By Roger Caiazza,
All signs are that Joe Biden is going all in to “address” the climate crisis. I don’t think that many people understand what the climate change advocates really have in mind to reach net-zero goals. New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) has a net-zero by 2050 goal. In the past year New York’s strategies to implement this legislation have started to take shape and offer some clues of what you can expect when these plans come your way.
New York’s CLCPA establishes targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable electricity production, and improving energy efficiency. It was described as the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country when Cuomo signed the legislation. I have summarized the schedule, implementation components, and provide links to the legislation itself at CLCPA Summary Implementation Requirements and have addressed many other aspects of the law at my blog.
When a climate response plan comes to your jurisdiction expect an impressive sounding implementation process. The CLCPA established the New York state Climate Action Council (CAC) which is supposed to develop a scoping plan “outlining the recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits” for the reduction of emissions beyond eighty-five percent, net zero emissions in all sectors of the economy. In order to “provide recommendations to the council on specific topics, in its preparation of the scoping plan, and interim updates to the scoping plan, and in fulfilling the council’s ongoing duties”, the CAC (§ 75-0103, 7) “shall convene advisory panels requiring special expertise and, at a minimum, shall establish advisory panels on transportation, energy intensive and trade-exposed industries, land-use and local government, energy efficiency and housing, power generation, and agriculture and forestry”.
What we got were appointees chosen for who they know rather than what they know. The CAC itself consists of 22 members: twelve agency heads, two non-agency expert members appointed by the Governor, six members appointed by the majority leaders of the Senate and Assembly, and two members appointed by the minority members of the Senate and Assembly. Because there is a majority of Governor-appointed members all the decisions will ultimately be made by the Governor’s staff which means that political expediency will guide the decisions.
New York’s advisory panel members are supposed to provide technical support to the CAC: “such membership shall at all times represent individuals with direct involvement or expertise in matters to be addressed by the advisory panels”. However, this mandate was brushed aside. Background experience and relevant education were not core competencies for the panel members. The social justice concerns of many, including the most vocal, on the panels are more important than affordable and reliable power. For example the power generation advisory panel has 14 non-state agency members: three members work for generating companies, two renewable and one fossil oriented; one member is from the New York Independent System Operator, the state’s grid operating company; one member is a consultant for energy and sustainability issues; one is from a ratepayer advocacy organization and the remaining seven members are from advocacy organizations representing renewable technologies, environmental advocacy, or trade unions. The Risk Monger described them best as: “millennial militants preaching purpose from the policy pulpit, listening to a closed group of activists and virtue signaling sustainability ideologues in narrowly restricted consultation channels”.
What they say vs. what you will get
Despite the rationale that climate change is an existential threat, don’t expect that the net-zero plan will focus exclusively on addressing that issue. New York’s climate leadership is coupled with community protection. In this case community protection is directed at “disadvantaged communities, which bear environmental and socioeconomic burdens as well as legacies of racial and ethnic discrimination”. The law states that “State agencies, authorities and entities, in consultation with the environmental justice working group and the climate action council, shall, to the extent practicable, invest or direct available and relevant programmatic resources in a manner designed to achieve a goal for disadvantaged communities to receive forty percent of overall benefits of spending on clean energy and energy efficiency programs, projects or investments in the areas of housing, workforce development, pollution reduction, low income energy assistance, energy, transportation and economic development”. To break that down: two groups of motivated advocates will stand over the shoulders of decision makers to ensure that they get their share of the pie. I personally doubt that cost reduction efficiency will be a consideration when investments are made in any climate plan because of conditions like this.
In addition, the “climate crisis” will be used as justification for other actions. For example, because New York’s existing permitting process was holding up wind and solar development another law was rammed through at the height of the COVID-19 uncertainty crisis last April by Governor Cuomo. The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act sets up a permitting process that will over-ride home rule, streamlines review giving a short-shrift to meaningful analysis of environmental impacts, and includes “benefits” that in other venues would be labeled as payola. The ultimate problem is that New York’s headlong rush to a future powered by renewables does not consider the possibility that the consequences of the implementation plan may be greater than the purported effects of climate change.
There will be promises that the implementation plan process will be open and transparent. The New York Climate Act web site includes links to the advisory panels, the Climate Action Council, Climate Justice Working Group, resources and events. Among the materials included are meeting presentations and meeting notes but links for submitting comments are buried and there is no way to see public comments. Public comments are put on a share point site but not summarized for panel members so they may not be aware of the contents. I do not consider this process open and transport.
Implementation will include workshops to educate participants like New York’s deep decarbonization workshop referenced at the Climate Act events link. Rather than providing the Council and advisory panel members with background information that could be used to help inform the implementation process, five speakers talked about their particular interests which, while related to the task at hand, were not framed to address the New York situation. As a result, the decarbonization workshop misled those people that there were readily available solutions to any problems. Nothing in the workshop suggested that the technologies described may not be readily available proven technologies capable of replacing fossil fuels, much less the fact that nothing described could completely solve the multi-day winter doldrum period when renewable energy resources are essentially zero.
Those periods of very low renewable energy resources are the biggest implementation problem for any decarbonization program. Two studies in New York have described this problem. Both have a generic energy supply category, one called firm, zero-emissions resources and the other dispatchable & zero-emissions resources, that is a marker for some unspecified but essential energy resource. The potential resources that fit those criteria boil down to magical thinking. Unfortunately, there is no indication that New York’s Climate Action Council or the advisory panels understand the enormity of the challenge addressing this problem much less have offered plans to address it. Instead expect that there will be fuzzy, feel good slogans as a response. For example, in response to questions about reliability: “we can manage reliability and retire fossil fuel generation. This should be our North Star” and “We have a lot of good technology now that just needs policies to help them scale. There is no reason to be pessimistic and we have a history to make us optimistic.” All of these plans provide no hard evidence for their plans just slogans and promises. Of course, if it doesn’t work out and electric supply is no longer reliable, the proponents will not be accountable for the failures.
Ultimately the problem is that the New York’s CLCPA and Biden’s initiatives embody the idea that political will is all that is necessary to implement policies to meet stringent greenhouse gas reduction targets. I believe all of the people advocating these policies accept that without question. Explaining that there is no evidence to suggest that is true, that they are not considering all the aspects of the technological challenges and that the costs will be enormous in any event all have no chance of changing the advocates minds. However, when the affordability and reliability costs start to hit home, I will be shocked if there is not enormous pushback.
Roger has written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA and other New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. He has described the CLCPA in general, evaluated its feasibility, estimated costs, described supporting regulations, listed the scoping plan strategies, summarized some of the meetings and complained that its advocates constantly confuse weather and climate. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.