Citizens Guide Climate Act Overview

The actual name of the Climate Act is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It was signed on July 18, 2019 and 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 former Governor Cuomo signed the legislation. 

The official New York State Climate Act website provides overview information; describes the advisory panels, New York Climate Action Council, and Climate Justice Working Group; and provides links to events and resources.  I have put together a page that lists summaries of the Climate Act for further information.  The following figure extracted from the New York’s Nation Leading Targets table rearranges the targets by date.  The targets themselves were chosen to fit with political agendas not developed based on any technological or cost feasibilities. 

Climate Act Implementation

The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  Starting in the fall of 2020 seven advisory panels developed recommended strategies to meet the targets that were presented to the Climate Action Council in the spring of 2021.  Both the Council and the advisory panels are composed of political appointees chosen more for their direct involvement in the energy and climate agenda than their expertise in the energy sector so the strategies proposed were more aspirational than practical. 

Developing a plan to transform the energy sector of the State of New York is an enormous challenge so the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants are providing technical support to translate the recommended strategies into specific policy options in an integration analysis.  An overview of the results of this integration analysis were presented to the Climate Action Council at the two October meetings and has since been updated.  In mid-November documentation consisting of a set of slides was made available for the analysis but the lack of supporting documentation makes interpretation of the slides difficult.

The integration analysis models the complete New York energy sector.  The modeling includes a reference case that projects how the economy and energy sector will evolve out to 2050 in the absence of any Climate Act policies or mandates.  The following slide from the first integration analysis presentation lists the four mitigation scenarios that were developed to compare with the reference case.  The first simply developed energy strategies that implemented the advisory panel recommendations but the results showed that even more stringent policies were needed because the 2030 targets were not met.  The second mitigation scenario meets the 2030 targets by using low-carbon fuels to meet the critical need for dispatchable resources to keep the lights on.  The third scenario placates the members of the Climate Action Council that naively demanded that no combustion is necessary despite the lack of a proven technology that can keep the lights on in the worst-case scenarios.  Because some members of the Climate Action Council don’t appreciate the technological hurdles and risks to reliability of the transition to zero-emissions using renewable energy and have no personal accountability for recommending policies that put New York at risk of catastrophic blackouts, there is a fourth mitigation scenario that looks at options for eliminating combustion as much as possible as soon as possible.

2030 Target Feasibility

There are four targets with implementation dates on or before 2030.  Given that implementation is less than ten years away it is appropriate to look at the feasibility of the emission reduction and the 70% of electricity by renewable energy targets.  One disquieting aspect of the Climate Act are the number of provisions that were driven by the ideology of the authors rather than a genuine desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, the definition of acceptable energy sources changes between 2030 and 2040.  In 2030 nuclear energy is not counted towards the 70% goal but in 2040 it does count towards the carbon-free electricity goal.  New York’s irrational behavior towards nuclear energy, in particular shutting down 2,000 MW of zero-emissions dispatchable energy from Indian Point in the face of the “existential threat” of climate change, is the only possible reason for the difference.

With respect to the 70% of electricity by renewable energy target, the integration analysis claims that the targets can be met.  However, my analysis suggests that the feasibility approach in the analyses over-emphasizes annual energy to load comparison and under-emphasizes the critical reliability issue identified: a multi-day period in the winter when wind and solar resource availability is low but the load requirements for universal electrified heating and transportation are high and must be met to ensure the safety and health of New York residents.  The New York Independent System Operator and the New York State Reliability Council are responsible for electric system reliability and the integration analysis does not incorporate their latest reliability criteria.

Particularly problematic are the implementation dates.  The practical reality is that time constraints on permitting, procurement, construction and development of supporting infrastructure will most likely delay implementation of the ambitious proposed resource development.  Further compounding the viability of the proposed resources is the need for ancillary grid transmission services.  When all these factors are considered, I believe that it will be impossible to meet the 2030 target without endangering reliability.