Much more than gas stoves: A deep dive into what NY must do to comply with its climate law

New York state has seven years to do most of the work required under the terms of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the landmark 2019 law that calls for a 40% reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — and an 85% reduction by 2050.

The Climate Action Council, a 22-member state-appointed committee tasked with defining recommendations for the law, believes there’s still hope for New York to meet its goal.

In a 445-page report released ahead of Christmas, the council proposed nearly full electrification for all sources of power across all economic sectors with rare exceptions, building renewable sources to make the grid zero-emissions, and reducing solid waste. This scoping plan also outlines financing methods, new practices and technologies for agriculture and manufacturing, and repurposing existing fossil fuel infrastructure for new sources of energy such as green hydrogen and renewable natural gas.

The final scoping plan is the result of more than three years of work and 32 public meetings. But it’s not the final step in implementing the CLCPA. By Jan. 1, 2024, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation must distribute a draft of the enforceable regulations to ensure the CLCPA’s goals are achieved. Cost projections are unclear given the giant scale of the endeavor, but the DEC will publish a report every four years on progress made through the law. In five years, the Climate Action Council will update the scoping plan.

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Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office via Flickr

“The devil is in the details, and there’s an enormous number of devils out there that the DEC and other agencies are going to have to wrestle with,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “There are several hundred proposals that need to be acted upon – many require legislation and even more of them require regulations or guidance documents. This is an important step in the right direction, but there’s a whole lot ahead of us.”

Gerrard and other environmental experts said it will take focused and concerted efforts at all layers of society – government, industry and individuals. For the climate law to succeed and to prevent global warming, all New Yorkers have to be on board to enact the final plan, they said.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to meet those deadlines for 2030, seven years from now,” said Dr. Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell University. “If we meet the 2030 goals, we’ll be in a great position to make it the rest of the way [to 2050 goals]. The 2030 goals make up two-thirds of the overall fight.”

The scoping plan is expansive, so here’s a breakdown of what the council says could change in our daily lives over the next seven years – from the buses we drive to the rubbish we produce.

On Earth Day 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will deploy 60 zero-emission electric buses at six bus depots serving all five boroughs.

Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul via Flickr

Going All-Electric

The foundation of the scoping plan — and part of every sector’s requirements — is full electrification. That means no more fossil fuels for end uses, such as diesel for trucks or natural gas stoves. Everything from home heating to factory processes will have to connect to the grid.

“A phenomenal number of new [renewable energy] Projects will be necessary,” said Gerrard. “It really is a massive undertaking; we should not underestimate how difficult it will be.”

Electricity from the grid was responsible for 13% of New York’s emissions in 2019, and since 1990 its emissions have fallen by nearly half statewide. That progress will only improve as more renewable sources are added, but the downstate grid that powers New York City is a different story. Currently only 8% of electricity is zero emissions and almost 90% comes from fossil fuels.

With seven years to go to reach 70% renewable energy, there’s a lot of green energy to build, and it takes more than installing solar panels or wind turbines. A new major infrastructure spanning New York, similar to our natural gas pipeline system, will be required to deliver and distribute electricity from renewable sources to homes and businesses. These projects often take years to get started due to the multiple permits and approvals required from various government agencies.

“Moving to a grid dominated by renewable energy and hydropower [power] will require lots of transmission lines, substations, and a whole lot of new infrastructure that was generally difficult to build,” said Joshua Rhodes, a fellow at the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy. “Technically it’s possible, but it will be a tough fight.”

Electricity use is going to grow so it’s not only chasing after today’s target, but we’re chasing after a target that’s growing.

Joshua Rhodes, Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy

While the New York state government has set ambitious goals for green power with 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035, enough for more than 6 million homes, and targets of 10,000 MW of distributed solar and 6,000 MW of storage by 2030, it must meet all the state’s power needs. Those demands are expected to substantially increase as a result of full electrification.

And the infrastructure built to address the CLCPA must also have the capacity to meet future demand. Rhodes estimated that power consumption from full electrification will likely double current demand. New York City alone currently consumes 11,000 MW of power — during the summertime’s peak loads — without full electrification.

“Electricity use is going to grow so it’s not only chasing after today’s target, but we’re chasing after a target that’s growing,” Rhodes said. “We’re not building it fast enough to really get to a fully renewable or zero-carbon system.”

Transportation

The rising adoption of electric cars will also put demand on CLCPA infrastructure, given that those vehicles are typically charged on the grid. Rhodes said that if every vehicle traveling in New York state became electric overnight, that alone would increase electricity consumption by about 30% immediately.

About 10,000 electric vehicle charging stations currently exist statewide, which support the 120,000 electric vehicles currently on the road. But that’s only about 1% of the more than 11 million total registered vehicles. Not only would the number of stations have to dramatically increase, but the stations would also require faster charging times to accommodate all the potential customers.

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A fast-charging station for electric vehicles stands in the cell phone lot at John F. Kennedy airport on April 2, 2021.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Keeping gas-powered cars on the street isn’t an option for hitting the emissions reductions outlined by the Climate Action Council. Transportation activities accounted for about 28% of climate-causing pollution in 2019 for New York state. More than half resulted from road vehicles, and so far, this trend shows no sign of abating. Emissions from this sector have increased by 16% since 1990, and it’s almost entirely dependent on petroleum.

Even if personal gas-powered vehicles were outlawed and the only options were to walk, ride bikes or use public transportation, it wouldn’t solve the problem. New York City’s transit system relies on 6,000 buses that serve passengers along 320 routes. The MTA is fully committed to going electric, but it would need more than 10 times its current power capacity.

“We realize the amount of power that we currently have available at our bus depots is not adequate for a full-scale [electric] Fleet rollout,” said Craig Cipriano, chief operating officer at New York City Transit.

An estimated 400 MW would need to flow to the 28 bus depots and only one is currently equipped to service electric buses. The remaining depots would need to be retrofitted and staff retrained to work with electric buses. Currently, the MTA only operates 15 electric buses, but its current capital plan calls for a total of 500 all-electric buses and the provision of charging stations at depots. The price would be just over $1 billion. Each electric bus the MTA buys costs up to twice as much as a standard diesel bus.

An electric bus can travel up to 120 miles daily on a full battery, while diesel buses are expected to go up to 300 miles.

“Battery electric is a really different animal – a different way that we have to operate,” Cipriano said.

Reliability is also an issue. An electric bus can travel up to 120 miles daily on a full battery, while diesel buses are expected to go up to 300 miles. If an electric bus runs out of juice on its route, there is no access to charging stations on the road, and even if there were, it could take up to eight hours to replenish the battery. How long an electric bus can travel is also dependent on the weather. Common weather occurrences, such as a torrid day when the air conditioner is droning at full blast or on a frigid evening when the heat is on, would drain an electric bus’s battery faster.

“The current technology of an electric battery can be assimilated into [bus route] Schedules,” said Cipriano. “About two-thirds of our schedules can handle it, but we still have about a third of our schedules where we need to do something — either the technology will mature, or maybe there’ll be a roadload provided at the end of the routes.”

building

Buildings are the country’s largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for about a third of pollutants. Burning fossil fuels in homes for gas stoves, heating and hot water is a major contributor. State lawmakers have been debating a gas ban, and recently Gov. Kathy Hochul backed a statewide ban on fossil-fuel heating for single-family homes by 2030 and for larger buildings by 2035.

New York City already has legislation on its books to reduce these emissions, taking effect in 2024, but the CLCPA framework’s timetable for similar regulations begins a year later. Howarth said there was absolutely no reason to wait to implement this law for new builds as retrofitting later after the buildings are constructed will cost more.

The electrification of buildings is really critical because that’s kind of like the lowest-hanging fruit.

Adam Roberts, American Institute of Architects.

“The electrification of buildings is really critical because that’s kind of like the lowest-hanging fruit,” said Adam Roberts, policy director at the American Institute of Architects.

Many of the building regulations center around efficiency improvements such installing thermostats and insulation, which are simple, but still highly effective. Rhodes said that this strategy of simply not wasting is intrinsic to grid stability and being able to meet energy demand.

“It’s generally cheaper to do things more efficiently than it is to just throw more energy at the problem,” Rhodes said.

The transition is fairly affordable for small buildings, according to Roberts, even with replacing a gas stove and changing the boiler to a heat pump. It’s more difficult for larger buildings, which will require expensive retrofits for the same changes because of their sheer size and the increased electrical capacity.

Redefining garbage

While most sectors can reduce emissions with electrification and efficiency, reducing solid waste requires a behavior change, according to Gregory Anderson, deputy commissioner of the sanitation department. Waste accounts for 12% of statewide emissions, most of which comes from landfills that will continue to release significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas on steroids, for the next three decades. Rotting organic materials, such as discarded food scraps, are the source and constitute about one-third of New York City’s trash.

Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have doubled over the last 200 years as a result of human activities. Reducing this pollutant would have a tremendous and immediate impact on mitigating climate change because although it’s more potent than carbon dioxide, its lifespan is shorter – only about 12 years compared to centuries.

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The New York City parks department offers the public a chance to view the new Fresh Kills Park, built on top of what used to be the largest trash dump in the world, Sept. 29, 2013.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

To reduce methane, the CLCPA plan will require robust composting. For other waste streams, effective recycling programs are recommended along with placing the responsibility on the producers for electronic waste and packaging. By 2050, landfills will accept very limited and specific types of trash. More than half of New York City’s garbage ends up in landfills even though half of it can be recycled under its current program.

Even after 34 years of curbside recycling pickup, New York City diverts only 17% of its garbage. Its composting program is voluntary and may be unavailable if you’re a renter living in a building that doesn’t participate. But the sanitation department does have plans to make composting citywide, which could be a reality by 2050.

The sanitation department said it’s focused on diverting organic waste as a key measure — but collecting the compost is not the hard part. Anderson said the challenge lies in how to handle and process the raw waste. The infrastructure for large-scale processing capacity for organic waste once it’s picked up still requires a solution that can manage millions of tons annually.

“It’s one thing to collect it [organic waste]it’s another thing to use it effectively,” Anderson said.

Another challenge is the individual disposal decisions. Whether it’s the hassle of carrying a reusable cup or the inconvenience of rinsing out a jar for recycling, the sanitation department has no control over what ends up in the bin liners they collect. Anderson said people need to see their trash differently, e.g. B. by selling and donating items where possible.

“In a way, we’re at the mercy of New Yorkers,” Anderson said. “These effects [of people reflexively throwing things away] add up from a sustainability and climate perspective.

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