Hawkins Comments on NYS Energy Plan: Wrong Goal and Not a Real Plan

Comments by Howie Hawkins at the Public Hearing held by the New York State Energy Planning Board regarding its draft 2014 NYS Energy Plan at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse on Thursday, March 7, 2014. Hawkins was the 2010 Green Party candidate for NYS Governor in 2010 and is seeking the Green Party's nomination for Governor again in 2014.

Carbon Reduction Goal: Carbon Free by 2030

The carbon emission reductions goal of the draft Energy Plan is far too little and too late. The draft Energy Plan affirms Governor Paterson's 2009 Executive Order 24 committing New York to the consensus goal of the International Panel on Climate Change at that time of an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 below 1990 levels. Even at that time, and reaffirmed by more recent scientific studies, this goal was insufficient to stay below the 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures that is seen as a tipping point where an irreversible acceleration of global warming would be triggered by the release of carbon and methane now sequestered under the frozen polar zones of the planet.

Climate scientists now say the industrially developed areas of the world like New York must cut emissions by between 6 percent (James Hansen et al)1 and 10 percent per year (Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows)2. If New York State is to do its part in averting catastrophic climate change, it must commit to a goal of achieving a zero-carbon energy system, or better a negative carbon energy system (by sequestering in soils the carbon residues of biofuels), in between 10 years (at 10 percent reduction per year) and 17 years (at 6 percent reduction per year).

Fortunately, we have a recent study that demonstrates the technological and economic feasibility of converting to New York State's all-purpose energy system to 100% carbon-free energy in 17 years (Mark Jacobson et al).3 This goal and this plan should be the starting point for a NYS Energy Plan.

The economic impact of building a carbon-free energy system in New York State would be enormous and create millions of good paying jobs. The study by Jacobson and colleagues projects $600 billion in investments over 17 years, yielding 4.5 million construction jobs and 58,000 permanent jobs with payrolls of $314 billion ($18.5 billion per year) in wages and salaries during 17-year building phase and $5 billion per year for ongoing operations and maintenance. 

We Need a Plan, Not Forecasts 

The draft Energy Plan is not really a plan. It is more a compendium of general recommendations that adapt to forecasts that extrapolate from current trends. We need a real plan that charts the future we want, not a passive adaptation to current trends. The plan should have specific targets with timelines for them in every sector: electric power generation, transportation, heating and cooling buildings, agriculture and forestry, and industrial processes.

Natural Gas Is Not Clean

The draft Energy Plan assumes a big role for natural gas. It commits New York to additional natural gas pipelines, the conversion from oil to gas for heating, and an increase through public subsidies in vehicles powered by compressed or liquified natural gas. Such investments would lock New York into decades more dependence on a carbon- and methane-emitting fossil fuel that may even be worse in greenhouse gas emissions and global warming impact than coal and oil when extraction-to-combustion  emissions and methane leakages from natural gas infrastructure are accounted for  (as research by Robert Howarth, Anthony Infraffea, and colleagues at Cornell has suggested).4 Such a heavy reliance on natural gas would require gas from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which harms public health, agriculture, and environmental systems through air, soil, and water pollution.

For heating and cooling buildings, the NYS Energy Plan should have a plan with numerical goals and timetables for a rapid transition away from natural gas through the implementation of weatherization, efficiency, geothermal (ground-source heat pumps), passive solar, solar thermal, and sustainable biofuels with the sequestration of carbon residues (biochar) in soils.

Nuclear Power Should Have No Future in New York State  

The draft Energy Plan inexplicably contemplates increased reliance on nuclear power by 2030 while taking no account of the current nuclear plant retirement schedule, which has nuclear power finished in New York before 2050. Ginna and Nine Mile Point 1 are scheduled to retire by 2029. State political leaders are pushing to shutdown Indian Point 2 and 3. The financial media reports that Fitzpatrick as well as Ginna may shut down soon for economic reasons. Given the likely earlier retirement of any of New York nuclear power plants earlier than scheduled economic reasons or the technical problems of aging plants, the reliance of the plan on nuclear power is just not realistic. The NYS Energy Plan should plan for the rapid phase out of nuclear power for environmental as well as economic reasons and the replacement of that power with clean renewable sources.

Electrified Transportation

The draft Energy Plan says far too little about the transportation sector, which accounts for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Plan should have a plan for electrifying transportation using clean renewable electricity to power electrified trucks and cars on roads and a radical increase in the more energy-efficient transport of people and freight through electrified freight rails, intra-urban mass transit, inter-urban rails (reprising in a more advanced form the narrow gauge rail “interurbans” that served New York cities and towns so well between 1900 and 1940), and high-speed rail for longer inter-urban travel as an alternative to carbon-intensive air travel.

Energy Efficiency: The Cheapest and Fastest Source of Clean Energy 

Efficiency is the least-cost, fastest way to reduce carbon emissions and energy costs. Energy efficiency should be a central goal of NY Energy Plan with specific targets and timelines. The general goal in the draft Energy Plan of 20 precent demand reduction by 2025 is one of the few numerical goals in the draft plan and not too far from the plan of Jacobson and colleagues for 37 percent reductions in demand by 2030. However, the draft Energy Plan has no specific goals and timetables for building code and appliance efficiency measures it proposes. Moreover, the Energy Planning Board should make public the study it commissioned of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Energy efficiency deserves a much more filled out plan than the draft Energy Plan provides.

1     James Hansen et al., “Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature,” December 2013, http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0081648.

2     Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “Beyond 'dangerous' climate change: emission scenarios for a new world,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, November 29, 2010.

3     Mark Z. Jacobson, Robert W. Howarth, Mark A. Delucchi, Stan R. Scobie, Jannette M. Barth, Michael J. Dvorak, Megan Klevze, Hind Katkhuda, Brian Miranda, Navid A. Chowdhury, Rick Jones, Larsen Plano, Anthony R. Ingraffea, “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” Energy Policy, June 2013.

4     Joe Romm, “Bridge Out: Bombshell Study Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far Higher Than EPA Estimates,” Climate Progress, November 25, 2013, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/11/25/2988801/study-methane-emissions-natural-gas-production/#.

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