Grid is seeking to expand this program to 900 homes over the coming four years.

As shown below I don’t think these projects have much, if any value.  At the Trust Yet Verify blog, the author notes that in Flanders, they have the expression “calculating oneself rich” which means presenting one’s case in a too optimistic way that doesn’t accord with reality.  Had I been aware of that expression when I wrote the comments, I would have used it because it describes these projects well.

Renewable natural gas is produced from anerobic digesters.  The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) has an integrated data system that provides operational data on DERs installed in New York including anerobic digesters.  At the current time there are 38 facilities with a rated electrical output of 22,263 kW.  The majority (29) of these digesters are located on dairy farms.  Eight are at waste water treatment plants and one is located at the Saranac brewery.  Only three of these have output greater than 3 MW and the majority are rated between 100 and 500 kW.  It is telling that NYSERDA rates these by electrical output because that indicates that the methane is primarily used to generate electricity. The National Grid report states that the Newtown Creek WWTP will be capable of producing 1.0 MDth/day and that they are “connected to a 1.6 MDth/day plant in Staten Island”.  Presumably during peak natural gas demand periods, the plan could be to divert the methane to the gas system rather than using it for generating electricity.   I believe that this option has limited potential simply because there are not many possible sites where it could be deployed.

 National Grid has proposed a two-year study to assess optimal parameters for incorporating hydrogen in the Downstate NY region.  In other words, this is more of a concept than a proven technology in today’s energy landscape.  Cynic that I am I consider this more wishful thinking than an actual plan.

 Ground source heat pumps work but the implementation logistics of trying to install meaningful amounts even, if the geology was favorable, in the service territory for this proceeding precludes this as a viable contributor to meaningful load reductions.

The meat of the report is the description of ten distinct options for closing the gap of up to 400 MDth/day between natural gas demand and supply over the next 15 years.  National Grid is careful to state that they do not propose a “best” or “most desirable” solution and pragmatically observe that the ultimate approach ultimately will likely be a portfolio including two or more of these options.  As noted earlier they have the responsibility to provide natural gas and the politicians who demand solutions that are driven by an agenda will disavow any culpability if they don’t work.

National Grid proposes ten projects in three categories.  They propose three large-scale infrastructure projects: an offshore liquified natural gas (LNG) deep water port, an LNG import terminal, and the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline project.  There are four distributed infrastructure projects: a peak LNG facility, LNG barges, the Clove Lakes Transmission Project, and the Iroquois enhancement compression project.  There are three no-infrastructure projects: incremental energy efficiency, demand response, and electrification.

The summary report concludes with an assessment of the relative attractiveness of the proposed options with respect to each of the evaluation criteria to “help our customers and the general public evaluate the options”.  I reviewed and commented on the scoring but will not include all my comments here.  In brief, I think that by necessity National Grid scored the NESE pipeline lower than they should have to be “Cuomo correct”.  For example, they gave all the large infrastructure projects the same safety score. I disagree because in most things related to safety simpler is better.  Both LNG alternatives are significantly more complicated because they involve storage and regasification components.  Moreover, they both require marine transport which compared to a pipeline has to be less safe.  I suggested that the scores for those projects be dropped relative to the pipeline.

I did include a comment on the environmental scoring because I have a lot of experience with environmental impact analyses and I disagree with the environmental scoring.  Frankly the evaluation criteria in the report in Table 19 don’t help much.  Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is one criterion used.  I don’t see how the compression, regasification, and transportation components of the LNG options would not mean higher GHG emissions. All the other GHG emissions intensity values are the same for all three options.  As a long-time air quality meteorologist, I struggle to find air substantive air quality problems with natural gas use as compared to other dispatchable sources of energy but I believe that air pollution emissions from LNG ship transportation are larger than pipeline compressor stations.  I can accept that the potential impact from construction is higher for pipelines but once in place the operation impacts are likely lower.   I assume that environmental risk relates to the ecological impact.  The fact is that there have to be pipelines from the well pads to the ports for the LNG options.  Expanding pipeline capacity to bring the needed natural gas directly to the City is simpler, safer and less prone to problems.  I cannot comment on the potential of any option to support New York’s decarbonization goals because there is no plan to implement those goals, only targets.  The politicians that enacted legislation with the goals made a major mistake putting the cart (the aggressive targets) before the horse (figuring out what was feasible).  In conclusion I would add another cell to the environment scoring bar to the pipeline option because it is significantly better than the other two.

 Two of the distributed infrastructure projects, Clove Lakes Transmission Project and the Iroquois enhancement compression project, are simple upgrades that will provide more capacity.  I see no reason why they should not be included.

The no-infrastructure projects all qualify as “Cuomo correct” virtue signals.  Because I don’t believe that the existing energy efficiency targets will be met, I reject out of hand the idea that even more substantive energy efficiency could be implemented.  Demand response is a favored component of “smart grid” advocates for shaving summer peak demand.  However, that is not a solution here because the expectation is that the load peak will shift to the winter.  I believe that there are significant differences between cooling peak loads and heating peak loads.  Most importantly, there is a hot period diurnal cycle that means that shifting between uses (A/C is not as large a component of total load as heating is to the total load) and times (when the sun is down there is no direct solar heating and cooling load needs drop significantly) is possible.  The question boils down to this: when 85% of your load is heating and the heating load does not vary much how can you shift the load?  I for one would not accept a thermostat that someone else controls for heating my home.  I do not think I would be an exception.

The third no infrastructure project was heating electrification using cold-climate, electric heat pumps.   I think that widespread implementation of cold-climate heat pumps will be a mistake as I noted in my resource adequacy comments. Bottom line is when you it is really cold and you really need heat they don’t work simply because there isn’t enough energy available. In addition, you are just shifting the problem onto the electric side.  Given that electric transmission is more susceptible to interruption than pipelines I think electrification is a less resilient option.

 The only positive that can be said about these no-infrastructure projects is that they are consistent with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) expected infrastructure.  Unfortunately, we are guessing at what the state plans to do because they set targets without figuring out if they could be met much less how they would be met.  Moreover, I don’t think that the implementation timing for these kinds of projects will be consistent with timing for when the gap between demand and supply needs to be reduced.

National Grid points out that “Creating a comprehensive solution requires looking at how different options can work together to solve the gap between demand and supply”. Then they listed three possible approaches.  I was disappointed that they did not include the NESE pipeline large-scale infrastructure and the two distributed infrastructure pipeline projects as an option. I commented:

It did not get much attention in the documentation but the solution to the fact that current pipeline capacity cannot support today’s peak load demand is to truck compressed natural gas from somewhere on the other side of the supply constraint to somewhere on the inside of the supply constraint.  In my evaluation of the difference between pipeline and LNG infrastructure options I argued that the added safety and environmental effects of marine transport relative to pipelines made pipelines a superior choice.  However, the safety and environmental effects of trucks are greater than those of marine transport.  All three solutions rely on incremental Energy Efficiency, Demand Response, and Electrification to reduce demand and remove the need for CNG trucking. As a result, I could never support any of these solutions simply because it is likely that the need for CNG trucking will remain longer.

The first combined option, build out Large-Scale Infrastructure, capable of almost fully meeting projected needs claims that if construction is not completed before 2021/22, incremental Energy Efficiency (EE), Demand Response (DR) and Electrification would be required to reduce demand and meet customer needs. CNG trucking would be discontinued once the infrastructure is completed. Any shortfall in meeting demand reduction targets would lead to restrictions on new customer connections until the infrastructure is completed.  Incremental EE, DR and electrification won’t be implemented in this time frame – no way no how.

The second combined option, combine distributed infrastructure solutions with incremental No-Infrastructure solutions fails because all of them need to be implemented to meet projected gap so it will be necessary to combine one or two of these options with additional demand reductions achieved through EE, DR, and Electrification to fully meet needs. National Grid admits CNG trucking would remain in place unless demand reduction targets are exceeded, and any shortfall in meeting those targets would lead to restrictions on new customer connections.  Given that I think there is no way the demand reductions will be met CNG trucking remains in use for longer.

The final combined option, fully rely on a portfolio of incremental no- Infrastructure solutions, will undoubtedly be the preferred alternative of the energy innumerate and, thus the king of innumeracy Governor Cuomo.  Because it is unlikely that demand reduction targets will be exceeded, CNG trucking will remain in place, and any shortfall in meeting such demand reduction targets will lead to restrictions on new customer connections.  Somehow, someway when this fails to meet the needs, Cuomo will be the first to blame National Grid.

 Conclusion

National Grid states: “Our hope is that by helping our customers understand the possible approaches for addressing these concerns, they will provide feedback to help guide future decision making.”  Let me translate that for anyone unversed on current New York State energy policy.  National Grid is a business and in order to succeed financially they depend on a rate-making process that is entirely co-opted by the Cuomo Administration.  This report and the extensive outreach program, is a necessary part of doing business but it is just window dressing.  The ultimate decision will not be made to balance costs and risks against benefits to customers.  Whatever the facts say about energy reliability, effects on health, safety risks and costs, the final plan will be a politically driven decision made at the highest level of the Administration based on whatever is determined to best garner support from Cuomo’s political base.

This is another instance of Cuomo administration hypocrisy: on one hand basking in the limelight as a leader against climate change by prohibiting new fossil fuel infrastructure but on the other hand needlessly risking safety and increasing environmental impacts with an interim solution only intended for use as a stop gap in emergencies.  There are three pipeline alternatives that should be the clear choice as less risky, safer and minimal environmental impacts.  The other long-term infrastructure alternative solutions include several options that would continue to use more complicated and thus more risky approaches.  The obligatory no-fossil fuel infrastructure options could, in theory, provide enough energy needed to meet the design day criteria but two of the options (electrification and demand response) have never been implemented on the scale necessary and expecting to get even more energy efficiency reductions runs counter to observed results.  The question is whether the Cuomo administration will risk safety and reliability by requiring the use of those risky approaches to cater to people who will pay no price for being wrong.

Of course, the underlying argument that forms the basis of this entire charade is that climate change is an existential threat.  I believe that is a flawed argument.  New York’s politicians constantly claim that their energy policies have scientific support and they typically lean on the popular conception of an overwhelming consensus that the observed warming is necessarily bad.  In reality, most qualified scientists believe humans are causing some warming, but only a minority are very concerned about it.  The catastrophic impacts touted as proof that something needs to be done invariably rely on a future emission projection scenario that is so unlikely that it is inappropriate to use for policy decisions.  Finally, if the problem is global warming then it logically requires a global solution.  The reality is that New York’s possible impact on global warming reduction is too small to measure and would have effects that could not conceivably alter any of the purported catastrophic impacts.

 

The Futility of New York Energy Policy

A major theme of this blog is analysis of New York energy policy as it relates to climate change.  I have found that at the conclusion of every such post I am tempted to include an overview of my conclusions of the reality of the policy.  This post is a reference for three fatal flaws in the arguments used to justify those policies.

Background

I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40 years experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations. I believe that gives me a relatively unique background to consider the potential quantitative effects of energy policies based on doing something about climate change.  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.

My biggest concern is that I am convinced that the general public has no idea what is going on with these energy policies and the possible ramifications.  My posts on New York energy policy are here.  I have described the reasons I think catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is unlikely  here and tried to explain to the layman why their direct experience should guide their opinion on global warming here. I have written a series of posts on the feasibility, implications and consequences of New York’s  Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) which was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country when it was passed.

The remainder of this post describes three fatal flaws that could be included in the conclusion of all of my posts on the CLCPA.

Fatal Flaws

New York State energy policy is based on the following: “climate change is a reality”, “our future is at stake”, and “That’s why New York State is committed to the most aggressive clean energy and climate agenda in the country”.  The presumption is that the 97% climate consensus that climate change is real means our future is at stake.  However, the consensus that matters is whether 97% of the scientists who have relevant background and experience are very worried about climate change.  A survey of members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) showed that while two-thirds of those who responded believe humans are causing a majority of recent warming only 30% are very worried about it. Fully 40% of AMS members believe climate change impacts have been primarily beneficial or equally mixed between beneficial and harmful. Only 50% expect the impacts to be entirely or primarily harmful over the next 50 years. These results do not support the basis of massive changes to New York energy policy.

Further support of the rationale for committing to the “most aggressive clean energy and climate agenda in the country” is found in New York’s description of potential effects of climate change. The CLCPA notes that sea levels along New York’s coastlines are approximately one foot higher than they were in 1900.  The New York Department of Environmental Conservation adopted 6 NYCRR  Part 490, Projected sea-level rise projections for five probability categories ranging from low to high.  The problem is that the high-risk category projection of six feet rise by 2100 that garnered attention from the media is more properly labeled as virtually impossible.  In order to project future impacts, modelers have to simulate the climate changes due to greenhouse gas concentrations and project what those concentrations will be based on future emissions estimates. The problem is that the worst-case impacts rely on a future emissions scenario that was not intended to be plausible but it does make for the scary story needed to justify New York’s  “most aggressive” energy agenda.

Ultimately, however, the reality of climate change and future impacts does not matter if the proposed actions have no impact.  New York State started consideration of greenhouse gas reduction programs in 2003 when the discussions of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  Since then there have been multipleregulations, rules and other initiatives but the State has never quantified how much of a global warming reduction could be expected as a result of their programs.  In April 2019 I calculated the effect of the CLCPA reduction of total elimination of New York’s 1990 218.1[1] million metric ton greenhouse gas emissions on projected global temperature rise.  I found there would be a reduction, or a “savings,” of approximately 0.0032°C by the year 2050 and 0.0067°C by the year 2100.  To give you an idea of how small this temperature change is consider changes with elevation and latitude.  Generally, temperature decreases three (3) degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000-foot increase in elevation above sea level.  The projected temperature difference is the same as going down 27 inches.  The general rule is that temperature changes three (3) degrees Fahrenheit for every 300-mile change in latitude at an elevation of sea level.  The projected temperature change is the same as going south two thirds of a mile.

Conclusion

New York’s politicians constantly claim that their energy policies have scientific support and they typically lean on the popular conception of an overwhelming consensus that the observed warming is necessarily bad.  In reality most scientists believe humans are causing some warming, but only a minority are very concerned about it.  The catastrophic impacts touted as proof that something needs to be done invariably rely on a future emission projection scenario that is so unlikely that it is inappropriate to use for policy decisions.  Finally, if the problem is global warming then it logically requires a global solution.  The reality is that New York’s possible impact on global warming is too small to measure and would have effects that could not conceivably alter any of the purported catastrophic impacts.

The Public Service Commission has statutory obligations to ensure the provision of safe and adequate service at just and reasonable rates. Based on my work I believe that it is only a matter of time before it becomes obvious that New York’s virtue signaling energy policies will negatively affect that obligation in the form of higher rates and decreased reliability.  Until such time as the State proves they can provide reliable energy when and where it is needed relying primarily on renewable energy, we cannot even estimate costs.  This reckless endangerment of one of society’s necessities will end badly.

[1] This was the total for 2015 NYS emissions in NYSERDA Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2015. Subsequent editions have lowered the most recent total so this is a conservative value for impacts.