For Immediate Release:
Renewable Energy Advocates say New York’s long awaited statewide gas planning report makes incremental progress but fails to address input of community on equity, affordability, and alignment with climate law
New York – The New York State Department of Public Service (DPS) released a highly anticipated proposal on Friday in a statewide gas planning proceeding that is supposed to align New York’s gas system with New York’s climate laws and goals.
The proceeding has already drawn the participation of scores of organizations and elected officials from across New York who say the current lack of statewide plan has led to chaotic utility moratoria and costly investments still being made in fossil fuel infrastructure.
The DPS proposal (also known as a “White Paper”) was originally due in August of 2020, but the DPS requested seven extensions, stalling the proceeding for six months. Earlier this month, the Renewable Heat Now campaign held a press conference calling for an end to the harmful delays, and renewed their calls on the Public Service Commission to commit utilities to binding annual gas reduction targets, investments in renewable thermal energy, and a process designed around the principles of transparency,affordability, equity, public collaboration, just transition for workers, and accountability.
The long awaited White Paper proposes incremental improvements to utility planning processes, incorporates important changes to cost benefit analyses at the heart of utility decision-making, and requires utilities to propose “no-infrastructure” options alongside proposed gas investments. A key proposal included in the White Paper would require utilities to model gas infrastructure investment costs based on fully depreciating them by 2050, which, if enacted, will demonstrate how expensive gas investments are when compared to alternatives. But the proposal falls short of providing clear gas reduction goals for utilities to meet in line with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) and makes no mention of the law’s requirement for equitable funding for and the avoidance of disproportionate impacts on New York’s most vulnerable communities.
Statements from members of the Renewable Heat Now campaign:
“The PSC claims this report addresses community input, but I don’t see the demands of the communities we work with reflected here,” said Lee Ziesche, Sane Energy Project Community Engagement Coordinator. “Brooklyn residents participated in a similar process to what’s being proposed on long-term planning around National Grid’s downstate moratorium. And the result is more fracked gas infrastructure being built in predominantly Black and Brown working class communities with a history of environmental injustice. Without a commitment to reducing gas use and ensuring an affordable and equitable transition to renewables this is more kicking the can down the road.”
“The Department of Public Service has put forth important conditions that, if followed properly, should make NEW gas installations unaffordable, undesirable and unnecessary,” said Bill Nowak, Executive Director of the New York Geothermal Energy Organization (NY-GEO). “It is good that this document should stop us from actively digging deeper into the climate hole, by signaling the end of gas expansion, which ultimately should signal an end to gas use. However, there is very little in this white paper addressing the need to plan and execute measures that will equitably get us to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. NY-GEO, in conjunction with other key stakeholders, would like to work with the DPS to determine a glide path showing the number of buildings that will need to move off fossil fuels annually to achieve a 40% reduction. Major reductions of fossil gas use are required by New York State’s climate law, so in addition to what’s outlined in this White Paper we need to develop a clearer mapping of those reductions.”
“It’s hard to express in words the frustration I feel after carving out time from work and family month after month, year after year, to plead for transformative vision and leadership from the Cuomo administration only to be met with another policy statement that is an incremental improvement over the status quo, said Megan Dyer a member of the Mothers Out Front NY leadership team. “The gas industry and the utilities aren’t looking out for my kids, it’s the job of our elected leaders to see to it that they do. New York must move beyond gas now!”
“If the policies outlined in this White Paper had been enacted three years ago, we would have been thrilled,” said Jessica Azulay, Executive Director of the Alliance for a Green Economy. “There are some important proposals here that will shift some gas investments into renewable heating and energy efficiency. However, now we need a real gas phase-out plan that complies with the binding CLCPA emissions mandates and addresses environmental racism, and the DPS proposal lacks that level of clarity and commitment to the law.”
“Doing the work of promoting energy efficiency and heat pumps at the local level is my organization’s mission,” said Lisa Marshall, Program Director at HeatSmart Tompkins. “Although many are eager to adopt these technologies, the barriers are still too great for most and gas is the default fuel. Widespread adoption of beneficial electrification for heating, cooking, and hot water will never take place at the scale needed to meet the State’s greenhouse gas reduction goals without clear guidance to the utilities to stop gas expansion today and make a plan to dismantle the gas distribution system tomorrow while at the same time ramping up capacity for building electrification. The requirement for depreciation of gas infrastructure by 2050 is a positive step and one we’ve long been hoping to see, but the white paper fails to lay out annual gas reduction targets that communities could plan around.”
“Towns and cities across the state are looking for ways to transition from fossil fuels to renewable solutions and to do this quickly,” says Michaela Ciovacco from New Yorkers for Clean Power, “but current Public Service Law requiring access to gas, instead of heating infrastructure, makes this very difficult. It’s great to see the state will calculate the cost of gas distribution assets based on fully depreciating them by 2050, and the next step would be to add specific dates for ending gas infrastructure all together. Without bolder signals that New York is phasing out gas, energy efficiency and clean heating solutions, like heat pumps, will not be scalable to reach our state’s energy and environmental goals.”
“The staff’s white paper places the burden on small organizations like ours to make changes in subsequent rate cases, rather than the State taking leadership in setting clear targets and policies for the gas reduction required by the CLCPA,” said Irene Weiser, coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins. Fossil Free Tompkins joined several other small local organizations in the NYSEG/ RG&E rate case. “Small organizations like ours lack the funding and resources to participate in rate case after rate case. If the State expects this level of participation from us, then they should provide us with intervenor funding so that we can hire the experts and participate meaningfully in these complex, year-long negotiations.”
“The White Paper assumes that the value of any new gas assets will be fully depreciated by 2050 but also unfortunately discusses CNG as a viable alternative,” said Guy Jacob, Conservation Co-Chair of the South Shore Audubon Society. “This is like eating raw kale in one hand while eating fried pork fat in the other. One counteracts the benefit of the other even as we waste precious resources and sink deeper into debt. It’s time to come to terms, New York, with our careless cognitive dissonance.”
The Renewable Heat Now campaign, along with over 190 elected officials and 130 organizations from across the state, have filed detailed comments within the proceeding outlining what people and communities need in order to move the state off fracked gas in an orderly and equitable way and ensure every household has access to affordable renewable heat and renewable energy. Commenters said that local municipalities and cities need planning resources to help their local residents and businesses avoid costly retrofits, stranded assets, and crises due to gas moratoria.The DPS White Paper addresses a few of the issues raised in comments, but sidesteps many of the larger policy questions, including ending current utility subsidies for gas expansion, setting greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, addressing environmental justice and affordability issues, and providing support for local governments to plan for gas phase outs.