CUOMO ON A GREENER PATH?

Stuart Anderson                                                       May 3, 2016

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra

Franklin pastoral

Western slope of the Catskills, without pipelines

Photo courtesy of Cindy Beach, Franklin NY

Some wonderful developments happened since my last post.  Kinder Morgan decided to suspend throwing money at the Northeast Energy Direct project (which planned, among other catastrophes, an enormous compressor station in Franklin, NY).  And then the BIG surprise: the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation issued a notice of denial to the Constitution Pipeline’s application for a Section 401 Water Quality Certification; court challenges are expected soon. Read all about it at Stop The Pipeline.

On the downside, FERC gave the OK for the Dominion compressor station in nearby Montgomery county—old, dirty technology piston-driven compressors raising the pressure on 50 year old pipes buried in the acid soils of Central NY…..what could possibly go wrong?

Whether or not the twin pipeline delays will translate into new policy perspectives in Albany remains to be seen. A broad range of issues in the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative are now in play at the Public Service Commission (PSC), including:

  • subsidies to keep uneconomic nuclear plants operational—There is a standoff between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Entergy Corporation (owners of the Ginna, FitzPatrick, and Indian Point nuclear generation facilities.) Cuomo appears to suffer between conflicted goals.  He sees the leaking Indian Point facility as a direct and immediate threat to the millions of people living in a region hampered by major transportation bottlenecks; fearing a Fukushima event on his watch, he wishes to close Indian Point as quickly as possible.

Indian Point

Indian Point from across the Hudson                     Photo Credit: Daniel Case

But Cuomo has forcefully set out a Clean Energy Standard (CES) which contains goals that will very likely NOT be attainable if any of the nuclear plants shut down any time soon.  Entergy has made it clear to the State that if Indian Point gets shuttered by Albany, they will close their other two plants as well.  Governor Cuomo can kiss Entergy’s backside with a generous subsidy for the next couple of decades (at the least), or kiss his greenhouse gas emissions goals goodbye before the ink has dried….

…OR, he can come up with a THIRD ALTERNATIVE!!  Numerous recent commenters to PSC cases have suggested that some sort of “price on carbon” or “carbon price enhancement” be adopted as a tool for implementing public policies in the energy ecosystem. Of course a carbon tax is far beyond the purview of the PSC and would require legislative action, but ideas in governance, especially unpopular things like taxes, need to get put into circulation somehow. It will be interesting to see if the carbon tax emerges as a topic of general public discourse; it seems unlikely to garner as many proponents as the gas pipelines recently stimulated to action.  Grass roots anti-nuclear backlash could also obscure the carbon tax issue; the anti-nuclear activists know how to get into the press, but a carbon tax has no analogous support base, and so may get less attention.  Only a political leader boldly secure in his position and supremely confident in his abilities could have the audacity to broach the subject to the public. (Yes, Governor, that was a hint, Sir.) If we fail to find such leadership today, our grandchildren, looking out from their upper floor windows in New Venice—formerly known as New York City—will ponder why we did not tax carbon out of the marketplace before it drowned so many cities around the world.

  • energy mandates and surcharges under the Clean Energy Standard (case 15-E-0302)—the Governor’s Clean Energy Standard enabling action is quickly winding its way through the Public Service Commission processes. Restricting the topics for discussion at PSC technical workshops yields remarkable streamlining effects; such restrictions do not, however, allow the public free and open access to a complete airing of the suppressed issues.

 

The CES mandates will bring about a major overhaul of our energy systems between 2017 and 2030. In order to meet the mandates, NYers will have to improve energy efficiency, and increase renewable generation (solar, wind, hydro) by orders of magnitude above our current renewable generating capacity—between now and 2030, to meet our goals, we cannot burn gas any faster than we already are.  All of our new capacity has to be renewable. There are ongoing discussions over who should pay for the mandates, who should be exempt, and whether the mandates or customer affordability will hold trump if/when it comes to one (mandates or affordability) having to be sacrificed in pursuit of the other….this argument will drag on far into the future. The comment period for the CES White Paper closed on April 24; replies to posted comments are due May 13th.  Comments on the Nuclear Support subsidy were due May 2nd.

  • Design arrangements and details are getting fleshed out in the Community Choice Aggregation program; CCA is in some respects a front-runner for the larger-scale microgrid developments envisioned in REV, so I’m very surprised at how under-subscribed this proceeding has been. Only twenty-two people and organizations have become parties thus far, and most are utilities.  Decisions set in CCA may, to some extent, provide precedence for matters of great concern in microgrid discussions of the near future…. Please give CCA some of your attention.

 

Otego Microgrid Ratepayers recently filed the following statements with the PSC:

  1. Comments on ORDER EXPANDING SCOPE OF CES TO INCLUDE NUCLEAR FACILITIES on April 29, 2016 (15-E-0302)
  2. PARTY STATUS REQUEST- in case 15-M-0501 REVISED UTILITY CODES OF CONDUCT on April 6, 2016
  3. LETTER ON FORWARD PRICING – listed in both cases 14-M-0101 and 15-M-0302 on March 23, 2016
  4. Comments on the CES WHITE PAPER— case 15-E-0302 on March 14, 2016

 

Coming up soon:

  1. The PSC will hold a series of Public Statement Hearings on CES across the State starting on Tuesday, May 10th in Binghamton—see here for times and dates at 9 other locations.
  2. Microgrid Knowledge Conference, New York City, May 19, 2016 (more details at http://microgridknowledge.com/microgrid-conference-series/new-york-and-beyond-2016-agenda/ (this is not an endorsement; the conference is privately organized with some cooperation by NYSERDA)

 

Thanks! to the New Franklin Register for publishing an article on microgrids on page 9 in their spring edition:

NFR

Download a PDF copy of the New Franklin Register Issue #28 (6 MB)

Issue #28, Vol. X No. 1, Spring 2016

 

 

CAN NY ENERGY POLICY BE FIXED?

 

The inclusion of fracked gas as a “clean” energy resource in the State Energy Plan effectively negates any possibility of actually achieving our objectives.  To make any progress towards our goals, we need to burn less fossil fuels, not more; we need to put all of our resources into expanding the use of renewables, not subsidizing a Distributed gas-fired Generation scheme; we need massive investment in offshore wind, to provide renewable energy to the New York metropolitan area.  As long as fracked gas is allowed to compete with renewables, logical investors will put their money on gas. A carbon tax could level the playing field.

 

Climate change is bearing down on us, and we need to declare fracked gas “not clean” and restore feasibility to our renewable energy future. We need to make fracked gas bear its full costs to society and our environment—expand the reach of the RGGI permit system to ALL gas energy applications, and more aggressively reduce the numbers of permits available at auction. Price gas out of our energy ecosystem.

 

Getting gas out of our energy future will be costly, but not as expensive as failing to meet our environmental objectives. We need a sane energy policy.

 

This document is available online with live hyperlinks at:

http://www.pleasefixrev.wordpress.com

 

Speak truth to power. Your silence is consent.

Governor Andrew Cuomo: http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact

518-474-8390

877-235-9537

Basil Seggos, Commissioner of NYDEC: basil.seggos@dec.ny.gov

Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy & Finance: info@nyserda.ny.gov

Kathleen Burgess, Secretary to the Public Service Commission: secretary@dps.ny.gov

 

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NY Energy Policy: A Renewable Energy Future?

Wordcloud2

A word cloud of the NYS 2015 State Energy Plan….  Can you find “wind” or “renewable”?

Updated March 8, 2016

A crib sheet on the current status of selected energy policy issues in the State of New York

Fracking: high volume hydraulic fracturing to stimulate gas release from tight shales in New York is currently banned; fracking with smaller water volumes (under 300,000 gallons per well) or with unconventional fluids (such as gelled propane) is not affected by the ban; importation of fracked gas from other states is not prohibited, nor are the environmental impacts of fracking in those states recognized in any New York State policies

SEP (State Energy Plan): lays out the targets for State energy policy makers; emphasizes the importance of “clean” energy, but ignores scientific research and includes fracked gas as a “clean” resource

REV (Reforming the Energy Vision): an ambitious effort by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to restructure the state’s electricity delivery and marketing system; places great emphasis on use of market forces to achieve the plan’s objectives; REV is built on four pillars:

  • Targets for the year 2030: 50% renewable generation, and a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels (no intermediate milestones are set)
  • Revise PSC policies and regulation of electric utilities and suppliers
  • Use incentives and financial support for clean energy policies (including gas)
  • As a major energy consumer, the State should lead by example

REV is parent to a flock* of initiatives:

*DG (Distributed Generation): to improve the resilience of our electrical delivery system, our reliance on large central generating facilities will be reduced, with new generating capacity developed with smaller units built all across the state; while the rhetoric around DG relates mostly to solar and wind energy sources, there is no restriction on the use of gas-fired generation

*Microgrids: to improve the resilience of our electrical delivery system, the existing regional distribution systems will be broken up into arrays of microgrids, units of load on the scale of a transformer substation; each unit, with its own DG, will be capable of maintaining at least a minimal level of service when disconnected from the main grid; organization of each microgrid will be the responsibility of the customers (probably with very substantial support from third parties such as DG vendors); if customers fail to self-organize, the regional utility will organize each orphan microgrid, and supervise selection and operation of DG capacity (renewable or gas-fired)

*CEF (Clean Energy Fund): $5.3 billion over ten years supporting market development, NY-SUN, and NYGB, in pursuit of four objectives:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions reductions
  • Electric customer bill savings
  • Increased energy efficiency and renewable energy generation
  • Increased private sector investment

*NYGB (New York Green Bank): a lending institution to help clean energy projects get financed; a pilot program intended to help conventional lenders (banks) become familiar with lending and risk management practices specific to our emerging energy paradigm

*NY-Sun: expands the use of solar installations across the State by stimulating the marketplace with customer incentives

*CES (Clean Energy Standard): to cost effectively and efficiently achieve the State’s greenhouse gas emissions goal (40% reduction by 2030), the Department of Public Service staff (DPS) is working on a CES draft and will present their recommendations to the PSC by June of 2016; includes proposal to collect funds from ratepayers to subsidize continuation of operations at some of NY’s nuclear generation facilities via a Zero Emissions Credit mechanism

*CCA (Community Choice Aggregation): a program allowing local governments to procure energy supply services (renewable or otherwise) for their residents on an opt-out basis; they may also develop distributed energy resources (renewables or otherwise) and engage in energy planning

 

Gas Infrastructure Projects:  There are currently about 20 gas infrastructure projects** in various phases of planning and construction underway in NYS.  A few are repurposing or even reversals of existing gas pipelines, many are major expansions of right-of-ways and facility installations, and some are planned to access new areas of the state.

**Constitution Pipeline (CP): 124 miles of greenfield construction planned to cross from the fracking zone of northeastern Pennsylvania to Wright, NY just west of Albany; the project is being held up by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which has refused to certify that the plan submitted will adequately protect the water in 270 stream and wetlands crossings. If DEC fails to deny a water quality certification by the end of April, the project will proceed.  Tree cutting is underway on the PA portion of the right of way.

**Northeast Energy Direct (NED): pipeline parallel to CP on the same right of way for most of its route across 4 NY counties, and then continuing east across portions of New Hampshire to Dracut, MA, and from there northward to export terminals in Canada; NED has indicated that a significant portion of its capacity has been contracted for use inside New York State, and they have amended their plans to include additional compressors at some locations, presumably to supply local distribution. (see Distributed Generation and Microgrids under REV, above)

**Spectra Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM): first of three major expansions, AIM includes new pipeline segments, one in W. Roxbury, MA and another a literal stone’s throw from critical equipment at the aging Indian Point nuclear plant. The impact radius of a pipeline rupture at Indian Point has been severely underestimated; a pipeline failure could take down both main and backup power, causing a Fukushima-like core meltdown. AIM also includes replacement of some 26″ pipeline with higher pressure 42″ segments, expansions of compressor stations, a new compressor station, and expanded and new M&R stations and pigging stations. AIM’s new and expanded right-of-ways run through private property, near schools, churches, hospitals, public parks, and homes.. Governor Cuomo has asked FERC to halt construction while risks are evaluated, but work has not stopped.

 

RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative): A cooperative effort by nine northeastern states to operate a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from electric generating facilities larger than 25MW. Generators are required to purchase a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide that they intend to release; upstream emissions such as fugitive methane released during fracking, compression, and distribution of fracked gas, are NOT included in the RGGI accounting protocols.  Emissions permits are sold at auction, and the supply of permits is declining by 2.5% per year. Funds raised by the auctions are supposed to be used to support energy conservation and renewable energy programs, but have in the past been swept into the State’s General Fund to address budget shortfalls; funds directed into the CEF-NY Green Bank may be used in support of fracked gas projects and well as renewables.

 

CAN NY ENERGY POLICY BE FIXED?

The inclusion of fracked gas as a “clean” energy resource in the State Energy Plan effectively negates any possibility of actually achieving our objectives.  To make any progress towards our goals, we need to burn less fossil fuels, not more; we need to put all of our resources into expanding the use of renewables, not subsidizing a Distributed gas-fired Generation scheme; we need massive investment in offshore wind, to provide renewable energy to the New York metropolitan area.  As long as fracked gas is allowed to compete with renewables, logical investors will put their money on gas. A carbon tax could level the playing field.

Climate change is bearing down on us, and we need to declare fracked gas “not clean” and restore feasibility to our renewable energy future. We need to make fracked gas bear its full costs to society and our environment—expand the reach of the RGGI permit system to ALL gas energy applications, and more aggressively reduce the numbers of permits available at auction. Price gas out of our energy ecosystem.

Getting gas out of our energy future will be costly, but not as expensive as failing to meet our environmental objectives. We need a sane energy policy.

This document is available online with live hyperlinks at:

http://www.pleasefixrev.wordpress.com

Speak truth to power. Your silence is consent.

Governor Andrew Cuomo: http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact

518-474-8390

877-235-9537

Basil Seggos, Commissioner of NYDEC: basil.seggos@dec.ny.gov

Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy & Finance: info@nyserda.ny.gov

Kathleen Burgess, Secretary to the Public Service Commission: secretary@dps.ny.gov

 

STOP THE CONSTITUTION PIPELINE

DENY 401WQC PHOTO

WHY THE CONSTITUTION PIPELINE MATTERS NOW

SIMPLE FACTS

124 miles of greenfields—farmlands, forests, trout streams, homesteads—sawed, bulldozed and trenched into a permanent scar on the landscape.

Hundreds of acres of private land forcibly taken by eminent domain for private profits.

Thousands of residents subjected to decades of toxic emissions from compressor stations, and living in permanent jeopardy of explosions.

Tens of thousands of residents in neighboring states directly affected by fracking for gas to fill the pipeline.

Millions of tons of greenhouse gases spewed into the air from burning all that gas, and millions of tons more from fugitive methane emissions along the entire gas system.

 

NYS ENERGY POLICY

                The 2015 Energy Plan appears at first blush to set the State on course towards a sustainable energy future. But buried in the details is one critical fact: according to the State Energy Board, fracked gas is a “clean” energy resource.  Research has clearly shown that fracked gas is at least as damaging to the environment as coal, but the “clean” gas myth is entrenched in all State energy policy initiatives—Reforming the Energy Vision, the Clean Energy Fund, the Green Bank….they all reiterate the “clean” gas lie and provide loopholes big enough to push a fleet of gas-fired generators through.  The Constitution Pipeline will cross five major electrical transmission lines that feed power into the metro NY grid. Constitution (and its co-located sibling, Northeast Energy Direct) will provide the gas to fuel new generators to supply Downstate with “clean” power—“clean” for them, but not clean for Upstate residents.

 

STOPPING THE CONSTITUTION PIPELINE WILL SAVE SEVERAL RURAL COUNTIES FROM BECOMING A SACRIFICE ZONE.

STOPPING THE CONSTITUTION PIPELINE WILL BE THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS MAKING RENEWABLES THE DOMINANT OBJECTIVES IN NYS ENERGY POLICY.

 

NYS ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY

                The Federal Clean Water Act and subsequent court rulings have made it clear that states have the right to enact and enforce water quality standards.  New York State has yet to certify that the plans put forth by Constitution Pipeline will adequately protect the waters of New York—on the contrary, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation told Constitution, years ago, that their plans were not sufficient. Constitution still has not submitted approvable plans.  NYDEC has until late April to deny Constitution’s application; if the DEC fails to issue a denial, the project will go forward

 

IT IS CRITICAL THAT THE DEC DENIES A WATER QUALITY CERTIFCATION FOR THE CONSTITUTION PIPLINE PROJECT BEFORE THE END OF APRIL.

 

YOUR SILENCE IS CONSENT.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD.

Governor Andrew Cuomo: gov.cuomo@chamber.state.ny.us

518-474-8390

877-235-9537

 

Basil Seggos, Commissioner of NYDEC: basil.seggos@dec.ny.gov

 

Learning as we go….

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street  (Doctor Seuss)

Yesterday was my third or fourth time to hit the Concourse in advance of a Cuomo State of the State address.  Two years ago I brought along my friend, an 8 foot by 12 foot caricature of Andy known by those who love him as the Gas Devil.  (This video was shot when the JLCNY and other gassers visited Albany in the Fall of 2012.)  I’ve taken a lot of guff from fractivists who say we won’t get what we want from the Gov if we offend and demonize him; the Gas Devil and I were even disinvited to the State Fair (the same Fair where fractivists dogged him all through his visit)….to which I reply: we won’t get anything we want from the Gov unless we are the lesser of the evils he faces. Of course he needs to know why we are right, but he also needs to know how bad things will go for him if he crosses us.

Anyhow, my report from yesterday on the Concourse:

I arrived 7:50 AM and took up a position at the point where the lobbies of Agency 3 & 4 buildings join onto the Concourse; my objective was to distribute leaflets:

Leaflet

to all the civil servants, particularly Public Service Commission and Department of Public Service employees….they are the frontline grunts actually writing the REV, each one working on his or her own little segment, and nearly all of them oblivious to the big picture and the Big Lie.  I tried to pick out the people obviously on their way to work at desk jobs (there are lots of maintenance people, delivery people, and tourists too) which was easy around 8 AM and nearly impossible by noon.

 

It is rather surreal to just stand in the middle of pedestrian traffic handing out fliers; the rejection rate is around 35%, with common methods being head shakes, hands held flat, “No thanks”, “I’m good” or just totally ignoring my approach. (The best one was, “I’m not a part of that.” I have no idea what she thought I was trying to give her.) I had the quarter-page leaflets stuck together in pads of 50 or so, which was both great (did not have to juggle loose sheets) and troublesome (people come in waves, bunched up off the elevators, so I’d need five or six in rapid succession); eventually I figured out ripping three or four off in advance and holding them like a hand of cards, so I could deal them out quickly….learning as you go.

Only two people, both men in their late 40s or early 50s, handed the flier back and got in my face; the more belligerent one kept going towards Agency 4 then came back after a few steps, returned the slip of paper and said, “You’ve given this to the wrong person. I’m in favor of the Keystone pipeline and I hate desert tortoises.” As he wheeled to walk away, he had a very self-satisfied look on his face; reminded me of D. Trump.

Two other men also engaged me in conversations of 3-5 minutes; one did not believe that natural gas is dirtier than coal, and claimed that there’s still plenty of unfracked gas coming out of the ground so we should still be able to burn that–I countered that if the best thing we can do is stop burning all fossil fuels, then it makes no sense for REV initiatives to be providing funding for gas investments……he had no retort……maybe we got one convert, maybe.

The second debater, obviously a bridger, asked how are we going to deal with intermittency; I acknowledged that it is a significant hurdle, but pouring our resources into gas infrastructure is doing nothing to solve the problem and we should not be funding or even allowing more gas buildout–increasing our addiction is not a solution to our problem; he said he’d look at the website.

About 500 people took the flier. Among them were: Administrative Law Judge Julia Bielawski (runs REV public hearings); PSC Commissioner Sayer; and several other PSC staffers I recognized. Judge Julia walked by again about an hour later and gave a faint smile when I caught her eye….she had the mystified “I know that guy from somewhere” look on her face.

In the creepiest moment of the morning, another PSC staffer (male, about 30) came back 30 minutes or so after taking a flier, with the flier still in his hand and his cell phone peeking over the top; by this point, lots of people had been to their offices and were coming down for coffee, and I was trying to remember who I’d already given fliers to–I was paying more attention to faces.  This guy looked familiar, and I saw the flier still in his hand; just as I looked, the cell phone camera flashed and took my picture–note to James Bond wannabes: turn off flash on camera for surreptitious photography. Somebody really wanted to know who the troublemaker in the lobby was.

Other circus notes: The $15 minimum wage people drowned out nearly all other protestors. The State has figured out how to “manage” large protests by literally herding the protestors in narrow lanes that are largely shielded (literally, with big blue canvas backdrops) from public view, and the protestors were not allowed to take up positions–anyone carrying signs was told to keep walking! As for the outdoor rally, it was COLD and, I’m told, not attended on a scale that fractivists have come to expect; it was very inconveniently located with respect to all the action on the Concourse…….I saw many friends and familiar faces passing my position, but in small groups–we were very fragmented. We need a new strategy next year.

Followup on my previous post:

As of Thursday at 4:30 PM, the previous post had been viewed well over 100 times, so the message is getting out where it needs to go–I purposely did not make the website address available to “friendlies” until this afternoon, as I wanted to see how far it went “inside Albany”; looks like between 50 and 75 of the readers have been in the prime (civil service) audience–not that I don’t love reaching out to the choir, but to win this war, we need to convert more of the beguiled and misled to our cause.

For those itching to know, this blog is the work of Stuart Anderson of Otego, NY. I’m a participant in Concerned Citizens of Otego, Compressor Free Franklin, Stop the Pipeline (Constitution) and StopNED.  I had amazing help from Nicole Dillingham and Keith Schue with the previous post, and editorial assistance from many good friends.

This just in: the NYS Attorney General has filed with the FERC to prevent tree-cutting on the Constitution right-of-way until SEVERAL outstanding issues are settled……….today was a good day for the little blue speck we call home. Now we wait a week to see if the FERC really wants to lock horns with New York, and what measures New York is willing to take to stop Constitution if the FERC sides with the pipeline company.

 

 

Please Fix REV

New York’s Plan to Fight Climate Change Is Flawed

Cuomo and Gore Climate accord

All the hoopla over a clean, green energy future in New York may lead to more fracking (in other states), more methane, and more global warming.

 

New York State made news in December 2014 when the Department of Environmental Conservation announced it would ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas across the entire state.  Environmental activists cheered as looming disaster was averted; but in the year before the ban, as the fracking fight raged on all fronts, the New York State Energy Planning Board was drafting a new State Energy Plan. The State Energy Plan adopted in June 2015 purports to be a roadmap to lead New York to a new energy future. In fact it commits New York to reliance on fracked gas, extracted not in New York (for now) but in neighboring states. With glossy color pages and dreamy green prose, the authors of the Energy Plan conveniently jumble the words “clean energy” with “renewables”. They invite readers to presume that “clean energy” means renewables. The Plan employs the term “clean energy” 110 times in its first 96 pages before it finally slips in the Big Lie: “renewables” such as solar, wind, hydro and tidal energy resources are “clean” and so is natural gas. By sleight of hand, fracked gas is thereby cleansed and the gas industry is given free rein to claim that natural gas is endorsed by the State.

 

Long before the new State Energy Plan was released, the “clean” gas myth propagated by the gas industry was shown to be false.  Cornell University scientists Dr. Robert Howarth and Dr. Anthony Ingraffea presented a groundbreaking paper in 2011, nearly three years before the draft Energy Plan came out, entitled “Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations,” in which they documented substantial greenhouse gas impacts from methane—the main ingredient of natural gas.  They looked back up the pipe, from the burner all the way to the gas well, and added up all of the methane emissions of the entire process of drilling, fracking, extraction, transmission, and distribution.  They found that when all sources of methane emissions are included, natural gas is equal to or worse than coal as a driver of climate change.  The report was covered in the New York Times, so the Energy Board cannot claim to have missed it.

 

Howarth and Ingraffea continued their investigations and in an April 2015 update, they presented further evidence that a sharp reduction of natural gas use is vital to climate stability.  Natural gas was clearly not “clean” in 2011, and the research since then confirms that assertion.  The State Energy Board chose to ignore this research; there was too much to be gained by promulgating a Big Lie.

 

The public is more susceptible to a Big Lie than a small lie. Everyone tells a small lie now and then, and we often know when others are telling us a small lie. But a Big Lie passes for truth, easily, because we have no personal experience with fabricating or detecting colossal untruths, and only with great effort can we accept that others, especially trusted figures, would have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. The Big Lie incorporating methane into New York’s “clean” energy future did not go unnoticed by the environmental community. But “clean” natural gas was funding our Public Radio and Public Television—it had to be true.

 

The Big Lie’s full implications became apparent when the details of yet another State planning initiative called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) came to light. REV calls for restructuring of the electrical generation and supply system in New York State. The current system employs central generating facilities and a cumbersome grid of distribution lines to deliver the electricity to customers. The REV plan centers on creating an interconnected array of microgrids—each microgrid with the generation and/or storage capacity to function independently, but also able to connect to the larger network. Smart-grid technology would manage peak demand periods and optimize the flow of electricity between each microgrid and the larger network. Beguiled by a state-sponsored promotional campaign, the public has been led to believe that the generating facilities at the microgrids will be renewables. However, nothing in the REV plan requires this. In lockstep with its State Energy Plan progenitor, the REV dazzles the public with renewable possibilities while it enables and promotes the expansion of our dependence on natural gas. REV will likely lead to the proliferation of gas-fired generation on many microgrids, just as gas has already attained dominance in today’s centralized generation system.

 

For proponents of renewable energy, the inconvenient truth is that gas competes well in either a centralized or distributed generation environment.  Unlike coal or nuclear power, gas-fired power plants can be big or small, and they can be easily expanded.  They also power up and down quickly, and, unlike renewables, are able to do so independent of the weather or time of day.  Another factor, one that the industry is less likely to brag about publicly, is that smaller facilities can glide through the environmental permitting process quickly, even if the total amount of pollutants from multiple facilities is high.  Facilities with less than 25 Megawatts of generation capacity can also escape compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program among northeastern states.

 

Of course the industry also likes to boast that gas today is cheap. An ideology embedded through the REV proceedings is one of “not picking winners and losers” and letting “market forces” prevail.  So in the absence of incentives that clearly favor renewables over gas, or any restriction on new fossil fuel generators, those forces will ensure that fracked gas wins.

 

Keith Schue is a retired electrical engineer who now volunteers for Otsego 2000, an environmental group located in Cooperstown, NY. At a recent REV public hearing in Binghamton, he spoke about the REV plan’s shortcomings, particularly those relating to the lack of actual progress towards meeting the State’s renewable electrical energy and climate goals:

 

[The] goals clearly identified in the New York State Energy Plan are for New York to obtain fifty percent of its electricity from renewables by the year 2030, and a forty percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that year….What I’ve not seen is a meaningful assessment of how those programs stack up to achieve those numerical goals in the next fifteen years… This year, 2015, was the year when we were supposed to achieve thirty percent renewables, and we haven’t done that. We haven’t come close.

 

Schue reviewed a pie chart with the Administrative Law Judge and the PSC Commissioner conducting the hearing, to illustrate what it would look like for New York to reach its goal of meeting 50% of its electricity needs with renewables by 2030. (The goal is tacked into the State Energy Plan on a single page with no explanation or analysis, seeming almost like an afterthought.) Assuming an optimistic 20% reduction in electricity demand due to efficiency improvements, Schue explained that to meet the State’s 50% goal, New York will need 75,000 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from renewables annually by 2030.  The State currently gets about 32,500 GWh of its yearly electricity needs from renewables; that leaves a gap of 42,500 GWh, which must be built in less than fifteen years.  However, as Schue explained, the combined output of the entire New York Sun solar initiative and the proposed Rockaways offshore wind project (to which the State has not yet committed) will only fill a tiny fraction of that need:

 

We have a long way to go…. One thing that is absolutely certain is that we will not be able to meet our renewable energy goals if the State continues to approve more fossil fueled power plants including gas-fired power plants. That’s just piling more into the wrong side of that pie…. So it is disturbing that REV encourages more use of gas and encourages the development of new gas fired power plants. That’s absolutely self-defeating. The bottom line is that unless REV adopts policies to the contrary, gas ends up winning in the distributed energy platform that’s been proposed…

 

Coal has already been almost completely replaced by gas in New York State. It’s about four percent right now. If gas also replaces nuclear then we’re going to go backwards. …So we’ve got a difficult situation on our hands. What it may mean is that we will probably have to increase the amount of renewables beyond the fifty percent in order to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals. Gas, fracked gas is the problem. The best incentive for renewables is to not approve sources of energy that are not renewables….

 

The only way for REV to succeed is to abandon its support for fracked gas and fracked gas power. Otherwise, REV stands for “REVERSE” and moving backwards on climate change.

 

While the fracking debate has been tabled in New York, the gas infrastructure invasion is accelerating. Two gas pipelines have been proposed to cross the northern Catskill Mountains.  The Constitution Pipeline (CP), which already took hundreds of acres from landowners by eminent domain, awaits only a water quality certification from the NY Department of Environmental Conservation.  The second, in the early stages of review, is the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline. Federal filings reveal commitments to deliver 235,000 Dekatherms of gas to an unnamed power plant developer. A new gas-fired power plant along the CP/NED corridor could offset power lost with the closure of nuclear power plants.  Pumping out millions of tons of additional greenhouse gases annually for each nuclear plant closed would eviscerate New York’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.  If the fugitive emissions of those fracked gas supplies are accounted for, those emissions double.

 

Of course, the proliferation of gas-fired generation could come in the form of a multitude of smaller facilities. Remember that a central theme in the new REV paradigm is Distributed Generation—lots of small generators scattered all across the countryside, small enough to avoid compliance with RGGI, and cheap enough to price-out renewable energy developers. Either way, the immediate environmental costs of powering the profligate energy habits of New York will likely be borne by rural residents.

 

The Big Lie of “clean” natural gas empowers fracking in neighboring states, as well the build-out of natural gas infrastructure and gas-fired compressors and power plants that dump more toxics and climate-killing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  A host of other hazards and harms emanating from the Big Lie will become manifest on varying timescales—already apparent is a profound lack of trust in government by those who understand the Big Lie. For citizens, businessmen, and entrepreneurs hoping to create a renewable energy-based future, the Big Lie directly undermines their efforts.  With its false “clean” status, natural gas will compete, in the NY “Clean Energy Fund” and “Green Bank” companion programs to REV, for the same funds that have been pledged to fight climate change and support renewables—thus the State will be making public investments to support efforts in the wrong direction.

 

As long as the Big Lie remains the crux of the State’s energy paradigm, investors will continue to invest in gas-fired equipment and gas infrastructure. Homeowners will cheerfully install gas-fired water heaters and furnaces, assured by the Big Lie that they are being environmentally responsible. Utilities will install gas turbine generators as the “least cost” and “clean” solution to their energy issues.

 

Even if the Big Lie is finally repudiated and expunged from New York’s energy policy paradigm, its legacy will continue to stalk us.  By continuing to burn gas for another decade or two, we may be providing the final nudge that tips our climatic energy balance beyond a point of no return.  We have no way of knowing for sure where that point is…..350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 400, 450?  In the words of Dr. Ingraffea at Cornell, “This is an experiment that we should not be doing.”  Even warming the atmosphere just a few degrees could trigger massive releases of methane and carbon dioxide currently locked in Arctic permafrost or seabed hydrates. Such releases would dwarf man’s contributions of greenhouse gases and accelerate global warming in a feedback loop that we have no way to stop.

 

As grandparents and parents, as citizens, as fellow travelers on this pale blue speck, what can we do—before it’s too late—to get back to a sustainable course?  For starters, can we up-end the Big Lie? Nicole Dillingham is a retired lawyer and the Board President of Otsego 2000. Nicole thinks that the Big Lie can and must be defeated:

 

The tactics of the gas companies are eerily similar to those of the tobacco industry. First, deny there is risk.  The claim that natural gas is “clean” is as false and deceptive as advertising that cigarettes labeled “low tar” or “light” were less harmful. Such deceptive advertising was found to be in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Lanham Act and state unfair competition laws.

 

The advertising campaigns of the oil and gas industry should be subject to the same legal scrutiny that has been applied to tobacco purveyors. The laws against deceptive advertising forbid inconsistent comparisons. For example, natural gas may be cleaner burning than coal at combustion, but the processes of drilling, fracking, extraction, transmission, compression and delivery, with methane leakage and other harmful emissions at every point, must be clearly disclosed to render the claim that gas is “clean” not misleading. Exxon Mobil was recently subpoenaed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to produce records that it suppressed internal data that confirmed fossil fuel impacts on climate change, even as it funded climate change deniers and publicly denied any connection.

 

Claims that natural gas is the solution to climate change are deeply flawed. Greenwashing, the promotion of environmental benefits which do not in fact exist, plays upon public fear—the power of such marketing to a public alarmed by climate change and eager for a better future is clear. If our public policies are to genuinely promote our health and well-being, the Big Lie must be debunked.

 

Killing the Big Lie does not mean that we have to go back to square one and start over on a renewable energy policy.  If the Big Lie is excised from New York’s REV plan, many of the remaining aspects of REV have the potential to set a new course towards sustainability. If gas is correctly classified as a dirty resource, if the State prohibits funding and incentive programs associated with REV from being used to support gas, and if the State exercises its authority to say “no” to proposals for additional fossil power plants including gas, New York can actually become a leading force in the fight to avoid climate catastrophe.

 

Of course turning away from fracked gas would bring on additional challenges—dealing with intermittency and peak demand and a host of other technical problems—but those challenges will never be effectively addressed if utilities are allowed to fall back on gas as the solution. There are clean alternatives to fossil fuels—conservation, peak-shifting, grid balancing, pumped hydro storage, battery storage (especially as electric cars become more numerous)—solutions that make sense but cannot compete against an industry that externalizes so many of its costs. Instituting a substantial fee on carbon—both carbon dioxide and methane—would be one way of offsetting some of those costs.

 

The gas industry and the utilities have baffled the electorate with anti-science and seduced the governing elite with big money and rhetorical sleight of hand. To meet our energy and environmental goals, the Big Lie must be exposed, and the REV plan must be revised. Promotion of the current Energy Plan and REV is complicity in a lie of infamous proportion. Approval of more gas-fired power plants and other gas infrastructure in New York is conspiracy to subvert public health for private profits.

 

Action on the Constitution pipeline application, any day now, will let New Yorkers know which way Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to go. Will he listen to climate scientists and environmentalists, or will the gas industry prove that New York is just another State that they have bought and paid for?

Speak truth to power. Your silence is consent.

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo: gov.cuomo@chamber.state.ny.us

518-474-8390

877-235-9537

 

Basil Seggos, Commissioner of NYDEC: basil.seggos@dec.ny.gov

Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy & Finance: info@nyserda.ny.gov

Kathleen Burgess, Secretary to the Public Service Commission: secretary@dps.ny.gov

 

 

 

Links:

State Energy Planhttp://energyplan.ny.gov/Plans/2015

 

Howarth & Ingraffea 2011–http://www.acsf.cornell.edu/Assets/ACSF/docs/attachments/Howarth-EtAl-2011.pdf

 

Howarth & Ingraffea 2015–https://youtu.be/sq2ro95DAzQ

 

Reforming the Energy Vision–http://www3.dps.ny.gov/W/PSCWeb.nsf/All/CC4F2EFA3A23551585257DEA007DCFE2?OpenDocument

 

Compressor station emissions–http://www.environmentalhealthproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Compressor-station-emissions-and-health-impacts-02.24.2015.pdf

 

Woods Hole on Thawing Permafrost–http://whrc.org/u-s-scientists-warn-leaders-of-dangers-of-thawing-permafrost/