Climate Action Council Tells Upstate NYers to Just Drop Dead
Roger Caiazza (on the subject of)
Independent Researcher and Publisher,
Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York
[Editor’s Note: Kathy Hochul’s Climate Action Council, on the eve of the worst cold disaster Upstate has experienced in years, proposes diving into the empty green energy pool, effectively telling Upstaters to just drop dead.]
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.
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 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.
(2010 video showing Robert Howarth’s biases, note “Drilling Is Not Safe” button)
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.
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 statementoverview 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.
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.
Roger Caiazza blogs on New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.
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