By Roger Caiazza
I lived most of my life as a New York State resident. Most of the time I have been proud of that fact albeit always carefully mentioning that I am not from New York City and thus not one of them. However, with the imminent passage of the Climate and Community Protection Act I am now embarrassed to admit that I live in a state with such a shallow understanding of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and the energy system.
Consider just one aspect of the legislation: the greenhouse gas emission limits. The “Statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit as a percentage of 1990 emissions, as estimated pursuant to section 75-0105 of this article, as follows: a. 2030: 60% of 1990 emissions and b. 2050: 15% of 1990 emissions.” How any politician could vote in favor of this is beyond me because just looking at the numbers reveals how ambitious and likely impossible to meet these limits are.
The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority did an inventory of New York State greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2015. Table S-2 from that document lists the emissions. The 1990 total is 238 MMtCO2e and in 2015 the total was down to 218 a reduction of 20 MMtCO2e in 25 years. The obvious problem to any who has any energy numeracy at all is that the 2030 goal is 143 MMtCO2, a reduction of 75 MMtCO2e from the 2015 emissions.
The authors of the bill bragged about New York’s climate leadership:
By exercising a global leadership role on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation, New York will position its economy, technology centers, financial institutions, and businesses to benefit from national and international efforts to address climate change.
New York State has already demonstrated leadership in this area by undertaking efforts such as:
a. executive order no. 24 (2009), establishing a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by the year 2050, creating a climate action council, and calling for preparation of a climate action plan;
b. chapter 433 of the laws of 2009, establishing a state energy planning board and requiring the board to adopt a state energy plan;
c. chapter 388 of the laws of 2011, directing the department of environmental conservation to promulgate rules and regulations limiting emissions of carbon dioxide by newly constructed major generating facilities;
d. the adoption of a state energy plan establishing clean energy goals for the year 2030 aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emission levels by 40% from 1990 levels, producing 70% of electricity from renewable sources, increasing energy efficiency from 2012 levels by 23% and the additional expressed goal of reducing 100% of the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2040;
e. collaboration with other states on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and the development of a regional low carbon fuel standard;
f. creation of new offices and task forces to address climate change, including the New York state office of climate change, the renewable energy task force, and the sea level rise task force; and g. the enactment of the Community Risk and Resiliency Act (CRRA), which requires agencies to consider sea level rise and other climate-related events when implementing certain state programs.
This legislation will build upon these past developments by creating a comprehensive regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that corresponds with the targets established in executive order no. 24, the state energy plan, and USGCRP and IPCC projections.
However, a cursory examination of the results is less flattering. For example, the sector with the greatest reduction is electricity generation (34 MMtCO2e). A portion of that is simply due to generating station turnover in the 25 years from 1990. I have calculated reductions due to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the biggest driver of reductions was the decreased price of natural gas due to the fracking revolution that made coal uneconomic. There is a range of CO2 emissions with and without RGGI based on assumptions and methodology. The upper bound is an econometric model that estimates that emissions would have been 24 percent higher without the program. RGGI estimates that emissions would have been 17% higher than without a program. If you assume that all the savings in fossil fuel use only displaced natural gas use then emissions would have been only 5% higher. The bottom line is that the biggest reduction of CO2 emissions was in the electricity generation sector and that was caused by fracking. This technology has been banned in New York State.
If you go down the rows in the table it is not clear where further reductions are going to come from, especially given the fact that the reductions are supposed to be implemented by 2030. Consider the transportation sector. There are approximately 8 million automobiles in the state. If electric vehicles are used to reduce sector emissions 20%, half of the 2030 goal, you are talking about over a million cars. Energy problems in New York State are usually driven by New York City. In this case you will need to have hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in a city where many car owners park on the street. Just the logistics of chargers on the street is a big deal. The fact is that quantitative examination of every aspect of this law shows it is more complicated than first glance.
The legislation requires a final scoping plan due 30 months after the effective date of the legislation. The scoping plan “shall identify and make recommendations on regulatory measures and other state actions that will ensure the attainment of the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits”. In other words this legislation merely assumes that this can be done. Clearly, this legislation inappropriately puts the cart before the horse committing the state to an ambitious goal that may be technically and economically difficult to achieve
Incredibly the final version of the law is an improvement over the original draft. The final version at least added a provision that “may temporarily suspend or modify the obligations under such program provided that the commission, after conducting a hearing as provided in section twenty of this chapter, makes a finding that the program impedes the provision of safe and adequate electric service; the program is likely to impair existing obligations and agreements; and/or that there is a significant increase in arrears or service disconnections that the commission determines is related to the program”. I cannot imagine any scenario where these conditions will require modifications to the limits and schedule but they got this far without any unbiased fact checking so you never know.
|Table S-2 New York State GHG Emissions 1990–2015 (MMtCO2e) with 2030 and 2050 Climate and Community Protection Act GHG Emissions Goals|