Public hearing participants suggest changes to draft plan for hitting Climate Act benchmarks

·5 min read

May 15—ALBANY — In the final virtual public hearing held last week, dozens of commenters from around the state weighed in on the Draft Scoping Plan proposed by the New York Climate Action Council.

The 341-page draft is a rough map to help reach the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or Climate Act goals to limit dependence on fossil fuels and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

The 2019 Climate Act mandated the creation of a Climate Action Council, which first met in March 2020, to develop a scoping plan for meeting the legislation's required emissions reductions targets. The Climate Act requires the state to maintain a capacity of 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025, and 3,000 megawatts of energy storage and 70% renewable energy by 2030. It requires a zero-emissions electric grid by 2040 and an 85% emissions reduction from all sectors by 2050.

The work of the 22-member Climate Action Council has been aided by recommendations from appointed working groups and advisory panels.

Wednesday's scoping plan hearing participants — which included a mix of residents, representatives of various industries, activists, religious leaders and educators — all acknowledged the importance of addressing climate change. Most expressed at least general support for the draft plan. They also offered edits related to their own interests.

Opinions were divided about the potential use of some level of natural gas, "renewable hydrogen," "renewable natural gas" and other forms of fossil fuels or combustion-based energy producing technology like biomass incinerators, to hit Climate Act benchmarks over the next 28 years.

Speakers from the natural gas and forestry industries all said that the transition without the fuels would not be cost effective and would cause undue hardship. Some cited the reduced greenhouse gas production that came out of the transition from coal to natural gas.

Fossil fuel-oriented commentators also spoke in favor of setting a "low-carbon fuel standard" in the state — like the one established in California that has been documented to bump up the market for biogas and "renewable natural gas."

All except one hearing participant said their choice of the four potential "scenarios" to reach the 2050 goals is "scenario three," described in the draft plan as focusing on the "accelerated transition away from combustion" through high levels of electrification and energy efficiency and very limited allowances for the use of low-carbon fuels.

Representatives of three companies that have either community or large scale renewable energy projects in the north country — AES, Invenergy and U.S. Solar — also commented.

Marissa Valdez, stakeholder relations representative for AES — which has three large-scale solar projects in the works in Lewis and Jefferson counties — called for a more expedited siting process and gave support for the draft plan, while Mike Fingar of U.S. Light Energy said that local approvals are a challenge and asked for the state siting process to be opened to small-scale community projects to alleviate the need for local approval.

"We believe this can be done responsibly with consideration into all applicable environmental laws while eliminating the arbitrary rulings that seem to be influenced by the NIMBY (not in my back yard) mentality," Mr. Fingar said, noting that much of the potential capacity for projects "is currently hindered by local law or public opposition to these projects."

Marguerite Wells, director of renewable energy product development for Invenergy, gave her support for the draft plan and was one of the many hearing participants who spoke in favor of increasing education.

"I know first hand (the importance of) outreach, education and support for local municipalities, communities and residents to increase the awareness of and improve acceptance of renewable energy projects that will help us reach our clean energy goals," she said.

As a farm owner who hosts a community solar project, she also noted that renewable projects are helping farmers generate more income to invest in their farms and keep them in their families.

Other education comments supported climate change science and solutions being taught in public schools along with widespread support for workforce training for green energy technology statewide.

Calls were also made for financial support through subsidies and tax incentives to transition to electrical heating and cooling for homes and businesses and the purchase of electric vehicles, especially for low- to moderate-income households. There was also a request for incentives for rental property owners who do not see long-term savings that are realized through lower utility bills but have a large front-end investment.

Subsidies were also suggested for the establishment of high-speed charging stations in low-use rural areas by some of the electrical vehicle charging station businesses involved with the hearing.

Multiple requests were made for the final scoping plan to include concrete cost estimates for the transitions required by the process as well as specific time frames and benchmarks in each sector for accountability.

Some of the other suggestions to improve the plan were:

—A moratorium on crypto currency "mining" because of its large draw on electricity

—More attention to "affordability and reliability" throughout the plan

—Money set aside to support each region in the state in making a more localized plan to meet state goals

—Technical and financial support to help farms reduce emissions

—A comprehensive composting program to reduce landfill methane production

—Opposition to the moratorium on new gas infrastructure and the eventual ban on natural gas

—Ensure all mandates are "legal and enforceable" and that the plan "has teeth"

Although none of the commentators were from the north country — the closest speaker was from the Syracuse area — there were a number of issues raised that are especially relevant locally.

—The plan's impact on people living in manufactured housing and the production of low-cost housing

—A request to exempt large equipment for farming and construction from electrification on the same time frame as vehicles because the technology doesn't exist yet

—Improvements to the electrical infrastructure for the improved siting of renewable projects away from homes or prime farmland

—Although the plan acknowledges the wind turbine sound impact on health for turbines sited too close to residences, no action is recommended to stop the issue from happening.

For the complete draft plan, visit www.climate.ny.gov/Our-Climate-Act/Draft-Scoping-plan.

Comments will be accepted until June 10. They can be submitted online at www.climate.ny.gov/CAC-Meetings-and-Materials or via a letter sent to Draft Scoping Plan Comments, NYSERDA, 17 Columbia Circle, Albany, NY 12203-6399.