Leveraging the Voice of County Leadership

Response to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

In July of 2019, Governor Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). It requires that 70% of generated electricity be derived from renewable energy sources, and that electric generation be supplied 100% carbon-free by 2040. Specifics of the CLCPA include 9,000 megawatts (mWs) from offshore wind, 6,000 mWs of distributed solar, 85% reduction in greenhouse gas by 2050, and aggressively building efficiency targets as well. The legislative roadmap that will lead to regulatory measures and State action will be developed by a 22-member Climate Action Council along with the Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the Climate Justice Working Group. A final Scoping Plan is slated for January 2023. Will county leaders see their constituents, needs, challenges and/or opportunities reflected in the Scoping Plan?

Counties currently contend with various energy-related issues, including aged infrastructure, building efficiency, transportation, site readiness and general smart growth alignment. In addition, they have a wide breadth of underserved communities, Rust Belt neighborhoods, brownfields, economic development priorities, commercial/industrial and residential constituents. Capturing these broad markets in a comprehensive Strategic Energy Plan from counties could provide the right market intelligence and input to assist in making the Scoping Plan market-driven. This would ensure that counties are actual participants, versus spectators, in shaping the CLCPA.

Historically, energy-related goals and objectives formulated in New York State take a top-down approach – with State agencies developing programs and incentives that are focused on set energy goals – not necessarily market needs. Once programs and incentives are formed, they are offered to the marketplace based on specific criteria and/or selected technology aimed at supporting the energy goal. In other words, there is a tendency to create a “solution” without respect to market need and/or engagement. Counties, in the energy space, represent diverse load profiles and demands for energy. They also tend to operate much like commercial consumers in that they have an 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work schedule – so their high demand for energy occurs during the period which is also the grid’s highest demand. Electric infrastructure is designed for peak periods. If counties could balance their peak periods, that would have a dramatic impact on utility infrastructure investment and would contribute to a renewable energy mix via lower demand. Investment offsets could be utilized to pay for community solar, enhanced programs for revitalizing underserved communities, converting county fleet and construction vehicles to low-carbon alternatives, and focusing infrastructure investment on priority economic development sites such as brownfields.

One of New York State’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) objectives is to move electric supply alternatives closer to demand, thus reducing the inefficiency of electric transmission and distribution. A Strategic Energy Plan would inventory countywide opportunities and align initiatives. These initiatives would be developed by regional planning, Regional Economic Development Councils, economic development agencies, underserved communities, businesses and industries, and other key energy consumers. The Strategic Energy Plan would ultimately be the voice of the counties’ contribution to the development of the CLCPA Scoping Plan. Programs and incentives would then be designed to meet the needs of the market, and once those needs were addressed, they would also contribute to New York State’s energy objectives outlined in the CLCPA.

The CLCPA is a call to arms for county leaders to step forward and develop strategies that will help address current energy-related obstacles while directly contributing to the CLCPA objectives. When the REV proceeding was announced in 2011, the Public Service Commission (PSC) Chair stated that nearly $30 billion will be needed to upgrade New York State’s energy system. The majority of New York State’s energy system tends to be located within our county and city centers. Focusing solutions that directly benefit those centers of activity will increase the probability that the CLCPA will be able to successfully balance economic and environmental sustainability. The CLCPA will take effect on January 1, 2020; the PSC will establish programs to require 70% renewable energy by 2030 and zero emissions by 2040. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will issue a report on greenhouse gas emissions Statewide from all sources, and the final Scoping Plan is due by January 2023. The voice of our counties is critical, and the time is now.

Dennis W. Elsenbeck is Head of Energy and Sustainability for Phillips Lytle Energy Consulting Services and a former director of stakeholder and policy for a renowned international utility company. He can be reached at (716) 847- 7083 or delsenbeck@phillipslytle.com.