by Jamie Van Nostrand

On November 9, the New York State Climate Action Council issued its Interim Report.  The climate action planning process in New York was commenced by Governor Paterson’s Executive Order No. 24, issued in August 2009, which calls for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.  The work of the Climate Action Council is supported by five technical work groups, or TWGs, four of which focus on “mitigation” – ways to reduce GHG emissions and one focusing on “adaptation” – measures that will safeguard public health, the environment, and the State’s infrastructure from expected climatic changes.

Pace Law School is actively involved in this process.  The Energy and Climate Center is participating on two TWGS – I will be working on the Power Supply and Delivery TWG, and Jackson Morris on the Residential, Commercial and Industrial TWG.  In addition, John Nolon of the Land Use Law Center is participating on the Land Use and Transportation TWG, and is also a member of the Integration Advisory Panel.

The Power Supply and Delivery TWG was charged with addressing the generation resources to be deployed, and the necessary improvements to the transmission and distribution system, to achieve the “80 by 50” goal.  Given that GHG emissions cannot entirely be eliminated in the transportation sector, the TWG proceeded under the assumption that close to 100 percent of New York’s electricity will need to come from low-carbon sources – sources with near zero carbon emissions – by 2050.  The good news is that New York State starts off with a relatively “clean” power supply.  Between 1990 and 2008, the portion of generation supply represented by coal and oil-fired generation has declined from 42% to 14%.  With this “greening” of New York’s electricity supply over this period, GHG emissions declined by 16.2%, even though the level of overall generation increased by 17.5%.  So as of 2008, New York starts off with about 50% of its power supply from carbon-free sources, including nuclear, hydroelectric and other renewable power.  This figure should increase to 60% by 2015, if the 30 by 15 renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is achieved.

The challenge of the Power Supply and Delivery TWG was to consider scenarios for getting the rest of the way to 100% carbon-free by 2050.  This challenge is compounded by the need to phase out the use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels in the transportation and buildings sector, the effect of which is to put substantially more load on the electric grid.  Electrification of the transportation system and phasing out the use of natural gas and fuel oil for heating homes and buildings will place additional demands on the electric load.  So New York State is not looking at a “business as usual” growth in electric demand, but rather placing substantial new loads on the electric grid.

The Power Supply and Delivery TWG identified three policies that would be responsible for most of the emissions reduction from the electricity sector:

(1)    In the short term, extension and expansion of the State’s RPS.  One option is to substantially expand (more than double) the amount of electricity that is supplied by new renewable energy by 2030.

(2)    Implementation of a low-carbon portfolio standard, which would operate similarly to the RPS in terms of creating a procurement requirement geared toward low-carbon fuels rather than 100% renewable fuels.  Regulated utilities and load-serving entities would be required to procure an increasing amount of low-carbon energy (renewables, nuclear, fossil energy with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)).  This policy would initially supplement the RPS and, after 2030, would potentially supplant the RPS if CCS and new nuclear become more commercially viable.  The advantage of this low-carbon portfolio standard approach is that it is fuel neutral (i.e., no preference for renewables versus nuclear versus fossil fuel with CCS). Rather, the procurement obligation is created, and utilities and load-serving entities will be expected to procure the low-carbon supply in the most cost-effective manner.  Whether nuclear and fossil fuel with CCS play a large role in this strategy will depend on whether CCS becomes commercially available and nuclear becomes cost-effective in comparison to other fuel sources.

(3)    Build upon and strengthen the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which currently requires a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions from the generation sector between 2014 and 2018.  A review of the RGGI program is currently underway; as a result of this review, RGGI could be expanded into a multi-sector cap-and-invest program that caps and reduces carbon region wide and sets a meaningful price on carbon emissions, with the proceeds invested to build a clean energy economy in New York.
Other elements of the TWG recommendations include (a) a new fuel-neutral siting process; (b) a GHG emission standard for new plants set a level of modern, efficient natural gas-fired plants, (c) a requirement that existing plants meet comparable emissions standards after 2030, (d) upgrades (including smart grid technologies) to electricity distribution system to enable distributed generation and electric vehicles, (e) modernization of the transmission network to reduce line losses, (f) encouraging deployment of energy storage technologies, and (g) continued investment in research ,development, demonstration and deployment of new technologies to achieve transition to low-carbon power sector.