New York RGGI Operating Plan Amendment 2023

I recently published a summary of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Investments of Proceeds annual report and followed that up with a post on the New York-only report.  This post describes my comments on the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Operating Plan Amendment (“Amendment”) for 2023.  This document describes the plans to use the RGGI proceeds in the next several years.  There are implications not only to the RGGI program but also for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act).  Although supporters of RGGI claim that it is a successful model to emulate my analyses show that it is not nearly as successful as claimed.

I have been involved in the RGGI program process since its inception.  I blog about the details of the RGGI program because very few seem to want to provide any criticisms of the program.   I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 270 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Background

RGGI is a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Factsheet). It has been a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector since 2008.  New Jersey was in at the beginning, dropped out for years, and re-joined in 2020. Virginia joined in 2021 and Pennsylvania has joined but is not actively participating in auctions due to on-going litigation. According to a RGGI website: “The RGGI states issue CO2 allowances which are distributed almost entirely through regional auctions, resulting in proceeds for reinvestment in strategic energy and consumer programs. Programs funded with RGGI investments have spanned a wide range of consumers, providing benefits and improvements to private homes, local businesses, multi-family housing, industrial facilities, community buildings, retail customers, and more.” 

NYSERDA Operating Plan Amendment

NYSERDA designed and implemented a process to develop and annually update an Operating Plan which summarizes and describes the initiatives to be supported by RGGI auction proceeds.  On an annual basis, the Authority “engages stakeholders representing the environmental community, the electric generation community, consumer benefit organizations and interested members of the general public to assist with the development of an annual amendment to the Operating Plan.”

The draft Amendment explains that New York State invests RGGI proceeds to support comprehensive strategies that best achieve the RGGI greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals pursuant to 21 NYCRR Part 507.  The programs in the portfolio of initiatives are designed to support the pursuit of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals by:

  • Deploying commercially available energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies;
  • Building the State’s capacity for long-term carbon reduction;
  • Empowering New York communities to reduce carbon pollution, and transition to cleaner energy;
  • Stimulating entrepreneurship and growth of clean energy and carbon abatement companies in New York; and
  • Creating innovative financing to increase adoption of clean energy and carbon abatement in the State.

The draft Amendment notes that the initiatives described represent program activity proposed for the 2023 Operating Plan. The funding levels for each program include previously approved and the amounts proposed for FY23-24 through FY25-26.  The annual RGGI Operating Plan Stakeholder Meeting was held on December 12, 2022 to review the proposed Operating Plan Amendment.

This post summarizes the comments I submitted on the proposed Operating Plan Amendment.  My comments were separated into two main parts.  The first described the observed New York State (NYS) emission reductions from the electric sector since 2000 and the lessons that should be learned.  Those results and implications were discussed in my previous post.  The second section offered my comments on the specific programs in the Amendment.

NYSERDA Operating Plan Amendment Comments – Emission Trend Implications

The first section showed that between 2000 and 2021 New York EGU emissions have dropped from 57,114,438 tons to 28,546,529 tons, a decrease of 50%.  NYS EGU CO2 emissions were 39% lower in 2021 than the three-year baseline emissions before RGGI started.  However, I showed that emissions have dropped primarily because coal and oil fueled generation has essentially gone to zero.  Natural gas has increased to cover the generation from those fuels but because it has lower CO2 emission rates New York emissions have gone down.

My evaluation discovered issues associated with the NYSERDA RGGI Funding Status reports related to the observed CO2 reductions compared to estimates of direct CO2 savings and projections using heat input (mmBtu) and generation (MWhr) projected savings.  Consequently, the best estimate of observed emission reductions that can be attributed to RGGI are from the only two programs that claim direct CO2 reduction savings: NY-Sun Initiative and NYSERDA Solar Electric.  Over the years 2013 to 2021, the total investment for those programs is $565 million and the claimed savings are 1,684,616 MWh and 861,442 tons of CO2e with a calculated cost benefit of 565 $/ton.  The observed emissions decrease between 2013 and 2021 is 5,397,135 tons so the only CO2 reductions that can conclusively be claimed from RGGI investments account for 16% of the observed emission reduction.  Because observed coal CO2 emissions went from 5,463,637 tons in 2013 to zero in 2021 and oil CO2 emissions went from 3,871,162 tons to 313,115 tons, I conclude that the primary reason for the observed electric sector emission reductions in New York was due to fuel switching.

These observations are relevant for the future of EGU emission reductions required for RGGI and the Climate Act. Coal and oil emissions from the RGGI affected sources are as low as they are going to get without retirement of oil-fired sources.  The average CO2 emissions reduction per year from RGGI investments has been 95,716 tons since 2013.  New York Part 242 CO2 Budget Trading Program specifies an annual reduction of RGGI allowances of 880,493 per year starting in 2022 and continuing to 2030.  That reduction is nearly ten times more than the reductions from RGGI auction proceed investments.  The Climate Act is going to require even more emission reductions.  Electric generating unit owners and operators have no options available for additional emission reductions other than reducing their operating times.  It is incumbent upon the state to incentivize and subsidize carbon-free generation so that the RGGI sources can reduce operations and not jeopardize system reliability.  It is not clear where those reductions will come from given the poor record of RGGI-funded program investments and the lack of RGGI focus on direct emissions reduction programs.

NYSERDA Operating Plan Amendment Comments – Operating Plan Amendments

In the second section of my comments, I evaluated the programs in the Operating Amendment relative to their value for future EGU emission reductions.  The comments included descriptions of all the programs in the FY23-26 Amendment.  I commented briefly on each proposed program and classified each program relative to six categories of potential RGGI source emission reductions.  The first three categories cover programs that directly, indirectly or could potentially decrease RGGI-affected source emissions.  Those programs total 45% of the investments.  I also included a category for programs that will add load that could potentially increase RGGI source emissions which totals 27% of the investments.  Programs that do not affect emissions are funded with 21% of the proceeds and administrative costs total another 7%. 

I evaluated potential emissions for five Integration Analysis and New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) scenario projections of load through 2030.  They all agree that fossil generating resource loads will increase or remain nearly constant until 2026 when large amounts of renewable resources are expected to come on line.  On the other hand, RGGI allowance allocations decrease so that NY emissions are projected to exceed the annual RGGI allocations.  This problem peaks in 2025 but in that year NYISO Resource Outlook scenario 1 projects EGU emissions are 10% higher than the RGGI allocation. 

In order to address the need for strategies that can displace RGGI-affected source generation the RGGI Operating Plan amendment needs to reevaluate priorities.  I argued that NYSERDA must verify that other investments will provide the necessary reduction in RGGI-affected source emissions in order to justify spending more than half the RGGI proceeds on programs unrelated to RGGI emissions.  My comments on specific amendments recommended that most of the unrelated programs not be funded.

I only had specific comments on one proposed program. The Climate Act is pushing the envelope of zero-emissions technology so the Scoping Plan Implementation Research program is certainly appropriate.  I recommended that this program fund projects for dispatchable emissions-free resource DEFR) requirements and the question of wind and solar resource availability during winter doldrums.

Conclusion

The draft Amendment explains that the programs in the portfolio of initiatives are designed to “support the pursuit of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals”.  Of the five goals only one addresses emission reductions.  The others are vague cover language to justify the use of RGGI auction proceeds as a slush fund for hiding administrative expenses and costs related to Climate Act implementation at the expense of programs that affect CO2 emissions from RGGI affected sources.  To date this has not been an issue because fuel switching has provided the necessary emission reductions.  However, there could be a problem in the next several years because no more fuel switching reductions are available at the same time that RGGI allowance allocations continue to decrease.  In the worst case, affected units may not be able to come on line because they don’t have sufficient allowances to cover operations.

The Pied Piper has no Clothes

At the last meeting (presentation and recording) of the Climate Action Council, Dr. Robert Howarth’s statement supporting his vote to approve the Scoping Plan described the genesis of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act).   This post uses two children’s tales to illustrate my concerns about his claimed basis for the plan.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act established a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric gride with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021 and approved on   December 19, 2022.

Children’s Stories

I believe that two children’s fables illustrate the false presumptions of the Climate Act.  According to Wikipedia, the Pied Piper of Hamelin is a Middle Ages tale from the town of Hamelin, Germany.  The pied piper, dressed in multicolored (“pied”) clothing, was a rat catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizens refuse to pay for this service as promised, he retaliated by using his instrument’s magical power on their children, leading them away as he had the rats. The phrase “pied piper” has become a metaphor for a person who attracts a following through charisma or false promises. The other fable is the Emperor’s New Clothes.  This Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen was first published in 1837.  In this story, swindlers convince the emperor, who spends lavishly on clothing at the expense of state matters, that they can provide magnificent clothes that are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. The emperor and his court don’t see any clothes but pretend otherwise to avoid being thought a fool.  When the emperor marches through the city to show off his new clothes the townsfolk uncomfortably go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear inept or stupid, until a child blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all. The people then realize that everyone has been fooled.  The phrase “The Emperor Has No Clothes” is often used in political and social

contexts for any obvious truth denied by the majority despite the evidence of their eyes, especially when proclaimed by the government. 

The Pied Pipers of the Climate Act

The statement of Robert W. Howarth, Ph.D., the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University was very illuminating relative to the motives of the Climate Act authors.  He reiterated his claim that he played a key role in the drafting of the Climate Act, developed the irrational methane requirements, and credited one politician for getting the Act passed:

Assembly Person Steven Englebright was hugely instrumental in the passage of the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act that established the Climate Action Council. I thank him for his leadership on this, and particularly for his support of the progressive approach on greenhouse gas emissions that is a central part of the CLCPA. I originally proposed this to Assembly Person Englebright in 2016, and he enthusiastically endorsed and supported it through multiple versions of the bill that finally led to passage of the CLCPA in 2019. In this accounting for greenhouse gases, a major government for the first time ever fully endorsed the science demonstrating that methane emissions are a major contributor to global climate change and disruption. Further, in passing the CLCPA New York recognized that consumption of fossil fuels (and not simply geographic boundaries) is what matters in addressing the climate crisis. New York wisely banned the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to develop shale gas in our State. But since the time of that ban, the use of fossil natural gas has risen faster in our State than any other in the Union. Methane emissions from this use of shale gas are high, but much of that occurs outside of our boundaries in the nearby states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Through the CLCPA, the citizens of New York are taking responsibility for these out-of-state emission caused by our use of fossil fuels, particularly for fossil natural gas. The way to reduce these emissions is to rapidly reduce our use of fracked shale gas.

Based on the work of David Zaruk I recently wrote an article describing his analysis of the motives of people like Englebright and Howarth who insist on reducing their perceived priority risks to zero.  One of Zaruk’s articles explained that the use of definite articles is “abused by activists needing definite truths to win policy debates on complex problems.”  Dr. Howarth’s monomaniacal vilification of natural gas is well described by that statement.  During the discussions at the Climate Action Council meetings, he constantly referred to the science and his background as a scientist.  Zaruk writes:

In declaring: “This is the science on XYZ” an activist is attempting to own the issue and shut down any discussion or analysis. In a policy framework where there may be uncertainty or grey areas, imposing a “the” provides a wedge between others’ false opinions and “the” truth.

With all due respect to Dr. Howarth, it is appropriate to consider why a “Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology” is qualified to be an expert on methane emissions from fracking.  In my opinion, scientists getting paid to deliver a specific result from trust fund philanthropic organizations, no matter how noble the perceived motive, is the same as the much vilified “tobacco industry” scientists.  The funding stream ends when the results don’t match the funder’s requirements so their arguments are biased.  They may be right but the arguments must be considered in that context and debated.

As a member of the Climate Action Council, Howarth was considered a saint and most unquestioningly accepted whatever he said as gospel.  This deference to his concerns is also apparent in the Integration Analysis and Scoping Plan.  However, his views are not universally accepted.  For example, the Climate Act requires New York to account for upstream emissions from fossil fuel used in the state because Howarth has claimed in a 2020 paper that “Some evidence indicates that shale-gas development in North America may have contributed one-third of the total global increase in methane emissions from all sources over the past decade (Howarth 2019).”  This paper and other similar papers claim that “methane emissions can contribute significantly to the GHG footprint of natural gas, including shale gas” and form the rationale of the Climate Act vilification of natural gas.

Despite the Climate Act mandate to provide a “detailed explanation of any changes in methodology or analysis, adjustments made to prior estimates, as needed, and any other information necessary to establish a scientifically credible account of change” any contradictory information has been ignored.  No comments on the Integration Analysis numbers that formed the basis for the Scoping Plan were mentioned at any of the Climate Action Council meetings.  For example, I noted that there is a high quality, long-term monitoring network that measures methane (Lan et al., 2019) over the period when Pennsylvania shale-gas production increased tremendously.  According to the plain language summary for the report:

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

The fact that the relevant high quality, long-term monitoring network does not show a trend consistent with the work of Howarth is a fatal flaw in his claims.  In addition, those measurements unequivocally support another contradictory analysis by Lewan that concludes his ideas, perspectives, and calculations on methane emissions from shale gas are invalid.  The bottom line is that two pied pipers are responsible for the Climate Act’s irrational war on natural gas.   The Climate Act’s elimination of natural gas is based on the false promises of one biased individual supported by one charismatic motivated politician.  These pied pipers are going to lead New York over an energy cliff.

The Climate Act Has No Clothes

Howarth’s statement went on to claim that the Scoping Plan development process ”brought in a large number of experts and key stakeholders who worked diligently to advise the Council on our Scoping Plan”.  After extolling the success of the stakeholder process and the staff members who contributed, he explained why everything will work out:

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

I believe that this is the fundamental basis for the Climate Act’s aggressive schedule.  The Jacobson analysis approach unfortunately is pretty much the same as the Integration Analysis modeling approach for the Scoping Plan.  Both modeling efforts project future load requirements, then list a bunch of control strategies, estimate the energy they could produce, and presume everything will work together if we cross our fingers.  Neither includes a feasibility analysis that considers reliability, affordability, or cumulative environmental impacts.

Howarth appeals to the authority of peer-reviewed science to provide credibility to the Jacobson analysis. However, science is a continuous process where hypotheses are constantly challenged and confirmed.  In this instance Howarth neglects to mention the analyses that discredit the Jacobson work. 

The Jacobson analysis cited was a continuation of previous work.  For example, in a widely publicized November 2009 Scientific American article, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, suggested all electrical generation and ground transportation internationally could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources as early as 2030. However, other contemporary projections were less optimistic. Two examples: the2015 MIT Energy and Climate Outlook has low carbon sources worldwide as only 25% of primary energy by 2050, and renewables only 16% and the International Energy Agency’s two-degree scenario has renewables, including biomass, as less than 50%.

Howarth’s statement cites a specific plan for New York (Jacobson et al. 2013) that he and Jacobson laid out a decade ago.  He says that “In that peer- reviewed analysis, we demonstrated that our State could rapidly move away from fossil fuels and instead be fueled completely by the power of the wind, the sun, and hydro.”   Table 2 from that report follows.  This analysis includes power from exotic resources such as waves, geothermal, tidal turbines, and concentrated solar power but no energy storage.  It is significantly different than the projections in the Integration Analysis and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook that exclude all the exotic renewable generating capacity, contain significant amounts of energy storage, and include a new dispatchable, emissions-free resource for a set of resources that they think can provide sufficient electrical power for the future.  Furthermore, it claims that end-use power demand can be decreased by 37%.   In my opinion, any analysis that suggests that concentrated solar power is a viable source of energy in New York is simply not credible because that resource would never work in New York.  It is too cloudy to operate enough to cover costs and the environmental impacts would be too great.

There was a formal rebuttal paper to this analysis. The rebuttal paper argued that: 

The feasibility analysis performed by Jacobson et al. (2013) is incomplete and scientifically questionable from both the technical and economic perspectives, and it implicitly assumes, without sufficient justification, that social criterion would not produce even larger feasibility barriers.

Jacobson et al. responded to that rebuttal claiming  that “The main limitations are social and political, not technical or economic.”  Given the significant differences between that analysis and the most recent projections by the organization responsible for keeping the lights on, I agree with the conclusion cited above.  I do not believe that the 2013 analysis includes a defensible feasibility analysis.

Using Jacobson as the basis for the Climate Act transition gets worse.  Unmentioned by Dr. Howarth is that in a 2015 article for a different iteration of the wind, water, and solar roadmap Clack et al, 2017 discredited the Jacobson approach:

In this paper, we evaluate that study and find significant shortcomings in the analysis. In particular, we point out that this work used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions. Policy makers should treat with caution any visions of a rapid, reliable, and low-cost transition to entire energy systems that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

In the scientific process, when issues with your work are noted, the proper response is to provide more evidence supporting your modeling tools, explain why the claimed errors are not errors, and defend your assumptions.  Instead, Jacobson filed a lawsuit, demanding $10 million in damages, against the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the authors for their study showing that Jacobson made improper assumptions in order to make his claims that he (and by extension Howarth) had demonstrated U.S. energy could be provided exclusively by renewable energy, primarily wind, water, and solar. In my opinion this is an appalling attack on free speech and scientific inquiry but want to emphasize that the bad actions by Jacobson in no way should be attributed to Howarth.

In February 2018, following a hearing at which PNAS argued for the case to be dismissed, Jacobson dropped the suit.  The defendants then filed, based on the anti-SLAPP — for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” — statute in Washington, DC, for Jacobson to pay their legal fees. In September 2022, he was ordered to pay the defendants’ legal fees based on a statute “designed to provide for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits filed against people for the exercise of First Amendment rights.” 

In my opinion Jacobson’s attempted lawsuit was because his work could not stand on its own.  Therefore, it is unsettling that it is claimed to be the basis of the Climate Act.  Howarth’s statement explicitly lays out his position for the Jacobson analysis:

We further demonstrated that it could be done completely with technologies available at that time (a decade ago), that it could be cost effective, that it would be hugely beneficial for public health and energy security, and that it would stimulate a large increase in well-paying jobs.

Unfortunately, Howarth’s technology demonstration is not supportable.  Nonetheless, it forms the basis for the Climate Act schedule and zero-emission electric system by 2040 mandate.  The Climate Action Council has embraced it despite the projections in the Integration Analysis and the NYISO Resource Outlook that reject it.  The Council is denying the majority opinion despite the evidence presented in their own analysis.  The Climate Act has no clothes. 

Conclusion

Pied piper Dr. Robert Howarth stated that “Our final Scoping Plan from the Climate Action implicitly endorses the vision of the Jacobson et al. paper and is quite clear: we can meet the goals of the CLCPA and we can and will do so in way that is affordable and that will benefit all New Yorkers.”  Unfortunately, that vision has no clothes.  The implementing regulations and additional legislation necessary to implement this vision must include independent, unbiased feasibility analyses to determine if the proposed plans can maintain current standards of reliability, will preserve the affordability of energy, and not create environmental impacts to New York State that are greater than the alleged impacts of climate change.  Failure to do so will ensure that the state ends up as badly as the children’s stories.

Update 1/5/2023

I highly recommend the post by Russel Schussler Academics and the Grid because it does a good job explaining why academic studies of the energy system (like the work of Jacobson and Howarth) need to be considered carefully.  It concludes:

Academic research that promotes improvements to the power greed needs to be evaluated carefully with the understanding that the grid is a complex system full of interactions. Changes to the grid involve numerous hurdles. Language is often imprecise. For instance, when readers see a statement stating “Solar and wind could attain penetration levels of X”. What the statement really means is “Based on the factors I looked at and ignoring a vast number of critical requirements I have not looked at, solar and wind may be able to replace fossil resources at a level of X. But probably not.”    Unfortunately, the statement is often interpreted as “Solar and wind can attain penetration levels of X with no significant concerns.”

Syracuse Post Standard All-Electric Homes

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) final draft Scoping Plan framework was approved on December 19, 2022.  The framework outline suggests that all-electric heated homes are a viable option even in New York’s winters.   Tim Knauss writing for the Syracuse Post Standard did a relevant article entitled New York state’s move to all-electric homes: How expensive is it? Will it work?  I recommend it because it does a nice job describing a complex issue.  However, I want to describe points that I think should have had more emphasis.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act established a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric gride with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021 and approved on   December 19, 2022.

The buildings sector is currently the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in New York State.  As a result, reducing emissions from home heating is a key component of the Scoping Plan implementation framework.  Heat pumps are a prominent part of the state’s residential electrification plans and its narrative is that installing a heat pump is easy, cost-effective, and will provide a satisfactory level of comfort.  The article notes that heat pumps are the most economical option to replace gas and other fossil fuels. 

As has been the case for every component of the Plan that I have evaluated, there is more nuance and issues than the Climate Action Council admits.  My concerns about home electrification have prompted me to submit comments on the Draft Scoping Plan, write a number of articles on home electrification (building shells, narrative, and costs), and even get interviewed about heating electrification conversions.

The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSEDA) is responsible for convincing homeowners to retrofit.  Given the performance of modern fossil-fired furnaces I think that is an uphill battle.  That difficulty is recognized by the state.  For example, Table 11 of the Buildings Chapter in the Final Scoping Plan includes the theme “Expand New York’s commitment to market development, innovation, and leading-by-example in state projects contains strategy “B9: Scale up public awareness and consumer education”.  In my opinion, public awareness and consumer education from NYSERDA about heat pumps is propaganda because it only shows the benefits and barely, if at all, mentions the downsides and caveats.  Even the Scoping Plan recognizes that there are caveats for heat pump success: heat pumps must be properly chosen, appropriately sized, paired with an energy efficient building envelope or building shell, and installation must consider the appropriate minimum temperature. This post will address those caveats relative to this article.

New York State All Electric Home Article.

The article does a good job explaining why heat pumps will likely be mandated by the State.  It correctly points out that now that the Scoping Plan is complete it is up to the governor, state agencies and legislators to implement the council’s recommendations.  One of my concerns about the article is that it does not consider the possibility that the Scoping Plan could be flawed.  For example, the Plan claims that 1 million to 2 million heat pumps will be installed in New York homes by 2030.  However, that assumes that there is widespread consumer appetite to switch to all-electric homes.  The article includes a description of a homeowner who has installed a heat pump.  He is quoted as saying “His main goal was not to save money. He was out to fight climate change.”  I investigated installing a heat pump for my home and the energy advisor said that most of the people who are installing them now have the same motive.  The Scoping Plan hasn’t considered the fact that while many people say that they want to do something about climate change the number of people willing to spend significant money or can afford to do something is much smaller.

The article asks if “pricey electric heat pumps really keep homes warm in our frigid winters.”  The article follows the party line when it states that “A new breed of “cold climate” air-source heat pump is a valid, energy-efficient heating option in Upstate New York.”  I agree that heat pumps work but only if all four caveats noted in the Scoping Plan are considered. 

The first caveat is that the heat pump must be properly chosen.  If the heat pump is one of the new breed of cold climate systems it can meet that requirement.  In a recent post I noted that in a recent presentation to the Climate Action Council it was explained that the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) maintains a specification and product list that identifies specific air source heat pumps that work during extreme cold weather.  If the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor determines the appropriate extreme cold weather limits, then the furnace should be able to provide sufficient heat.

However, there are two complicating issues for choosing the proper heat pump.  In the first place determining the appropriate cold weather constraint is not as straight-forward as the Scoping Plan suggests.  At a recent Climate Action Council meeting there was a discussion of maps of worst-case cold temperatures that are used for this purpose but no recognition that there are multiple maps.  Furthermore, temperatures are affected by local terrain conditions creating colder temperatures than shown on any state-wide map.  The second issue is a design consideration.  Heat pumps are more efficient than typical furnaces because they move energy from outside air into the home instead of creating it through combustion.  However at some point even the most effective heat pump is not going to get enough energy out of extremely cold air to create enough heat to warm a house.  Supporters argue that heat pumps are used successfully in the Scandinavian countries but the reason is that those homes have very effective building shells.

Based on my research and what I have seen, the building shell caveat has not received enough attention in the Scoping Plan, Integration Analysis or the NYSERDA marketing campaigns for heat pumps.  Last summer I published a long article describing building shell issues.  The Scoping Plan does not include a description of the building shell assumptions sufficient to differentiate between the reference, basic, and deep shell categories used in the Integration Analysis. I believe that the deep shell building envelope is necessary in order to ensure that New York homes can work without supplemental resistance heating capabilities.  Unfortunately, the Scoping Plan does not provide sufficient information to determine what has to be included in order to meet that level.

The last caveat to discuss notes that the heat pump must be appropriately sized.  The subtlety is that the entire system, including the ducts, has to be sized correctly.  In the building shell post I documented my conversation with the energy advisor who described many of the issues related to improperly sizing the system.  Heat pumps do not provide treated air that is as warm as a combustion furnace, so a big issue is that the ductwork may have to be made larger to provide sufficient heat. Tearing out the existing ductwork and installing larger ducts must be a disruptive project.   In my case, this requirement led to his recommendation that it would be more cost-effective to install several ductless air-source heat pumps than to replace the existing central heating system.

The article discusses costs.  The research I have seen agrees with the article that over the lifetime of the equipment that retrofit conversions will be cost effective for homes heated with oil, propane, or electric resistance heat but that is not true for natural gas. I have not seen analyses that incorporate the costs of building shell improvements but I my anecdotal discussion with the energy advisor he said that in my case those upgrades would never reduce energy use enough to pay for them.

The article references HeatSmart CNY, a Syracuse community organization, for its costs for installation of air source heat pumps.  While I have my doubts that an organization whose sole reason to exist is to push heat pumps using NYSERDA funding could be considered an unbiased source of information the numbers provided appear reasonable.  Based on their experience the “average cost of installation for a cold climate air-source heat pump has been about $20,000 to $25,000”. It is interesting that those costs are higher than the costs used in the Scoping Plan consistent with my findings that most of the cost numbers in the Plan are biased low.  One of the arguments why the Climate Action Council claimed they could not provide costs to consumers was because rebates, tax credits and other subsidies availability isn’t known.  HeatSmart CNY claimed that the homeowner typically pays more like $15,000 to $16,000 out of pocket when they are applied.  The article also notes that additional rebates are expected for low- and middle-income homeowners as the result of the past year’s new Federal spending bills.

Earlier I mentioned that the Plan claims that 1 million to 2 million heat pumps will be installed in New York homes by 2030.  However, HeatSmart CNY has only helped about 150 Central New York homeowners replace existing heating systems with heat pumps in the past four years.  That suggests that there is going to have to be an enormous uptick in adoption rates for electric heating systems.

There is another cost issue that is never brought up in the advertising. The article mentions evolving technology being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy that includes a ”competition under way for manufacturers to develop heat pumps that will operate efficiently at temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit” and “For now, many heat pumps in cold climates are installed with backup systems (using electric resistance heat or other sources) for extremely cold temperatures.”  The Scoping Plan goal is to eliminate emissions from backup heat systems so their preferred backup alternative is electric resistance heat.  The problem is that electric resistance heat is very inefficient and needs a lot of energy to operate.  In order to provide that energy during periods of extremely cold temperatures when everybody who has all-electric homes and electric vehicles needs the energy the most, the distribution network and house service for many homes will have to be upgraded or the system will overload and blackout.  The direct costs to upgrade home service and the indirect costs to upgrade the distribution network are a real hidden cost.

The article describes the experience of a homeowner who had a heat pump installed about 18 months ago. In addition to the heat pump, “he beefed up his insulation, installed a separate heat pump for hot water, and added a mechanical ventilation system to circulate fresh air.”  The homeowner estimates the whole project cost $30,000 to $40,000 after rebates.   Based on my work I think that is a more accurate reflection of the conversion costs.  The article notes that there are efforts to subsidize low- and middle-income homeowners to make conversions less expensive but the fact remains that these conversions are costly.

Conclusion

This is a good article and covers many issues associated with residential home heating.  However, despite its length and coverage it still did not address all the downsides of the Hochul Administration’s planned mandates to electrify homes.  The Scoping Plan is only a framework.  It does not begin to cover the “what if” questions like will any New York actions possibly affect climate change or what happens when there is an ice storm when everything is electrified.  Finally, it does not include a detailed estimate of consumer costs.

New York’s Greenhouse Gas emissions are less than one half one percent of global emissions and since 1990 global those emissions have increased by more than one half a percent per year.  While the fact that our emission reductions will get displaced by global emission increases in less than a year may not mean that New York should not do something, it does mean that we can step back and look at what can be done to ensure the State’s plan does not do more harm than good. The State’s arguments that we must act in haste are not supportable.

I have two concerns about doing more harm than good both related to the observation that “Death rates in winter months have been eight to 12 percent higher than in non-winter months”.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adds that “even moderately cold days can increase the risk of death for many people.”  Home heating is obviously crucial to reducing those risks.  My family survived two prolonged electricity outages and many more short outages in the 40 plus years we have lived in my home but never had any outage of our natural gas supply.  When everybody has electrified everything what happens when there is an ice storm that causes an extended blackout in the winter?   The other concern is whether all New Yorkers really afford all the costs for all-electric homes? How do we make sure that those least able to afford the investments necessary to convert to all-electric homes are not disproportionately dis-advantaged?  Over 58% of current housing units are heated with natural gas and retrofitting those homes is not cost-effective.  Will the State provide detailed cost estimates before they propose regulations to coerce us to convert?

The article cites the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy as saying that if the goal is to eliminate site emissions from households, natural gas will have to be phased out.  My obsession to address New York’s net-zero transition boils down to fighting for my personal choice.  I think that when all the benefits, costs, and tradeoffs are considered that natural gas is a better choice than electrification for me and my home.  Anyone who agrees with me should let your legislators know of your concerns and demand answers to the inconvenient questions not addressed by the Scoping Plan framework when regulations are proposed.

Climate Act Scoping Plan Costs Shell Game

In the past twelve months I have spent an inordinate amount of time evaluating the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and the Scoping Plan implementation plan framework to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050.  Climate Action Council Co-Chair Harris recently made the claim that delaying climate action will cost New Yorkers more than acting now.  However, that statement is misleading and inaccurate.  This post shows that the claim is no more than a shell game gimmick.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The final Scoping Plan was approved by the Climate Action Council on December 19, 2022 and the Integration Analysis documentation was recently updated.

Documentation Shell Games

The Scoping Plan has been described as “a true masterpiece in how to hide what is important under an avalanche of words designed to make people never want to read it”. The Implementation Analysis quantitative assessment goes further.  It does not even pretend to clearly include what is important to evaluate the numbers that are used in the Scoping Plan.  There is no concise documentation that includes the costs, expected emission reductions and assumptions used for the control strategies included in the Integration Analysis documentation.  Instead, these is a massive spreadsheet with key drivers and input assumptions for all aspects of the transition.  The public is left to try to decipher what is included in each control strategy, figure out how the information was used, and then calculate what the results are for all control strategies.

The first shell game gimmick picks and chooses what control strategies are included in the costs of de-carbonization.  In order to evaluate the effects of different policy options, The Integration Analysis model projects future conditions for a baseline case.  The evaluation analysis makes projections for different policy options, and then the results are compared relative to the baseline.  Standard operating procedure for this kind of modeling is to use a business-as-usual or status quo case for the baseline.  Appendix G Section 3.4: Benefits and Costs argues that the costs of the control strategies should be considered relative to status quo or business as usual costs:

When viewed from a systems expenditure perspective (Figure 48), the NPV of net direct costs for Scenarios 2, 3, and 4 are moderate, roughly 11% as a share of the NPV of reference case system expenditures ($2.7 trillion). Because significant infrastructure investment will be needed to maintain business as usual infrastructure within the state irrespective of further climate policy, redirecting investment away from status quo energy expenditures and toward decarbonization is key to realizing the aims of the Climate Act.

Figure 51 from Appendix G is the documentation for the claim that the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action by more than $115 billion.  In my Draft Scoping Plan comments I argued that the figure is mis-leading because it presents the numbers relative to a Reference Case rather than a business-as-usual or status quo case that represents a future without decarbonization programs.  I maintain that the true cost of New York’s net-zero transition by 2050 should include all costs associated with all programs designed to reduce GHG emissions.  The authors of the Integration Analysis and Scoping Plan excluded decarbonization costs that I believe should be included and provided insufficient documentation to enable anyone to determine what is in or out of the Reference Case. 

In the Scoping Plan shell game, the first thing to watch is the claim that “significant infrastructure investment will be needed to maintain business as usual infrastructure within the state irrespective of further climate policy, redirecting investment away from status quo energy expenditures and toward decarbonization is key to realizing the aims of the Climate Act” but at the same time including decarbonization costs for “already implemented” programs in the Reference Case.  If a reader loses track of this shell, it is easy to assume that the costs presented are relative to a business-as-usual or status quo modeling scenario per standard procedures.  Instead, the State compares mitigation scenario costs to a Reference Case that includes “already implemented” decarbonization costs.

There is another shell to watch.  In my review of the Draft Integration Analysis supplement, I ended up searching the document for the phrase “reference case” to try to determine what “already implemented” decarbonization programs were included in the Reference Case.  The following figure reproduces the page with the documentation on page 12 in Appendix G Integration Analysis Technical Supplement Section I. The documentation is buried in the footnote for the circled reference for the blank caption to Figure 4. 

Given its importance to the cost/benefit claim, my Draft Scoping Plan comment noted that this reference case caveat should be clearly described in the text rather than in a footnote.  What I missed in the draft was a reference to explanatory text in section 5.3 of the document.  However, that text was not included in the draft document! The appropriate text is in the recently released Appendix G section 5.3: Scenario Assumptions chapter and lists the “already implemented” programs.  It states:

The integration analysis evaluated a business-as-usual future (Reference Case) a representation of recommendations from CAC Advisory Panels (Scenario 1), and three scenarios designed to meet or exceed GHG limits and carbon neutrality (Scenarios 2 through 4). Scenarios 2, 3, and 4 all carry forward foundational themes based on findings from Advisory Panels and supporting analysis but represent distinct worldviews. A detailed compilation of scenario assumptions can be found in Annex 2.

For the record Annex 2 refers to a  massive spreadsheet that is certainly detailed but most certainly does not provide an easily accessible compilation of scenario assumptions.  In particular, the documentation does not provide explicit information to determine what costs are specifically included in the Reference Case relative to the other scenarios.

The Reference Case described as “Business as usual plus implemented policies” includes the following:

  • Growth in housing units, population, commercial square footage, and GDP
  • Federal appliance standards
  • Economic fuel switching
  • New York State bioheat mandate
  • Estimate of New Efficiency, New York Energy Efficiency achieved by funded programs: HCR+NYPA, DPS (IOUs), LIPA, NYSERDA CEF (assumes market transformation maintains level of efficiency and electrification post-2025)
  • Funded building electrification (4% HP stock share by 2030)
  • Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards
  • Zero-emission vehicle mandate (8% LDV ZEV stock share by 2030)
  • Clean Energy Standard (70×30), including technology carveouts: (6 GW of behind-the-meter solar by 2025, 3 GW of battery storage by 2030, 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035, 1.25 GW of Tier 4 renewables by 2030)

Figure 47 shows the total net present value (NPV) of direct costs relative to the Reference Case over the period 2020-2050.  However, these bar charts provide little information.

It is more useful to look at a table of the values to try to understand how the Reference Case costs differ from the mitigation scenarios.  That information is available in the IA-Tech-Supplement-Annex-2-Key-Drivers-Outputs-2022 spreadsheet.   One thing that jumps out is the $3.45 billion difference for the Transportation Investment between the Reference Cased and the Low-Carbon Fuels Scenario.  There are only two decarbonization programs included in the Reference Case: Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and Zero-emission vehicle mandate (8% LDV ZEV stock share by 2030).   In my opinion that $3.45 billion difference either indicates that most of the EV electrification costs are improperly included in the Reference Case or that the cost estimates are suspect.

I found that both issues contribute to the small difference between the Reference Case and the Low-Carbon Fuels scenario.  According to the Scoping Plan the costs to replace light-duty vehicles, trucks, and buses with electric alternatives, provide the charging infrastructure to support those vehicles, and upgrade public transit services is only $3.45 billion over 30 years.  For the most part the only reason for those expenses is decarbonization and whether it is explicitly part of the Climate Act or not, those costs should be included in the costs of the Climate Act.  They have to be hundreds of billions of dollars. I have no doubts that proper accounting would reduce or reverse the alleged favorable benefit-cost ratio if just this is correctly attributed.

I believe that the cost estimates are also suspect.  My Draft Scoping Plan Comment on Electric Vehiclesanalyzed the Integration Analysis spreadsheet documentation.  The Integration Analysis presumes that the device costs for zero-emissions charging technology and the vehicles themselves decrease significantly over time.  Home EV chargers and battery electric vehicles both are claimed to go down 18% between 2020 and 2030 alone.  The following graph of electric vehicle costs shows that the costs for battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are the proposed solution go down over time.   The costs for gas, diesel, and Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles are all identical and stay pretty constant.  Given that PHEV also use batteries, why wouldn’t that technology cost decrease similar to the full battery EV.  The overall cost decreases in the preferred technologies are so large that the total costs for the zero-emissions vehicles adoption is cheaper than using existing technology.  My comments noted that I cannot accept this optimistic assessment of future cost reductions without documentation that addresses at least the potential for battery supply chain issues.  The Climate Action Council “acknowledged” my comment by providing a link but never addressed the issues that I raised.

Conclusion

A shell game is defined as “A fraud or deception perpetrated by shifting conspicuous things to hide something else.”  In the Scoping Plan shell game, the authors argue that energy costs in New York are needed to maintain business as usual infrastructure even without decarbonization policies but then include decarbonization costs for “already implemented” programs in the Reference Case baseline contrary to standard operating procedure to use a status quo baseline for this kind of modeling.  The documentation for Reference Case assumptions was missing in the draft documents. Shifting legitimate decarbonization costs to the Reference Case because they are already implemented and hiding the documentation fits the shifting condition of the shell game deception definition perfectly. 

The deceptions of the Scoping Plan are furthered by ignoring stakeholder input that ran contrary to their narrative.  Climate Action Council Co-Chair Harris recently claimed that the stakeholder “comments, letters, and engagement have absolutely impacted this process and the plan it has produced for the better.”  I see no evidence that the Climate Action Council addressed my Integration Analysis comments on the benefits and costs evaluation or any other stakeholder comments associated with quantitative Integration Analysis issues.   

New York Climate Act Scoping Plan Approved

First published at Watts Up With That

The New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) Scoping Plan framework for the net-zero by 2050 transition plan was approved by the Climate Action Council on December 19, 2022.  This is follow to my earlier description of the process explains some of the rationale for that decision.

Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric grid with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies.  That material was used by staff from various State agencies to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council is finalized the Scoping Plan on schedule.

The December 19, 2022 meeting materials are available at the New York Climate meetings page including the meeting presentation and the meeting recording.  In my previous article I noted that the it was unlikely that the Climate Action Council would not vote to approve the Scoping Plan because all but two of the 22 members were picked by the Democrats who passed the legislation   I wondered if anyone would cast a symbolic “no” vote and was surprised that three members voted against approval.  After the formal vote each member of the Council gave a statement supporting their decision.  This post summarizes those statements in three categories: the Hochul Administration’s position, the at-large members who supported it and the three members who voted against approval.  I am not going to provide any commentary on these summaries.

New York State Leadership Statement

Co-chair of the Climate Action Council and President & CEO of the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority Doreen M. Harris summed up the position of the Hochul Administration.  Her statement said the plan “upholds three main principles of the work that we have advanced throughout this almost three-year process”:

Principle 1: Climate Action

This plan demonstrates that climate action is not only necessary, but that delay is to be avoided. Delaying climate action has been shown to cost New Yorkers more. Therefore, I am in favor of undertaking this action now so that we may begin delivering additional benefits to the New Yorkers we are acting on behalf of.

As we implement our climate actions, certainly we will consider the on-the-ground issues and immediate costs and concerns of citizens and businesses. This is how we implement policy in New York every day and will continue to do so.

But our eye is on the prize and we in New York are wise to take climate action and have it serve as a model to the rest of the country.

Principle 2: Climate Justice

We have a plan that demonstrates how success can only be claimed when we have been able to advance and implement our climate action in a manner that addresses the issues of past decisions.

Historically, underserved communities have not been included in the dialogue and that must change. Underserved communities have also not had sufficient access to clean energy in housing, education and career opportunities and that must also change.

This plan is demonstrating how all disciplines around this table – Energy, Environment, Education, Transportation, Labor, Health, Housing, Industry, Agriculture – have responsibilities to make sure that justice is an equal outcome to the changes in our day-in, day-out business operations.

To put it simply, business as usual is no longer an option.

Principle 3: Climate Economy

I do agree with comments made at previous meetings that the economic opportunities we are looking to create through our climate planning have often been an unspoken undercurrent in this process.

We simply do not succeed if our state economy is not better off for our activities in advancing this plan. I am beyond enthusiastic about the new industries and career opportunities that we are creating in New York. And, as a product of Upstate New York myself I have never seen the level of opportunity that is at our doorstep in all parts of the state.

But that is not to discount the attention that must be paid to New Yorkers – particularly my energy colleagues and workers – that will need to find their new opportunities in our decarbonizing economy. I pledge that I will do what I can to make sure we create all those opportunities and more so that you too can become part of the more than 200,000 jobs that we stand to gain.

At Large Member Supporters of the Scoping Plan

Four Council Members chosen for their ideology and not their energy system expertise all voted to approve the Scoping Plan.  Their comments beg for responses but that will have to wait until another time. 

The statement of Robert W. Howarth, Ph.D., the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University was very illuminating relative to the motives of the supporters.  It is also very difficult to quote this without responding.  For starters, Dr. Howarth basically takes credit for the law:

Assembly Person Steven Englebright was hugely instrumental in the passage of the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act that established the Climate Action Council. I thank him for his leadership on this, and particularly for his support of the progressive approach on greenhouse gas emissions that is a central part of the CLCPA. I originally proposed this to Assembly Person Englebright in 2016, and he enthusiastically endorsed and supported it through multiple versions of the bill that finally led to passage of the CLCPA in 2019. In this accounting for greenhouse gases, a major government for the first time ever fully endorsed the science demonstrating that methane emissions are a major contributor to global climate change and disruption. Further, in passing the CLCPA New York recognized that consumption of fossil fuels (and not simply geographic boundaries) is what matters in addressing the climate crisis. New York wisely banned the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to develop shale gas in our State. But since the time of that ban, the use of fossil natural gas has risen faster in our State than any other in the Union. Methane emissions from this use of shale gas are high, but much of that occurs outside of our boundaries in the nearby states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Through the CLCPA, the citizens of New York are taking responsibility for these out-of-state emission caused by our use of fossil fuels, particularly for fossil natural gas. The way to reduce these emissions is to rapidly reduce our use of fracked shale gas.

He went to claim that the Scoping Plan development process ” brought in a large number of experts and key stakeholders who worked diligently to advise the Council on our Scoping Plan”.  After extolling the success of the stakeholder process and the staff members who contributed he explained why everything will work out:

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

Our final Scoping Plan from the Climate Action implicitly endorses the vision of the Jacobson et al. paper and is quite clear: we can meet the goals of the CLCPA and we can and will do so in way that is affordable and that will benefit all New Yorkers. Our State will be stronger as this plan is implemented, the health and well being of our citizens improved. Economic uncertainties and vulnerabilities will be reduced. Energy security will be enhanced. Our plan is also clear that the #1 priorities are to continue to move towards wind, solar, and hydro as our source of electricity; to move rapidly towards beneficial electrification as a source of heating and cooling in our homes and commercial buildings; and to move rapidly towards beneficial electrification in our personal and commercial vehicles.

Peter Iwanowicz is Executive Director, Environmental Advocates of New York.  His statement included the following comments:

When it was passed by the Legislature, The New York Times called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) “One of the world’s most ambitious climate plans.”  While a bold pronouncement and attention-grabbing headline, it was by any measure an accurate depiction of the legislation. For the CLCPA is legislation written by those on the frontlines of the climate crisis for the benefit of those on frontlines of the climate crisis. At the time a novel approach and a testament to how policy should work.

The CLCPA provided us the promise and—through multiple provisions in the law—the guidance to make the right decisions on the pace and scale of the change needed.  At its core, the CLCPA is about establishing standards into law so that New York does its share to create a planet that is healthy enough for humans to inhabit.  What we learned through our process is that zeroing out all greenhouse gas emissions through a massive transformation of our economy is the only viable and certain path.

What truly makes the CLCPA the most ambitious of plans is the legal assurance that those disproportionately impacted by climate change and poor air quality will have their needs, health, and communities prioritized. That, and we will not leave any worker behind as the transition unfolds. 

What we have developed is a solid blueprint to guide the public and lawmakers on how to secure the promises of our climate law.

The plan shows the pathway forward to provide big benefits, including:

Reducing energy bills

Improving our health and lowering health care costs

Reversing decades of environmental injustice that has caused such harm to those who live, work, and play in our state’s disadvantaged communities.

The costs of acting are not trivial, but the analysis that the council has agreed to revealed that the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of acting.  Our plan shows that the quicker the public, the Governor and Legislature move to electrify all sectors, the faster we’ll realize the benefits.

Raya Salter Esq., Principal, Imagine Power LLC is “an attorney, consultant, educator and clean energy law and policy expert with a focus on energy and climate justice.”  Highlights from her statement reflected her background:

The true credit for this Plan belongs to the thousands of activists across New York who have rallied, marched, wrote letters and demanded that this be the people’s plan. In 2019 I stood with activists not far from where we sit now, who shut down then-Governor Cuomo’s office in an action to demand the passage of what ultimately became the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It is that law that required this process and plan.

The release of this final Scoping Plan is a landmark moment for climate action in New York State. The Plan, if implemented, will guide New York towards a just energy transition and away from fossil fuels.

I was a member of the Council’s Gas Transition Subgroup and worked on the Scoping Plan’s vision to retire fossil fuel plants and decarbonize the buildings sector. It includes a blueprint for the retirement of New York City’s most-polluting fossil fuel plants and their sites by 2030 that will inform broader planning to retire fossil fuel plants throughout the State. This is a win for environmental justice.

The Plan is not perfect. Ideas for market-based “cap and invest,” and biofuels schemes should be rejected if they can’t overcome design flaws and stakeholder concerns. While the state’s climate law should ultimately prohibit the use of most “alternative fuels,” like “renewable natural gas” and hydrogen for use in pipelines on an emissions basis, the Plan is wrong to contemplate these false solutions. Likewise, looks into so-called “advanced-nuclear” are a dangerous distraction.

The Scoping Plan, however, provides a comprehensive approach to reaching the state’s nation-leading climate goals with a focus on justice and equity. The next step is to see it fully implemented.

Dr. Paul Shepson, Dean, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University only offered a short statement:

I will start by noting and asking us to remember that people around the world have not been paying the actual costs of burning fossil fuels to meet our energy needs; and so it is exciting and just and honorable that we are now embarking on a better way, with far fewer collateral costs to the environment, in support of ALL living things on the planet. And so, I enthusiastically endorse the December 19, 2022 final version of the New York State Climate Action Council Scoping Plan. While the Scoping Plan incorporates multiple compromises in wording and orientation, given the diverse and sometimes divergent interests of components of the CAC membership, it is nonetheless a great statement of New York State’s commitment to national and global leadership in the effort to achieve climate stabilization. The Scoping Plan, which supports the implementation of the CLCPA, is a document of which I am proud, and feel fortunate to have been able to contribute to its completion. I am impressed by and grateful for the hard work and dedication of the agency staff members who worked to bring this effort to completion, and the fantastic leadership of our co-chairs and of Sarah Osgood, and want to thank my fellow CAC members for helping to make this process enjoyable, and successful.

Council Members who Voted Against the Scoping Plan

I don’t think it is a coincidence that three members of the Climate Action Council with the most energy system practical experience voted against approval of the Scoping Plan.

Donna L. DeCarolis, President, National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation explained that she supported many aspects of the Scoping Plan.  However her statement described why she voted against it:

Throughout my tenure on the Council, and from my perspective as the President of a utility in western New York serving communities with more than 1.6 million people, I have continued to express concerns about the Scoping Plan’s consumer impacts – for residential homeowners, small businesses and industrial interests in the state – and to offer perspectives and alternatives that will allow us to meet the requirements of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) while preserving reliability (at both the wholesale power generation level and for homes and businesses), energy system resiliency and an affordable transition for consumers. I find the final Scoping Plan falls short in this regard, and there remain significant concerns that could jeopardize the reliable, resilient and affordable provision of energy for the state’s residents and businesses. Specifically, the Scoping Plan:

•             Fails to adequately ensure grid reliability for consumers;

•             Relies too heavily on a single energy source that is prone to weather-related disruption; and,

•             Does not include a full assessment of impacts on consumer energy affordability.

Gavin Donohue, President and CEO, Independent Power Producers of New York also voted against approving the Scoping Plan.  His statement overview is a good summary of his position:

Two years ago, I was appointed to the State’s Climate Action Council. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“CLCPA”) requires an economy-wide approach to addressing climate change and decarbonization, coupled with mandates to deliver 70% of New York’s energy from renewable resources by 2030 and 100% emissions-free electricity supply by 2040 (“100 by 40 target”). The Scoping Plan (“Plan”) was intended to inform New York residents and businesses about measures necessary to meet the requirements of the CLCPA. While the Council is required to update the Plan at least once every five years, it is essential that the inaugural Plan is practical, comprehensive, and contains provisions that send investment signals necessary to achieve the CLCPA’s requirements in a reliable and cost-effective manner. There is no backup plan to this one, and the manner in which the document is structured does not achieve the expectations set two years ago.

I am voting against the final Plan since it remains significantly lacking in these core areas, with additional concerns as discussed below:

Reliability is inadequately addressed, putting New York at risk for economy crushing blackouts and potential public safety risks.

High energy costs for energy consumers and the impact on their cost of living and on the competitiveness of New York businesses.

Insufficient programs to keep benefits of existing renewable facilities in this state.

Leaping to moratoriums and bans instead of developing innovative technologies.

Undefined wording and the lack of a glossary of terms creates ambiguity in some of the Plan’s language.

To help raise awareness for these concerns and ensure that New York’s clean energy transition is done in a more responsible manner, IPPNY, along with the New York State AFL-CIO, the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, and Business Council of New York State, formed a unique coalition to develop a set of seven principles1 to advance New York’s clean energy goals and establish the criteria to be met by the Plan. This coalition put productive and positive ideas on the table to make the Plan better. Unfortunately, these principles were insufficiently addressed by the Council and the Plan.

Dennis Elsenbeck, Head of Energy and Sustainability, Phillips Lytle was the final Council member to vote against the Scoping Plan.  He explained that he voted against the Plan because “we have fundamentally missed the mark on balancing environmental and economic sustainability, choosing one over the other, thereby limiting the potential to achieve either goal.”  His statement included five key concerns that led to that decision.  The first two concerns are:

Limiting our solutions by losing sight of our climate challenges

We must not lose sight of the challenges we are working to solve. The CLCPA set ambitious climate and clean energy goals to safeguard our state’s resources for future generations while reinvesting in disadvantaged communities. Much of our discussions appeared to be more about shutting down the natural gas transmission and distribution network than on achieving the 85% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction by 2050. Although they may appear similar, shutting down the natural gas network and achieving the CLCPA’s GHG goals are separate objectives requiring different technical paths. Our focus should be meeting our GHG reduction goals. Any discussions surrounding the natural gas transition should explore, with equal weight, what we are transitioning from and what we may be transitioning to. In my experience, limiting options also decreases the probability of meeting aggressive goals, such as our GHG objective.

Readiness of our Electric System

Much of the CLCPA outlines a transition from a fossil fuel to an all-electric economy. In my opinion, New York’s current electric distribution infrastructure cannot handle the projected 50% increase in demand. I have been adamant throughout Council discussions that without action, such as a PSC Order requiring utilities to respond, the electric distribution system is not equipped to accommodate such a transition without major investment-the cost, timing and implementability of which is yet to be determined. The Scoping Document begins to frame this challenge but falls short on how to resolve the matter_ As with most states and countries, climate initiatives begin on the supply side of the electric system. Large scale renewable energy projects appear to be focused on land (and water) availability and not as much on proximity to load centers resulting ina need for additional transmission investment; we must anticipate the impact of electrification on the distribution system to fully explore non-traditional utility investment by engaging market participants. Subject matter experts such as regulatory agencies, the NYISO, NERC and the electric utilities must be given the opportunity to respond to the Scoping Document before it reaches the Governor’s desk. We should have a more balanced and mandated planning strategy that aligns supply, demand and delivery and advances the CLCPA’s goals and our state’s economic development aspirations for business expansion, attraction and site readiness. We need to resolve the issue of dispatchable supply through continued exploration of the role of long duration storage, nuclear, hydrogen, renewable natural gas and other non-fossil-based approaches to ensure that we have a stable electric system in concert with how we progress with any gas transition strategy.

Conclusion

These statements give a good overview of the positions and motivations of Council membership.  Needless to say, I strongly endorse the statements of the three members who voted against the Scoping Plan.  When I find time I intend to address some of the more egregious claims of the proponents.

The Plan is just a framework that does not include a feasibility analysis to ensure the strategies proposed will maintain current standards of electric system reliability or the reliability of any other energy system components for that matter.  Readers of this blog are well aware of the affordability crises that similar programs at other jurisdictions that are further along are experiencing this winter.  The statements presented include a couple of references to a claim that the costs of inaction are greater than the cost of action.  Earlier this year I posted an article describing the machinations used to make that misleading and inaccurate claim.  I made those arguments to the Council in my verbal comments and followed up with detailed written comments but there was no acknowledgement of them by the Council.  This whole process has been rigged from the start to get the pre-ordained answer.

The proponents of the Climate Act Scoping Plan are bound and determined to dive into this net-zero transition plan.  Unfortunately, they don’t want to check to see if there is any water in the pool.

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Roger Caiazza blogs on New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York.  More details on the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act are available here and an inventory of over 250 articles about the Climate Act is also available.   This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.

New York RGGI Funding Status Report CO2 Emission Reductions

I recently published a summary of the annual analysis of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) annual Investments of Proceeds report.  New York State publishes its own version that I have not bothered to analyze because the reporting metrics are not as clear as the RGGI report.  However, the Climate Action Council has recommended: a tax or fee establishing a carbon price or a “cap-and-invest” program similar to RGGI  to provide funding for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act).  Supporters of RGGI claim that it is a successful model to emulate so I decided to evaluate how effective RGGI funding has been to reduce New York carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

I have been involved in the RGGI program process since its inception.  I blog about the details of the RGGI program because very few seem to want to provide any criticisms of the program.   I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

This is a long and technical post so I have brought the discussion and conclusion to the beginning.

Discussion

This analysis wades through the New York RGGI funding reports prepared by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA).  Those reports describe the expected emission (tons CO2e), load (MWhr), and heat input (mmBtu) savings from programs funded by RGGI proceeds.  I compared the emission savings to the observed RGGI emissions from 2013 to 2021.  The only two programs that directly affect CO2 emissions are the NY-Sun Initiative and NYSERDA Solar Electric programs.  All the other programs in the Green Jobs – Green New York, Energy Efficiency, Community Clean Energy, Clean Energy Communities, and Charge NY categories affect CO2 emissions indirectly so the emission savings reductions claimed do not necessarily affect RGGI source emissions.

The observed New York State emissions from RGGI-affected sources decreased between 2013 and 2021 by 5,397,135 tons.   If just the CO2 reduction savings that are listed for the NY-Sun Initiative and NYSERDA Solar Electric programs are considered over the years 2013 to 2021, the total investment is $565 million and the claimed savings are 861,442 tons of CO2e with a calculated cost benefit of 565 $/ton.  Those CO2 reductions account for 16% of the observed emission reduction.  Because observed CO2 emissions from coal-firing went from 5,463,637 tons in 2013 to zero in 2021 and CO2 emissions from oil-firing went from 3,871,162 tons to 313,115 tons, I conclude that the primary reason for the observed electric sector emission reductions in New York was due to fuel switching.  I believe that the RGGI cost adder to fuel costs is a much smaller component than the cost of fuel itself so fuel switching was not driven by the cost of RGGI allowances.

There are implications for future emission reduction requirements. Coal and oil emissions from the RGGI affected sources are as low as they are going to get without retirement of oil-fired sources.  The average CO2 emissions reduction per year has been 95,716 tons since 2013.  New York Part 242 CO2 Budget Trading Program specifies an annual reduction of RGGI allowances of 880,493 per year starting in 2022 and continuing to 2030.  That reduction is nearly ten times more than the reductions from RGGI auction proceed investments.  The Climate Act is going to require even more emission reductions.  It is not clear where those reductions will come from.

Conclusion

RGGI is supposed to be a CO2 emissions reductions control program.  Proponents of RGGI brag about the emission reductions observed and the value of auction proceed investments.  However, the observed emission reductions are primarily due to fuel switching in New York.  NYSERDA has not focused its RGGI proceed investments on emission reductions which has not been a problem to this point but that strategy is about to hit a wall.  The RGGI-affected sources have been running more the last two years because the State shut down 2,000 MW of zero-emissions nuclear generating capacity. Couple that with insignificant investment in new zero-emissions generating resources from the RGGI proceeds to ramp up actual electric generating emission reductions, the potential problem is that the RGGI-affected sources will not have sufficient allowances to operate. The RGGI allowance market is so confused now with states coming in and out, the potential problem of insufficient allowances to operate may be kicked down the road.  However, there are implications that, so far, have not been acknowledged by the state.

On December 19, 2022 the Climate Action Council approved and adopted the Final Scoping Plan that outlines a plan to make the New York electric system zero-emissions by 2040.  I expect that this mandate will be incorporated into the New York electric generating unit emission caps with even more stringent limits.  The Scoping Plan proposes to use a “cap and invest” program similar to RGGI to provide funds for the electric system zero-emissions transition by 2040 and the overall net-zero by 2050 target.  The ramifications of the poor RGGI-funded program investments record of actually reducing emissions has not been considered.  This is yet another example why the ambitions of the Climate Act will flounder on the shoals of reality.

Background

RGGI is a “cooperative effort among eleven Eastern states to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants within each participating state” (Factsheet). This market-base program among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont set a cap to reduce CO2 emissions starting in 2009.  New Jersey was in at the beginning, dropped out for years, and re-joined in 2020. Virginia joined in 2021 and Pennsylvania has joined but is not actively participating in auctions due to on-going litigation. According to a RGGI website: “The RGGI states issue CO2 allowances which are distributed almost entirely through regional auctions, resulting in proceeds for reinvestment in strategic energy and consumer programs. Programs funded with RGGI investments have spanned a wide range of consumers, providing benefits and improvements to private homes, local businesses, multi-family housing, industrial facilities, community buildings, retail customers, and more.” 

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  The Scoping Plan was approved by the Council on December 19, 2022.  Chapter 17 in the Plan describes economywide strategies:

After initially identifying three options for consideration, the Council narrowed its consideration to two economywide GHG policies: a tax or fee establishing a carbon price and a program that caps emissions across the economy, or within particular sectors, and allocates emission allowances primarily through an auction mechanism that provide revenues for investment, known as “cap-and-invest.” The Council concluded that clean energy supply standards, which would require providers of energy across the economy to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels they introduce into commerce, can complement economywide structures as discussed in this chapter, but because such standards apply only to energy sources, they do not offer the same comprehensive coverage and opportunities for cross-sector efficiency. For this reason, the Council determined that clean energy supply standards (like the Clean Energy Standard [CES] for electricity and clean transportation standard) should be considered separately under sectoral chapters.

A carbon tax/fee would establish the price per ton of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that regulated entities would pay. Carbon tax/fee proposals have been considered by the New York State Legislature, and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) put forward a proposal for a fee on every ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission from the electricity sector. A cap-and-invest program would also result in a price on emissions, but indirectly as the government entity establishes the emissions cap while the price is determined based on the available supply of and demand for emission allowances, rather than directly by the government entity. It would require regulated entities to purchase emission allowances, usually at an auction, to match their emissions. The difference from carbon tax/fee, however, is that a cap-and-invest program provides emissions certainty. A cap-and-invest program would limit the number of allowances sold, with the available amount decreasing year-by-year to ensure that overall aggregate emissions decline. Cap-and-invest programs have been implemented economywide in California and Quebec, and Washington recently passed legislation and adopted a rule to establish such a program. There are also existing sector-specific cap-and-invest programs, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), that cover emissions from the electricity sector and include New York as a participant. In contrast to a carbon tax or fee, which would have to be enacted by the Legislature, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) could promulgate regulations establishing a cap-and-invest program using its existing authority to adopt regulations that reduce emissions.

Both carbon tax/fee and cap-and-invest programs provide a price signal stimulating lower emission choices and a source of funding for public investment and incentive programs. Both would regulate the bulk of energy, industrial, and other emissions in New York, including both fossil fuels and alternative fuels consistent with the requirements of the Climate Act. Both would be structured to comply with Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) § 75-0117, which requires that at least 35% of the overall benefits of spending be directed to Disadvantaged Communities, with a goal of 40%. But they have one fundamental difference: while both types of programs place a charge on emissions and invest the revenues, only a cap-and-invest program would implement a declining, enforceable cap on emissions overall and a mechanism for State enforcement of such limits against individual sources, thus ensuring that aggregate emissions do not exceed the statewide emission limits.

RGGI Success Narrative

I have written multiple articles that argue that RGGI advocates mis-lead the public when they imply that RGGI programs were the driving force behind the observed over 50% reduction in power sector CO2 emissions since the start of the program.  In my latest evaluation I found that since 2009 RGGI funded control programs have been responsible for 5.6% of the observed reductions.  The Investment of RGGI Proceeds in 2020 report does not directly provide the numbers necessary to calculate that estimate which I have come to believe is deliberate.  When the sum of the RGGI investments is divided by the sum of the annual emission reductions the CO2 emission reduction efficiency is $818 per ton of CO2 reduced.  I concluded that RGGI is not an effective CO2 emission reduction program.

The latest New York RGGI funding report prepared by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) is the Semi-Annual Status Report through June 30, 2022.  It states that:

This report is prepared pursuant to the State’s RGGI Investment Plan (2020 Operating Plan) and provides an update on the progress of programs through the quarter ending June 30, 2022. It contains an accounting of program spending; an estimate of program benefits; and a summary description of program activities, implementation, and evaluation. An amendment providing updated program descriptions and funding levels for the 2021 version of the Operating Plan was approved by NYSERDA’s Board in January 2022.

The State invests RGGI proceeds to support comprehensive strategies that best achieve the RGGI CO2 emission reduction goals. These strategies aim to reduce global climate change and pollution through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and carbon abatement technology.

New York Power Sector CO2 Emissions

The first step in evaluating the effect of RGGI on CO2 emissions is to determine the observed trend of New York electric utility emissions.  My background is in the electric generating sector and I have been involved in the reporting process for electric generating unit (EGU) continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS) data since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated these systems for the Acid Rain Program.  EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division maintains a data base of all the emissions data collected by every power plant in the United States since the mid-1990’s.  Those data are used for RGGI program compliance and are used in this article.

The following graph shows New York State CO2 emissions since 2000 based on data in spreadsheet NY RGGI Funded Program Status Report Summary.  These data are the sum of all New York units that are required to submit CEMS data to EPA for any air pollution control program.  The EPA database includes supplemental information such as the primary fuel type of each generating unit and I have listed CO2 emissions by fuel type.  In 2000, New York EGU emissions were 57,114,438 tons and in 2021 they were 28,546,529 tons, a decrease of 50% (Table 1).  In NYS 2021 CO2 emissions are 39% lower than the three-year baseline emissions before RGGI started.  The reason that emissions have dropped is because coal and oil fuels have essentially gone to zero as shown in the following graph.  Natural gas has increased to cover the generation from those fuels but because it has lower CO2 emission rates the New York emissions have gone down.

New York RGGI Program Investment Reductions

In the RGGI funding reports Chapter Summary of Portfolio and Program Benefits describes the NYSERDA tracking process:

NYSERDA begins tracking program benefits once project installation is complete and provides estimated benefits for projects under contract that are not yet operational (pipeline benefits). Estimated benefits are based on the expected lifetime benefits from installed and pipeline savings. The metrics presented in this section are estimates and not evaluated unless otherwise noted. Future evaluation and status reports will present the results as they are available. NYSERDA expects verified net savings to be incorporated in the year-end 2022 report. Program benefits may be reported prior to the financial reporting of funds spent, as fund transfers may lag behind the installation date. At this time, the program benefits include some projects that are jointly supported by other non-RGGI funding sources administered by NYSERDA.

The NYSERDA RGGI funding report formats and material presented have changed over time.  I found that only since 2013 were the reports consistent enough for my purposes.  I do not understand the quote in the preceding paragraph: “metrics presented in this section are estimates and not evaluated unless otherwise noted.”  I used the numbers as they were presented in the report. 

The estimated cumulative annual net GHG emissions savings as of the end of the reporting period for each of the reports since 2013 are shown in Table 2.  I did not use the “lifetime” savings data because I have always felt that was inappropriate.  In this application I am trying to compare the RGGI program benefits reductions to the RGGI compliance metric of an annual emission cap.  Lifetime reductions are clearly irrelevant.  The document description “Estimated benefits are based on the expected lifetime benefits from installed and pipeline savings” suggests that the values shown are lifetime values but the table includes both power (MMBtu) and energy (MWhr) savings where lifetime values are more appropriate for energy efficiency program accounting. 

Emission trends over short periods are unreliable as indicators of policy implementation because there are other factors affecting the operation of generating units.  The biggest outside factor is weather.  If the year was abnormally hot or cold then the emissions would go up because the units operated more.  There also can be issues related other units going down to problems or retirements.  For example, the recent CO2 trend is New York is strongly affected by the closure of 2,000 MW of zero-emissions generating at Indian Point and I understand the units on Long Island have run more the last couple of years due to issues with transmission cables under Long Island Sound.  Keep this issue in mind when looking at Table 3 that compares New York CO2 emissions with the cumulative RGGI net GHG emission savings.  The emissions decrease between 2013 and 2021 is 5,397,135 tons but the RGGI investments claimed total 7,460,423 tons.  NYSERDA is claiming that RGGI investments were responsible for all the emission reductions!

I don’t believe that the RGGI investments could actually be responsible for all the observed reductions.  I think that fuel switching is more likely to be the cause of the emission reductions observed.  Over this time period the last coal units shut down and the oil-fired units reduced their emissions about as low as I expect they can go and still provide capacity support. Another possible reason is that I assumed that the annual installed and pipeline emission savings represented an actual annual projection and not lifetime emission savings.  That could account for the unrealistically high emission reduction claim.

There is another possible explanation.  Appendix A, Section A.2 in Semi-Annual Status Report through June 30, 2022  describes the CO2 reduction savings methodology:

Emissions factors translate the energy savings data into annual GHG emission reduction values. The GHGs evaluated in the report include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Because each of these gases has a different global warming potential, emissions for gases other than carbon dioxide are converted into carbon dioxide equivalent units (CO2e) through multiplication with their appropriate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global warming potential value, shown in Table A-1.

Therefore, the other possibility for the discrepancy is that the cumulative RGGI net GHG emission savings in Table 2 of the status reports is not just CO2 but also includes methane and nitrous oxide.  If that is the case then it would explain some of the inconsistency.  It also would be inappropriate.  RGGI is supposed to be a CO2 emissions reduction program.  This document should report on the efficacy of RGGI-program investments and provide evidence how it will work in the future.  In order to determine the value of the RGGI investments relative to the RGGI emission targets the only relevant GHG is CO2.  Including methane and nitrous oxides misleads readers because it suggests higher emissions than what can be expected for investments needed to meet the RGGI emission reduction targets.

Appendix A goes on to say:

NYSERDA uses the emission factors shown in Table A-2 to calculate emissions from on-site fuel combustion derived from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission coefficients. The CO2e values represent aggregate CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions. If a program covers more than one sector, then the estimated reduction is based on a calculated average emission factor for the affected sectors.

Without more documentation I will admit to being flummoxed.  This paragraph states that the emission factors used “represent aggregate CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions” but the values in the following paragraph are close to the observed CO2 only emission rates observed.  This suggests that if the methane and nitrous oxide components of the aggregate emission rates are included that they are very small.  It would be helpful if the documentation provided an example calculation showing how the aggregate factors were developed.

The final relevant section of Appendix A states:

For projects installed prior to 2016, a marginal emission factor of 1,160 pounds of CO2e/MWh estimates emission reductions associated with electricity use reductions for all sectors. When a project is installed and committed from 2016 onward, a marginal emission factor of 1,103 pounds of CO2e/MWh is applied to estimate emission reductions associated with electricity use reductions for all sectors. Although electricity savings may not lead to near-term emission reductions under the RGGI CO2 cap, savings will potentially reduce imports of electricity to NYS; the demand for CO2 allowances, leading to a possible future reduction in the cap; and the carbon footprint of end users, as they will be responsible for a smaller percent of the emissions associated with electricity production.

Even if the marginal emission factors represent aggregate rates for CO2 that incorporate methane and nitrous oxides, this is an over-estimate of current CO2 emission rates.  The following table lists the calculated marginal emission rate for New York State electric generating units subject to RGGI.  The fact is that current New York CO2 emissions are almost exclusively due to natural gas emissions that are significantly lower than the marginal emission factors quoted.  At a minimum, there should be another methodology adjustment to correct for this over-estimate of emission reductions that could be expected when RGGI investments reduce energy use.

Alternative RGGI Program Investment Reduction Methodologies

I calculated CO2 annual emissions in two alternative ways.  In the status reports Table 2: Summary of Expected Cumulative Annual Program Benefits lists the net energy savings (annual MMBtu) and net electricity savings or renewable energy generation (annual MWh).  The EPA emissions data includes those parameters so that an annual New York emission rate based on both parameters can be calculated.  Once the calculated emission rate is determined then it can be multiplied by the projected annual savings due to RGGI funded programs to get an annual total emissions estimate.

Table 4 uses the heat input (MMBtu) data to calculate annual CO2 emission “savings”.  Using this methodology, the cumulative total CO2 emissions expected from the RGGI-funding programs is 2,040,461 tons or 7.1% of the 2021 annual emissions.  Recall that the emissions decrease between 2013 and 2021 is 5,397,135 tons so at least this estimate is less than the observed emission reduction. 

Table 5 uses the load (MWhr) data to calculate annual CO2 emissions.  Using this methodology, the cumulative total CO2 emissions expected from the RGGI-funding programs is 6,663,077 tons or 23.3% of the 2021 annual emissions.  Recall that the emissions decrease between 2013 and 2021 is 5,397,135 tons so this estimate is greater than the observed emission reduction. 

RGGI-Funded Program Reductions

I believe that the underlying cause for the differences between the observed CO2 reductions using CO2 savings directly or the heat input (mmBtu) and generation (MWhr) data is that most of the RGGI-funded programs indirectly affect emissions.  All the programs in the Green Jobs – Green New York, Energy Efficiency, Community Clean Energy, Clean Energy Communities, and Charge NY categories affect CO2 emissions indirectly.  In the Renewable Energy category only the NY-Sun Initiative and NYSERDA Solar Electric programs fund programs that subsidize renewable energy projects that directly offset generation from fossil-fired generating units affected by RGGI.  All the other programs reduce energy use that indirectly reduces the need for RGGI-affected unit generation. 

Table 6 classifies the savings into two categories: direct and indirect effects on CO2 emissions for the latest year.  The only two programs (NY-Sun Initiative and NYSERDA Solar Electric) that directly affect emissions invested $90 million through June 30, 2022 and are responsible for 272,964 MWh and 139,729 tons of CO2e savings with a calculated cost benefit of $644 $/ton.  All the other programs listed in the latest NY RGGI Funding Status report invested $686 million through June 30, 2022 and are responsible for 1,663,357 MWh, 8,696,971 mmBtu and 1,516,469 tons of CO2e savings with a calculated cost benefit of $452 $/ton. Note that the report does not report heat input (mmBtu) savings for the direct CO2 reduction programs.

Table 6: Summary of Expected Cumulative Annualized Program Benefits through 30 June 2022

The key point of this long and technical article is to make the point that the total CO2 savings listed in the reports are not necessarily reductions that can be credited towards the observed emission reductions.  Energy efficiency programs reduce the fuel needed to heat homes and lead to direct emission reductions in the building sector if oil, gas, or propane are used for heating.  Energy efficiency reductions reduce electric generating load for cooling and homes that use electric heat but trying to figure out just how much that affects RGGI emissions is not straight-forward.  I have never seen a state report quantify that reduction.

If just the CO2 reduction savings that are listed for the NY-Sun Initiative and NYSERDA Solar Electric programs are considered over the years 2013 to 2021, the total investment is $565 million and the claimed savings are 1,684,616 MWh and 861,442 tons of CO2e with a calculated cost benefit of $565$/ton.  Recall that the emissions decrease between 2013 and 2021 is 5,397,135 tons so the only CO2 reductions that can conclusively be claimed account for 16% of the observed emission reduction.  Because observed coal CO2 emissions went from 5,463,637 tons in 2013 to zero in 2021 and oil CO2 emissions went from 3,871,162 tons to 313,115 tons, I conclude that the primary reason for the observed electric sector emission reductions in New York was due to fuel switching.

New York’s Climate Act Scoping Plan Process Template

This post was first published at Watts Up With That.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) Scoping Plan framework for the net-zero by 2050 transition plan has been under development for the last two years.  A meeting of the Climate Action Council to vote on the Draft Final New York State Climate Action Council Scoping Plan

will be held on Monday, December 19, 2022, at 1:00 p.m.  This post describes my overview impression of the process and the likely outcome of the vote.  I think it is relevant outside of New York because it gives a template for implementing a net-zero transition program.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric grid with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies.  That material was used by staff from various State agencies to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council is required to finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the 2022 so this meeting will meet that requirement.  If anyone has a masochistic desire to view the meeting, details are available at the Climate Act meetings and events page.

Legislation enacting net-zero targets by 2050 are political ploys catering to specific constituencies.  The prime narrative of the Climate Act is featured on their web page:

Our Future is at stake and that’s why New York State is committed to the most aggressive clean energy and climate plan in the country. Each of us has a role in protecting our communities and ensuring a sustainable future for every New Yorker. If we each do our part, we’ll lower harmful emissions in the air we breathe while transforming New York’s economy, creating new jobs, and building more resilient communities.

The authors of the Climate Act legislation believed that meeting the net-zero target was only a matter of political will.  I believe that any similar legislation will follow the script used in New York.  Despite the apparent objectivity of the implementation framework, it is just is a façade. The Climate Act established the Climate Action Council to direct the development of the Scoping Plan.  It consists of 22 members that were chosen by ideology not expertise.  There are 12 agency members: all appointed by the Governor, and 10 at-large members: two non-agency representatives appointed by the Governor, three representatives appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one representative appointed by the minority leader of the Assembly, three representatives appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, and one representative appointed by the minority leader of the Senate.  Not surprisingly, the legislation passed when both the Senate and Assembly were controlled by the Democratic party so all but two Council members are slanted one way.  The upcoming vote on the Scoping Plan must pass by a super majority of 15 votes but it is purely a formality because of the makeup of the Council.  The only question is whether anyone will cast a symbolic “no” vote for approval.

Public Comments

Similar programs will make a big deal about public participation.  The Council has bragged about their stakeholder process noting that the comment period was longer than required.  The Climate Act public comment period covered six months and included eleven Public Hearings where 700 people spoke.  Approximately 35,000 comments were received but around 25,000 comments were “potentially the same or substantially similar”, i.e., form letters.  That left on the order of 10,000 unique comments.  It was obviously impossible for the Council members to read them all so agency staff had to read, categorize, and summarize all the comments. That filter certainly shaped the response to the comments because they got to pick and choose which comments received attention.

Agency staff presentations to the Council described themes of the comments with very little specificity.  There was clear bias in the theme presentations – anything inconsistent with the narrative was disparaged, downplayed, or ignored.  I recently noted that the Climate Action Council treatment of stakeholder comments basically ignored anything that conflicted with the narrative of the Climate Act.   I suspect that any similar program will also have a phony public participation process.

There is another problem I believe will be common with other initiatives.  The Council emphasis was on the language in the Draft Scoping Plan and not on any technical issues.  I spent an inordinate amount of time evaluating technical issues associated with the Integration Analysis this year and prepared a summary that described all my comments.  No comments associated with Integration Analysis technical methodology or errors were discussed at any of the Climate Action Council meetings and it is not clear that the Council members are even aware that specific integration analysis issues were raised.  I have no illusions that my comments were necessarily important but the fact that technical comments from organizations responsible for the New York electric grid were also ignored is beyond troubling. 

What’s Next

The political motivation for the Climate Act was we must do something to address the existential threat of climate change. In the political calculus the important thing was to establish a politically correct target and ignore implementation details.  In New York the biggest missing piece was how to fund all the necessary components of the net-zero transition.   When something similar comes to your state watch the bait and switch between supporting legislation that is subject to voter disapproval and agency regulation which is more or less at the whim of the Administration.

Next year the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will promulgate enforceable regulations to ensure achievement of the Statewide GHG emission limits. The regulations will be based on the Scoping Plan framework. The Plan does not include a feasibility analysis so it is not clear how regulations can be promulgated when the implementation risks to reliability, affordability, and the environment are unknown.  When questions arose about those nasty little details came up at Council meetings the response by the leadership was that the Scoping Plan was just an outline and those issues would be addressed later.  I fully expect that when the regulations are discussed in the public consultatin process the nasty little details will be ignored because the Hochul Administration will say the Scoping Plan is a mandate of the legislation.  The circular argument can only end badly.

Conclusion

The New York Scoping Plan approval vote will be on December 19.  I predict that the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of approving the Plan.  Each council member will be given the opportunity to make a statement when they vote.  I predict those statements will be laden with emotion and likely fact-free. I also predict that if the ideologues continue control the implementation process then  costs will sky rocket, that there will be a catastrophic blackout that causes death and destruction, and that blanketing the state with wind mills and solar panels will cause significant environmental harm. 

I will publish an update with the highlights of the meeting when they post the link to the meeting recording. 

Climate Act Narrative: Heat Pumps are the Answer

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) final draft Scoping Plan framework for the transition plan has been released.  It has become clear recently that the Hochul Administration approach to the net-zero transition is to follow the narrative that meeting a net-zero by 2050 target is simply a matter of political will.  As with all political descriptions, the components of this narrative are overly simplified and conflicting information is ignored or disparaged.   This post discusses the heat pump “solution” to home heating.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric gride with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council is required to finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the 2022. 

I have published a couple of recent articles about this process.  I noted that the Climate Action Council treatment of stakeholder comments basically ignored anything that conflicted with the narratives of the Draft Scoping Plan so the Council lost the opportunity to correct any deficiencies.  The second article pointed out that the Hochul Administration has not included responses to stakeholder comments in the process.  As a result, it is not clear whether the issues raised were even considered.

The buildings sector is currently the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in New York State.  As a result, reducing emissions from home heating is a key component of the Scoping Plan implementation framework.  Heat pumps are a prominent part of the state’s residential electrification plans and its narrative that installing a heat pump is easy, cost-effective, and will provide a satisifactory level of comfort.  If you are interested in more home heating background information, an article describing my interview with Susan Arbetter at Capital Tonight gave an overview of heat pump technology and described building shells.  In the energy efficiency world, building shells refer to the insulation, infiltration, window treatments and ventilation components of the building. 

Political narratives over-simplify their solutions and this is a major flaw in the heat pump story preached in the Scoping Plan and by its acolytes.  Last summer I did an article about heat pump technology that concluded that it can work in New York State.  However, I showed that it is not simply a matter of swapping out a fossil-fired furnace for a heat pump.  The potential for the conversion to be done improperly is high because there are numerous complications.  Based on a discussion with an expert HVAC technician I now understand that it is not just the furnace but the whole heating system and building shell that needs revisions too.  The air infiltration, inflow, interior duct, and exhaust requirements are much higher priorities than I realized.  Some of these issues are mentioned by the Hochul Administration in the Scoping Plan and the public education indoctrination public service advertising but the implications on heat performance are ignored. 

This article addresses one detail of the residential home heating challenge that I believe did not receive proper emphasis in the Draft Scoping Plan.  It is based on comments that I submitted that to this point have not been acknowledged.  The Council has recently repeated its promise that comments will be acknowledged but has not clarified what that means.  In particular, I am going to discuss the New York regional differences in climate presentation at the November 21, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting.

Council Presentation New York Regional Differences in Climate

During the buildings discussion of the staff response to Climate Action Council comments two slides were included.  The discussion of the first slide explained the importance of cold temperatures for heat pump performance.  Apparently, the Council asked why three regions were called out in the Draft Scoping Plan text as the coldest regions of the state.  The presentation noted that the Draft said that the North Country, Mohawk Valley, and Capital regions are the coldest and went to say that heating systems there are designed to keep buildings warm even when temperatures fall below zero Fahrenheit. 

The Hochul Administration narrative is that “These cold climate air source heat pumps do work well in New York’s climate” and this point was explicitly included in the presentation.  The presentation mentioned the appropriate qualifiers shown in the figure that equipment quality, proper design and installation, envelope efficiency, and the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors also impact performance.

The presentation explained that Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) maintains a specification and product list that identifies specific air source heat pumps that work during extreme cold weather.  The presentation noted that “in very cold conditions the heating capacity, or output from the heat pump efficiency drops.”  The explanation noted that the NEEP list includes equipment that report the heating capacity at 5o F and meets or exceed a specified efficiency at that temperature.

The discussion of the regional differences in temperature claimed that in southern and coastal regions and along the Great Lakes the minimum winter temperatures stay above 5o F.  The map on the preceding figure was used to show this visually.  The implication was that as long as you use an air source heat pump from the NEEP product list that meets the 5o F criterion that you are good to go.

The next slide includes a table with 99% design values for heating capacity calculations.  This is the outdoor temperature that a location stays above 99% of the hours in a year, based on a 30-year average.  The presentation claimed that the North Country, Mohawk Valley, and Capital regions had the lowest heating design temperatures so that was the basis for their being listed in the text as the coldest regions.

Caiazza Comments on Residential Heating Electrification

My residential heating electrification comments on the Draft Scoping Plan noted that home electrification is a primary concern for New Yorkers given the importance of affordability and the impact to every household.  The Draft Scoping Plan considers two aspects of residential heating electrification in Appendix G: Integration Analysis Technical Supplement.  The first aspect is conversion of furnaces.The second aspect is the energy efficiency and building shell improvements necessary.  In order to determine which technologies are needed for a particular location, the regional differences in climate within New York State must be considered.  The Appendix G documentation includes NYSERDA climate zone categories for each county.  As far as I can tell, these climate zones use the International Energy Conservation Code. As shown below there are only three climate zones and they are similar but not the same as the normal minimum January temperature map in the presentation described ablove. 

Figure 1:  New York State Climate Zones in the Integration Analysis

My written comments argued that there is a better, more detailed climate zone map for building shell upgrade estimates.  The United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness map has nine zones for New York (Figure 2).  It uses the average annual extreme minimum temperature for its classification that I believe that is a better indicator for building shells when using heat pumps.  Notably there are prominent differences that I believe make a more refined classification system appropriate.  In my comments I argued that the average minimum is above zero for only two of the nine zones, corresponding roughly to Integration Analysis climate zone 3.   I categorized this as zone 4.   For the most part it appears that New York Climate zone 5 should correspond to NYSDA zones 6a and 6b.  As a result, I limited zone 5 to the lower Hudson Valley and counties along the Great Lakes.   I categorized all the counties in the Mid- and Upper Hudson Valley as zone 6 as well the counties along the Pennsylvania border except Chautauqua County along Lake Erie.  If the average annual extreme minimum temperature is less than equal to -10oF (USFDA zones 3b, 4a, 4b, 6a, and 6b) then I believe another climate zone should be included.  I categorized Allegheny and Cattaraugus counties as well as counties in the Adirondacks as climate zone 7 to meet this criterion. 

Figure 2: USDA Plant Hardiness Map

My comments used this more refined climate zone categorization and found that the building shell categorization used in the Draft Scoping Plan underestimates the level of building shell upgrades needed for effective air source heat pump installations.  The Draft Scoping Plan claims only 26% of New York residences need deep shell upgrades.  I estimate that more than half will need to have deep shell upgrades.  Consequently, the Integration Analysis cost estimates for electrifying residences significantly underestimates the costs and the ease of implementation for air source heat pumps.

Discussion

There has been no acknowledgement that my comments were made known to the Climate Action Council and certainly no indication that the Council considered them in their comments to the Agency Staff who are responsible for the final draft of the Scoping Plan. Nonetheless, there is a link between the response to the cold region question in the presentation at the November 21, 2022 meeting and my comments.  My comment that a different approach (such as Figure 2) to define the appropriate heating technology requirements than the climate zones shown in Figure 1 was inadvertently confirmed by this presentation.  In the presentation they showed a different graphic to describe the climatic differences and referenced an even better metric – the 99% design values.

I believe that a comparison of a map of the 99% design values and the plant hardiness zone map would show much better agreement than the NYSERDA climate map does to the 99% design values.  I do not believe that the Integration Analysis did not used the 99% design values when they estimated the cold-climate air source heat pump requirements or the appropriate building shell upgrades necessary to make air source heat pumps effective in New York’s climate.  I found that a better metric nearly doubled the number of residences that would have to be upgraded to a better building shell standard.  The presentation did not mention the relevant issue that I brought up in my comments.

The Hochul Administration narrative is that cold climate air source heat pumps work well in New York’s climate and that is true but with a whole host of caveats that make a difference.  Cold climate air source heat pumps all have a drop off in performance if the outside temperature gets cold enough.  If the only consideration was the quality of the heat pump, then I believe the overarching issue would be the acceptability criterion.  If the heat pump works acceptably 99% of the time that means there still are 87 hours a year when they will not provide sufficient heat.  It would be useful to the public if the differences between the 99% design values and the plant hardiness zone maps were explained because the county-wide 99% design value may not be appropriate everywhere in the county.  The greatest flaw in the Scoping Plan narratives is that “what if” questions are not addressed like what will happen when heat pumps are improperly installed and there isn’t sufficient heat. 

Another aspect of political narratives is over-simplification.  The presentation did include the appropriate qualifiers explaining that in addition to the heat pump other factors, like proper design and installation; appropriate specification of the design value; and envelope efficiency must be considered.  The impact of these considerations and any related stakeholder comments was not discussed.  In my opinion this furthers the incorrect impression that simply installing in a cold-climate air source heat pump is easy and effective.

Conclusion

The November 21, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting discussion of the cold regions of New York exposed several flaws in the Hochul Administration’s Draft Scoping Plan revision process.  In response to the question about the cold regions a different description of the New York cold temperature climatology was used than what was in the Integration Analysis documentation.  My comments on the Draft Scoping Plan argued that the Integration Analysis cold regions were not detailed enough and the choice of a different document supports that.  In my opinion the heating 99% heating design values are an even better indicator of cold regions in New York.

I believe that a comparison of a map of 99% design values and the plant hardiness zone map I porposed would show much better agreement than the NYSERDA climate map does to the 99% design values.  The important point is that the Integration Analysis did not use the 99% design values when they estimated the appropriate building shell upgrades necessary to make air source heat pumps effective in New York’s climate.  I found that a better metric nearly doubled the number of residences that would have to be upgraded to a better building shell standard.  The presentation did not mention the relevant issue that I brought up in my comments.

I conclude that the residential home heating plan proposed in the Scoping Plan under-estimates the degree of difficulty of this transition.  The political narrative suggests that residential heating electrification is mostly just about installing heat pumps.  However, proper design and installation, envelope efficiency, and the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors impact performance as much as the installation of a high-quality heat pump.  The State is doing a disservice to the residents by not clearly acknowledging the complications for an adequate electric heat source.  Finally, they have yet to propose a plan when heating is electrified and an ice storm knocks off power for days in the winter.  It is very disappointing that my comments in this regard have been ignored.

Agricultural and Farmland Viability and the Climate Act

The last several years I have spent an inordinate amount of time evaluating the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and its legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050.  I recently published an article describing some of the overarching issues that have not been adequately addressed in the transition plan to meet the net-zero goal.  I used the Climate Action Council’s failure to protect prime farmland from utility-scale solar development as one example.  This post highlights recently signed legislation and an announcement by Governor Hochul that provides further proof that when the government says we are here to help it is likely a day late and a dollar short.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council is required to finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the 2022. 

In order to meet the net-zero target the general strategy is to electrify everything primarily using newly developed wind and solar resources.  According to the NYISO 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook there were 1,985 MW of land-based wind and 2,148 MW of solar in 2019.  The Draft Scoping Plan spreadsheet Appendix G: Annex 2: Key Drivers and Outputs projects that in 2040 when all the electricity in New York must be zero emissions that there will be 12,242 MW of land-based wind and 43,342 MW of solar.  I documented that the solar projects in the Article Ten queue in 2020 averaged 9.3 acres of equipment area per MW.  Using that estimate of land required, the Draft Scoping Plan mitigation scenarios would require over 900 square miles of solar equipment. 

This post explains why the state’s response to the impact of the land needed for these developments is too little and too late to prevent serious issues. I have written enough articles on solar siting issues that I have setup a page that summarizes them all.  Given the massive amount of projected utility-scale solar generation capacity required to meet Climate Act goals the rush to develop solar projects could easily lead to the permanent loss of significant amounts of prime farmland that will hurt farming communities and endanger Climate Act strategies to sequester carbon in soil. Solar developers argue that a landowner gets revenue when a solar project is developed.  However, when land is taken out of production it will reduce farm jobs and the economic activity may be improved during construction but once the facility is operational there are very few economic benefits to essential local businesses.  Furthermore, taking the land out of production may make other farmers who have been renting that land to make their operations viable will not be able to support investments made in facilities, livestock, or equipment.  

State Actions to Protect Farmlands

First, let me describe New York’s inaction.  In a recent post describing the Climate Action Council’s transition plan approach I explained that there are already serious land use issues because there is no implementation plan in place.  Because there is no policy regarding utility-scale solar siting requirements relative to prime farmland the developers are thumbing their noses at the Department of Agriculture and Markets.  The Department has a policy in place to protect prime farmland but developers claim that there is “no statutory or regulatory support” for the policy so it can be ignored. The Hochul Administration permitting authorities have apparently placed renewable development as the highest priority without any assessment of the impacts identified by its regulatory agencies. 

On December 12, 2022 Governor Hochul announced that “a special working group of state agencies and agricultural community stakeholders will collaborate to support New York farmers and help boost the agricultural industry”. The press release stated that “This working group will be critical to tackling several challenges within New York’s agricultural industry, and my administration will continue to work with farmers to address their needs and reimagine farming in our state.”  The press release explains that:

The Task Force will initially focus on, but not be limited to, the following topics:

  • Transportation – address challenges involving the movement of agricultural commodities and products while understanding the needs for investment in roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure to bring products to market.
  • Labor – identify and build the next generation of farmers and farmworkers to support a diverse industry with the skills and workers required to operate modern farms.
  • The environment – address and remove obstacles to capital investments in manure management, on-farm energy production, and the transition to alternative fuel sources that limit the ability of some farms to meet the State’s climate goals and become carbon neutral.
  • Housing for workers – increase worker housing to provide workers with a safe living environment that is close to farms and assures for sustained and daily production.
  • Taxation – provide clearer guidance on property tax administration and improve access to existing tax relief programs.
  • Farmland protection – review existing programs and identify ways that the State can ensure that productive farmland remains accessible, in production, and continues to feed New Yorkers.
  • Expand procurement – of local food products by various state agencies to build local food supply chains and better connect with New York farms.

On December 6, 2022 Senate bill (S8889A) to create the Agricultural and Farmland Viability Protection Fund was signed.  It will bolster efforts to protect agricultural land from being permanently removed from farming to make way for solar development.  The press release for this states:

Currently, all solar projects receiving funding through NYSERDA’s NY-Sun incentive program that site projects on active farmland must pay a penalty, which currently goes into the State’s General Fund. S8889A-Hinchey requires that all penalty money collected be deposited instead into the new Agricultural and Farmland Viability Protection Fund and allocated to state and local farmland protection programs.

I apologize but I am not going to get into the details of this legislation.  I applaud the intent to get the money where it should logically go to try to redress the problem.  However, it does not seem likely that it will be much help to a farmer who lost the land he needed and was renting to a solar developer that can afford to pay more.  Furthermore, NY-Sun is the state’s initiative to expand distributed solar so this law does not cover the utility-scale solar projects that are my primary concern.

The most frustrating thing is that a solution is readily available.  Last December I described a webinar hosted by New Yorkers for Clean Power (NYCP) and Alliance for Clean Energy NY (ACENY) entitled “What’s the Deal with Renewable Energy & Agriculture?” that discussed the compatibility of renewable energy and agriculture in New York State.  One part of the solution discussed during the presentation could be the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority Agricultural Technical Working Group.  This group released an interim final report last May that described “strategies to integrate renewable energy sources into working landscapes with minimal impact on agriculture, including the need for more research; the potential for financial incentives; and proposed tools for State and local governments”.  Protection of prime farmland is a prime component of this report.

Incredibly it gets even more tone deaf in New York.  The NY-Sun program is New York State’s initiative to encourage distributed generation solar. The projects participating in the NY-Sun program are “typically five MW alternating current or smaller, and do not fit the definition of a Major Renewable Energy Facility”.  The interim final report notes that:

On April 19, 2022, the Public Service Commission approved the Roadmap, charting a path towards achieving an expanded goal of at least 10 gigawatts of distributed solar by 2030 and continues the NY-Sun program. NY-Sun Commercial/Industrial (C/I) projects located in an agricultural district must comply with AGM’s Solar Construction Guidelines. If the project utilizes over 30 acres of MSG 1-4, it is required to make Agricultural Mitigation Payment to the fund administered by NYSERDA. Since being implemented, these requirements have already demonstrated their effectiveness. In 2021, all 50 distributed solar projects subject to these requirements, totaling 1,037 acres of affected area, have committed to avoiding and minimizing impacts to important agricultural lands in consideration of the solar layout and complying with the Solar Construction Guidelines.

The bottom line is that there is a solar siting policy that addresses my concerns in place but only for the small solar projects.  Since I started tracking solar development project approvals late last year, a total of five applications have been approved for a total of 1,120 MW.  The total project areas cover 14,812 acres and the project footprints total 5,728 acres.  Despite the best efforts of Department of Agriculture and Markets staff to prevent the loss of Prime Farmland, the area that will be unavailable for farming in these projects totals 3,920 acres or 26% of the combined project areas.  This is bad enough but all three Draft Scoping Plan mitigation scenarios call for over 40,000 MW of solar development and there are no protections.

Conclusion

Hochul’s press release for the special working group included statements of support from New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball; New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher; Brian Reeves, President of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association; Tonya Van Slyke, Northeast Dairy Producers Association Executive Director; Jim Bittner, owner of Bittner Singer Orchards and Interim Director of the New York State Horticulture Society; and Jeffery M. Fetter, President of Scolaro Fetter Grizanti & McGough, P.C. and Chairman of the Business and Tax Practice and Agricultural Services Groups.  If these people truly care about the agricultural sector, then they should demand a moratorium on utility-scale solar developments until a responsible solar siting policy is put in place for utility-scale solar development. 

The moratorium would be lifted when the special working group develops policy recommendations. At a minimum that utility-scale solar developments should adhere to the Department of Agriculture and Markets goal for projects to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland.  It would be best if the same farmland protection criteria contained in the Public Service Commission distributed solar Roadmap were applied to all solar projects.

I have met people affected by these huge utility-scale solar projects.  It is so frustrating that their concerns and the viability of neighboring farms are being ignored when there are protections in place for smaller solar projects when the solutions are in place for small projects.  I wonder why and the only thing I can think of is that money talks. 

Climate Action Council Affordability Lost Opportunity

The Climate Action Council is responsible for the framework of the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) transition plan to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050.  I recently published an article explaining why I think that they have failed to address key overarching issues. This post illustrates my specific concerns related to affordability based on a more thorough review of the Climate Action Council’s discussions.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.”  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. In my recent article I provided a detailed explanation of the plan for the rest of the year and described the lost opportunities for the Council to provide meaningful guidance for the rest of the transition plan implementation.  I will only provide highlights here.

The meeting presentation for the 5 December 2022 Climate Action Council meeting described the remaining steps for 2022.  That meeting was the last chance for any desired revisions to the Scoping Plan draft. The last draft will be circulated the week of December 12 and the Council will vote on it on December 19, 2022.  Next year the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will promulgate enforceable regulations to ensure achievement of the Statewide GHG emission limits. This is a very ambitious schedule and it will be hampered by the fact that the Scoping Plan is only a framework.  It does not include a feasibility analysis so it is not clear how regulations can be promulgated when the implementation risks to reliability, affordability, and the environment are unknown. 

In my previous article I noted that I was very disappointed by the Climate Action Council response to comments.  There is no sign that the Hochul Administration considered the comment period as anything but a bothersome obligation that had to be fulfilled.  It was certainly not considered an opportunity to improve, correct, or clarify the Scoping Plan.  Because there were over 10,000 unique comments submitted, the Administration used Agency staff to review the comments.  Staff organized the comments into themes for presentation to the Council.  Summaries of public comments by theme were presented to the Council at five meetings this fall.  That is a tremendous amount of information that I have just started looking at in detail.

Affordability Discussion

In my previous article I argued that the Hochul Administration’s leadership on the Climate Action Council inappropriately catered to the ideological biases of the members and, as a result, focused on relatively minor details at the expense of significant overarching issues.  I described example issues associated with the lack of response to my personal comments and the lost opportunity to provide meaningful guidance for issues associated with reliability, affordability, and cumulative environmental impacts.  My over-riding concern is that conditional guidance is necessary for safe regulatory implementation.  This post addresses more detailed issues associated with affordability and provides some insight into the Hochul Administration’s response to public comments.

The discussion of the public stakeholder comments had four components.  The meeting presentations had slides that described the public comment themes.  An Agency staff person gave an overview of those slides and then explained the Agency staff recommendations to modify the Scoping Plan draft to address those themes.  The final component of this review of public comments was a discussion with the Climate Action Council members.

I am going to limit this affordability discussion to the electric system chapter of the Draft Scoping Plan although I know that the reliability issue was discussed elsewhere.  The Electricity feedback discussion came up at the 10/25/22 Climate Action Council Meeting.  The following slide is the primary instance where affordability is mentioned. 

In her presentation on the themes, Jessica Waldorf described the summary electricity themes developed by Agency staff using this slide as part of the presentation.  My general impression of the summaries to the Council is that there was clear bias in the theme presentations – anything inconsistent with narrative was disparaged, downplayed, or ignored.  In this example, even though affordability was the lead issue in the summary theme slide it was not mentioned in her overview.  She summarized phasing out fossil fuel power generation infrastructure without mentioning affordability.  The consistent narrative of the Hochul Administration is that the Climate Act transition does not have any affordability issues and it was ignored here.  Administration priorities such as the bitcoin mining ban and the reuse of fossil plant sites were highlighted. According to the minutes:

Phasing out fossil fuel power generation infrastructure, including a ban on bitcoin mining and reusing existing fossil fuel power plant sites for battery storage or low-carbon fuel networks, support and opposition to nuclear generation, and continuing the Tier 2 program to support existing hydropower and renewables to ensure baseline renewable generation.

To her credit the description of the Staff recommendations for changes to the draft Final Scoping Plan did address affordability as the Minutes note:

The responsible and equitable phase out of fossil fuel generation facilities by adding and clarifying text regarding the potential repurpose of fossil fuel generation facilities, coordinating with the New York State Reliability Council and the New York State Independent System Operator in the reliability planning process, prioritizing the retirement or repurposing of fossil fuel generating facilities in Disadvantaged Communities, and maintaining energy affordability and reliability during decarbonization.

On the other hand, the slide used for the presentation put affordability as the last topic.

The final component of the Climate Action Council public comment discussion is Agency Staff response to comments from Climate Action Council Members.  Affordability was the first topic raised.  According to the minutes:

In response to an inquiry from Dr. Shepson as to the definition of “energy affordability”, Ms. Waldorf responded that the Gas System Transition Subgroup defined it to be consistent with NYS Public Service Commission policy which ensure that consumers don’t suffer from more than 6% of their income on their energy burden.

In response to a comment and inquiry from Raya Salter regarding energy affordability, believing that using the word “maintaining” is a misnomer given her belief that New York is among the most expensive energy cost states, and whether the Inflation Reduction Act opportunities have been considered to reduce energy affordability burdens, Ms. Waldorf responded that the recommendations do address the possibility of price volatility, including the potential for federal funding to mitigate price volatility. Mr. Mas noted that the final Integration Analysis will include references to the potential opportunities from the Inflation Reduction Act within each of the sectors. Ms. Salter noted the importance of keeping equity and justice at the center of the price volatility considerations.

Affordability Lost Opportunity

In my previous post about the Climate Action Council’s lost opportunities to responsibly lead the process, I noted that every jurisdiction that has tried to implement a similar transition plan has seen significant price increases of electricity (see the following figure)  The missing piece in the affordability presentation and the apparent direction of the final Scoping Plan is completely ignoring the possibility that the costs of the transition could be so high that the implementation on the Climate Act mandated schedule may not be feasible.  My comments raised the concept that implementation should be conditional.  If the transition exceeds the affordability, reliability, and environmental impact thresholds determined by the Council that re-assessment at least is appropriate.  In my opinion this decision could extend to a full stop on the transition until the technology catches up with the ambition.

In my previous article I said that the Climate Act Council should have discussed affordability but reviewing the documentation that came out after I had drafted the article, they did discuss it.  However, the discussion was inadequate because it missed the main point.

Dr. Shepson asked the appropriate question: what does “energy affordability” means in quantitative terms.  Waldorf responded that the Gas System Transition Subgroup defined maintaining energy affordability to be consistent with New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) policy which ensures that consumers don’t suffer from more than 6% of their income on their energy burden. Raya Salter said “maintaining” is a misnomer because she believes that New York is among the most expensive energy cost states, so “It is not affordable now.”

As has been the case with every aspect of the Climate Act transition I have looked at in detail, this is more complicated and has implications beyond the pronouncements from the authors of the Scoping Plan.  The PSC Energy Affordability Policy (EAP) states: “an energy burden at or below 6% of household income shall be the target level for all 2.3 million low-income households in New York” per Case 14-M-0565, Order Adopting Low Income Program Modifications and Directing Utility Filings, p. 3 issued May 20, 2016.  Department of Public Service Proceeding, Case 14-M-0565 – Proceeding on Motion of the Commission to Examine Programs to Address Energy Affordability for Low Income Utility Customers, sets up a Percentage of Income Payment Plan.  In the New York plan funding is provided to low-income households such that their energy burden is kept at or below 6%.  The relevant problem is that there is an upper limit on program funding.  If electricity costs increase too much than that limit will be exceeded and more people will have energy burdens exceeding the 6% of household income policy goal.

Shepson and Salter almost got to the main point but fell short.  It is not sufficient to just reference the PSC Energy Affordability Policy.  The Climate Action Council should have discussed the implications of the metric and whether it is appropriate for this application.  The discussion should have addressed the following.  It is not clear whether all low-income households comply with that metric now.  What is the status of the funding relative to the upper limit on program funding?   If in the future that metric is exceeded then what?  There also is a presumption that energy poverty is only a problem with lower income households but the numbers affected are tied to the definition of an acceptable energy burden.  The Council should have discussed these over-arching issues and current state policies explained to the Council.  I also believe that the State should track the status of energy poverty burden current status numbers.  It is not available as far as I can tell on the Open NY website that is the supposed repository of all New York quantitative data. 

I submitted the following comment on the Draft Scoping Plan that addressed these issues.  Apparently, it did not rise to the level where it was a theme that should have been addressed.

Because there are limitations to existing technology the Final Scoping Plan must incorporate conditions based on reliability and affordability.  The Climate Action Council should define the criteria for reliability and affordability and then establish conditions incorporating those criteria.  For example, a recent legislative proposal included a requirement for state agencies to identify policies to ensure affordable housing and affordable electricity (defined as electricity costs no more than 6% of a residential customer’s income) for all-electric buildings.  Alternatively, Addressing Energy Poverty in the US offers other possible criteria:

“According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average energy burden for low-income households is 8.6%. That is three times higher than for non-low income households, which is about 3%.  And according to the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at University of Pennsylvania, more than one-third of US households are experiencing “energy poverty,” having difficulty affording the energy they need to keep the lights on and heat and cool their home.” 

Once the Council has established the appropriate affordability metric and the current status of that metric has been determined, then a condition using the metric can be established.  For example, if the criterion is that the average energy burden cannot increase above the average and the Integration Analysis projects that a certain mitigation strategy could lead to an increase above the average then that strategy should not be implemented until the costs come down or a subsidy can be set up to prevent exceeding the criterion.

Ultimately, I believe the Council should have spent more time discussing what the quantitative measure of affordability should be.  It is not clear when, at the end of 2021, there were 1.267 million utility accounts in arrears totaling $1.7 billion whether the PSC Energy Affordability Policy is working and how well it represents the current state of utility costs.  Raya Salter is correct saying there is a problem now and even maintaining current levels is unacceptable.

I believe that the Council should establish an affordability metric and provide status information.  If the costs exceed some acceptability threshold that they define, then I believe there should be a response.  I believe that the tremendous costs of the Climate Act transition will exceed any reasonable threshold for acceptability.

I am also disappointed that the Council did not work with the Climate Justice Working Group on the topic of affordability for those least able to afford energy price increases.  For all the social justice concerns addressed why wasn’t prevention of regressive energy price increases on disadvantaged communities a priority.  The poor will be hit hardest by any energy price increase and there was nary a peep of concern.  There should have been a push to provide the energy poverty metric determined by census tract so that any disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities could be tracked and addressed.

Conclusion

The affordability issue is a prime example of the Hochul Administration’s failure to address any issues raised that are inconsistent with their narrative.  In this case the narrative is that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of action and that cost impacts to will be small and manageable.  This flies in the face of the results at all other jurisdictions that have tried to implement something similar. 

I am disappointed that my comments on affordability did not rise to the level of a theme whereby they warranted a mention in the Agency Staff presentation on public comments received.  More concerning is that the concerns of the Climate Action Council members were given short shrift.  Shepson and Salter almost got to the core issue that there are “what if” questions related to the 6% PSC policy but in the rush to meet the deadline they got an answer that was not responsive.  The Stafff answer does not address how to quantify reliability vis-à-vis the PSC policy and does not necessarily address the on-going problem of energy affordability.