In order to meet the net-zero goal of the Climate Act, risky emission reduction strategies from all sectors will be required and personal choices limited. All residences will have to be completely electrified despite the difficulties heating with electricity in New York’s climate with the current housing stock. In the transportation sector electric vehicles will be required and zoning changes to discourage the use of personal vehicles implemented.
Over the 2022 Christmas weekend the Buffalo Blizzard of 2022 struck and thousands of people lost power; emergency and utility crews could barely get through buried cars and snow banks; and at least 27 people in Western New York (WNY) died. What will happen when everything is electrified and another similar storm inevitably occurs? Clearly the impacts will be far worse. The natural gas system that provides energy to most of residents of WNY through an underground system resilient to extreme weather will be replaced by an electric system that failed for many during the storm. Electric vehicles that have far less potential for heating when stuck in the storm will lose heating capability and more people will die.
The Climate Act mandates reductions of greenhouse gases from all sectors of the economy and the scoping plan describes strategies that are necessary to meet those targets. This background page summarizes risky strategies and others that will affect personal choice. The risky strategies could be a nuisance, dangerous, or lead to catastrophic problems when the system cannot adequately handle typical weather events. In addition, there is the potential that a hurricane or ice storm could cripple renewable resources for an extended period which would lead to an even more catastrophic situation. In order to reduce emissions from the transportation sector wholesale electrification of vehicles is necessary but mandates for “enhancement and expansion” of public transit to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled will also be required. In theory, offering better options for public transit could reduce personal vehicle emissions but in practice it reduces personal mobility options. Any limits on vehicle miles traveled will penalize anyone in rural areas who has no other options.
Nuisance Strategy – Electric Vehicles
In order to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, the Climate Act proposes to electrify transportation. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation on September 8, 2021 that effectively bans the sale of new internal combustion engine cars, off-road vehicles, light-duty trucks and equipment by 2035. In addition, the Governor directed the Department of Environmental Conservation to release a proposed regulation that would significantly reduce air pollution from trucks. Despite all the support for electric vehicles, the obvious point is that they work well for limited applications but they have limitations relative to gas powered cars. For example, the requirements for charging infrastructure are a real hurdle in New York City where most people do not have a garage or personal parking spot.
For example, in my personal situation an electric vehicle would work well most of the time but several times a year we use both of our cars for trips that are long enough that we would have to significantly increase our travel time for a stop to re-charge. Furthermore, those trips include a visit to New York City to see family from our home in Syracuse. That would require finding a place to charge on the street there which I see as problematic. However, for my personal situation this is a nuisance strategy because there are options to driving a personal car to New York City that while inconvenient are at least feasible. I conclude that if there are better options available to the “solution” then the strategy can be considered a nuisance.
Regrettably the Climate Act pursuit of zero emissions dismisses plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). This technology offers significant advantages:
- No range anxiety.
- Reduced use of gasoline with best economic balance between gasoline and electricity.
- No need to install expensive charging equipment in the garage.
- No need to waste time, e.g. 30 minutes, recharging a BEV.
- Better local air quality than internal combustion engines, with fewer local emissions of particulates etc. More importantly, it is more likely that hybrid technology can be used with heavy duty trucks much sooner than battery trucks providing those benefits sooner.
- PHEVs use smaller Li-ion batterie than BEVs (15 kWh vs 75 kWh) with less use of critical materials and minimum reliance on China.
Dangerous Strategy – Electric Heating
One of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions is from residential heating and the proposed strategy is to electrify using energy efficient heat pumps. There are two types of heat pumps: air-source and ground-source. Both work using the principle of a refrigerator. Instead of creating heat the heat pumps transfer it. A refrigerator extracts heat inside and transfers it outside. Air source heat pumps extract heat from the air and move it inside and a ground source heat pump extracts heat from the ground. Because a ground source heat pump requires drilling in a suitable location to extract the heat, the more likely retrofit solution is air source heat pumps.
The descriptions of the heat pump programs from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority heat program are materials disseminated by the advocates of a doctrine or cause, also known as propaganda. In many cases they do not acknowledge that backup heating systems are required in New York because there are periods in the winter when the temperatures are so low that there is insufficient energy to transfer to keep the house warm when using an air source heat pump unless the house is as well insulated and free from air infiltration as a refrigerator. Because it is just not feasible to get an existing home to that level there are problems that must be resolved to protect residents on the coldest days of the year.
The electric back-up solution is a resistance heater but that creates a series of problems. In the first place is the question of just how many and how large do they have to be to provide adequate backup heat to supplement the heat pump system on the coldest day of the year. Those heaters are not energy efficient and will require markedly more energy so the house service may have to be upgraded. When all the homes in neighborhood are all electric the distribution electric system may have to be upgraded. Finally, as I will show in the following section, the electric generation system itself has to be designed to provide enough energy. If any of these components of the electric system fail, then home heating on the days it is needed most will fail to provide sufficient heat and that could be dangerous.
I submitted Draft Scoping Plan comments on some of these issues. Unfortunately, the Climate Action Council did not address implementation issues questions that I raised. What criteria will be used to determine who would get stuck with the added expense for premature retirements? Shouldn’t the affected owners get an additional subsidy to cover their costs? Do those issues make this infeasible? In 2023 the State will propose implementing regulations. I encourage all New Yorkers to get involved and demand answers from your elected officials and State regulators for the reliability, affordability, and environmental impact questions that the Scoping Plan did not answer.