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Another Voice: Climate councils must not make rash energy decisions

Another Voice: Climate councils must not make rash energy decisions

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The work is wrapping up for the New York State law called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) and its Climate Action Councils that have held formal meetings for two years since the CLCPA was made law in 2019.

In 2022, comment periods on the councils’ recommendations will be conducted, followed by legislation and policy changes that will impact power, heating and transportation prices to a greater or lesser degree well into New York’s future.

Politics plays a significant role in what the future of New York energy will look like, and it is imperative that the loudest screamers in the room don’t impose outright bad policies that harm social, economic and environmental conditions in New York.

Certainly, the regular and more severe weather calamities raise the concerns over addressing climate change. But, there is the need to push back against those who believe that punitive and extreme policies from New York State can make a major impact on global emissions. New York has less than one-half of 1% of global emissions – drops in the ocean unless others do as we’ve already done. Legislators must do their research and advance rational policy, not necessarily the most popular with extremists.

A couple of examples. New York imports power each day from PJM Interconnection of Pennsylvania that includes coal-fired generation, while coal-fired power has been regulated out of emission compliance in New York. Prior to that, natural gas put several coal-fired plants out of business through market competition.

In addition to lower rates, natural gas has zero sulfur and nitrous oxide emissions, and less than half of coal’s carbon emissions. How then can New York import electricity with coal power in its mix and determine that two much cleaner downstate natural gas plants cannot get permitted? Natural gas replacing coal is a major reason why New York has the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the country.

Another item of question beyond New York’s border was the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline that would have imported oil from Canada – our friendly neighbor – and a few months later the spike in fuel costs that has our president pleading with Saudi Arabia to produce and export more oil.

The point being that while we aggressively pursue emission-free transportation and electricity, we cannot pull the plug on fuels that are necessary before cost-effective replacements are developed and proven to be reliable. Let other states catch up on New York’s dramatic reductions in power generation emissions and let’s focus on the top carbon emission priority – transportation.

The CLCPA is extremely well-intended, and the hope is that sound policies will result, but now is not the time to put artificial dates on the elimination of fuel for transportation and natural gas for heating and electricity. Aggressively go after the top emission producer – transportation, and act full speed on zero carbon energy sources such as wind, solar, storage, small modular nuclear reactors and hydrogen. When they are ready for prime time, fossil fuels can be phased out. Doing it in reverse order will be a disaster.

Whatever the cause, efforts in reducing the supply of natural gas have spiked its price – sending a market signal outside New York borders for coal-fired generators to run much more often, and the U.S. carbon emissions are due to rise as a result for the first time in years. Less enlightened zealots would say wind and solar are ready to fill the entire energy void should natural gas be quickly shut down – they are not. Let’s think things through before we do more harm than good.

Gus Potkovick of Fredonia served for 14 years on the executive board of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97.

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