REV and the Cuomo Administration

One of my biggest concerns about Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is that the Cuomo Administration is so invested in it that they consider any criticism as heresy and respond accordingly. As evidence consider the Richard Kaufmann letter to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) regarding the NYISO Comments on Clean Energy Standard July 2016.

Richard Kaufman is Governor Cuomo’s energy czar. According to his New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) biography: “Mr. Kauffman oversees and manages New York State’s entire energy portfolio, including the New York State Department of Public Service, the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.” He also “leads” the REV initiative. While his work history includes impressive positions at the U.S. Department of Energy and big businesses, his education (Bachelor’s degree in African History from Stanford University, a master’s degree in international relations from Yale University, and a master’s degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management.) does not include any background in science and technology.

The Kaufmann letter to NYISO July 2016 states that the filing “reveals an alarming lack of developed analysis and understanding of the imperative to address climate change by transitioning to a clean electric system, and how a modern grid can be developed and operated.” He goes on to chastise the NYISO because they don’t understand that their “paradigm of analysis is outdated”.

So what did the “engineers, operators, analysts, economists, and technologists” of the independent source of “factual information to policymakers, stakeholders, and investors in the power system” at the NYISO say to earn this response? They dared to suggest that adding the amount of solar panels and wind turbines to the grid needed to achieve the Clean Energy Standard could overload the transmission system. They also explained that meeting the goal would require the state to dramatically increase the amount of reserve capacity it sets aside.   Even though NYISO was careful to point out that it supports Cuomo’s vision, they said New York would have to add a large amount of new transmission lines and would have to study more how to manage the added renewable electricity generation, which is naturally intermittent, that would be added to the grid. Ultimately they estimated that the Clean Energy Study could require “nearly 1,000 miles of new bulk power transmission.”

Clearly, Kaufmann has no technical background for his criticism of the NYISO. So he must rely on the staff of the Department of the Public Service whose mission is to “ensure affordable, safe, secure, and reliable access to electric, gas, steam, telecommunications, and water services for New York State’s residential and business consumers, while protecting the natural environment.” Unfortunately, Cuomo has refashioned the Public Service Commission “into an organ of executive power in ways that critics find unprecedented and potentially troubling”. In particular, Cuomo has filled the Commission mostly with allies who rarely if ever defy his wishes on energy policy and I believe that attitude has filtered down to the agency staff. Any staff professional in the DPS, or for that matter any agency in Albany, who has doubts about any aspect of Cuomo’s energy plans need only look at the response of Kaufmann to a well-qualified independent organization and decide that discretion is a better career path than to object to the language in the letter.

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