By Natalie Karas and Erin Murphy
New York not too long ago enacted some of the formidable climate targets in the nation. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires an 85% discount in statewide greenhouse emissions by 2050 (from 1990 ranges). All state companies — together with the New York Public Service Commission, which oversees utility corporations — should now assess whether or not each resolution they challenge will, or is not going to, intervene with these emissions targets.
Meeting this daring new normal will rely closely on the state’s pure gas utilities. That’s as a result of residential and industrial heating are main contributors to the state’s greenhouse gas footprint. Unfortunately, utility corporations at present are persevering with to depend on outdated assumptions, applications and concepts when making multi-billion greenback infrastructure investments that can final for many years. If allowed to proceed, these investments will considerably hinder the state from assembly its climate targets, whereas locking in costly and doubtlessly pointless infrastructure for many years to come back.
At the beginning line
Let’s take inventory of the place the state is at present in assembly its prior purpose of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. According to a 2018 report, the state’s whole greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 have been about 238 million metric tons.
An 80% discount by 2050 would equal 48 million metric tons. But in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions related to pure gas alone totaled over 76 million metric tons – already way over the 48 million metric tons that may be allowed economy-wide in 2050. Clearly now we have an extended solution to go.
Disconnect between pure gas insurance policies, climate targets
Gas utilities have a important position to play in making certain New York meets its formidable climate targets.
Consider Con Edison’s latest fee request to the PSC proposing over 60 pure gas initiatives and different applications totaling $2.9 billion in capital investments over the subsequent three years. These prices are typically paid off over the anticipated “useful life” of the infrastructure. For instance, ConEd proposes to get better the price of new gas mains over 80 years, with none demonstration as to how that proposal would influence the state’s climate insurance policies.
ConEd has additionally signed up for 20 years of gas transportation service on the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, which some estimate will finally generate almost 90 million metric tons of emissions — the equal of 19 million passenger autos.
While a few of this funding could also be needed in the quick time period, there’s not a real accounting of the prices to ratepayers since these investments could not present worth over the lifetime of the infrastructure. The smart answer is for gas utilities and their regulators to offer the clear means to evaluate and weigh the true monetary value of those investments in the context of assembly New York’s climate targets.
Tools to scale back gas system emissions
There are a lot of options that may assist set New York on a path towards assembly its climate targets in a well timed method. Here are 4:
• Create extra transparency and entry: The gas supply planning course of must be extra open, as EDF not too long ago asserted in testimony to the New York PSC. Decision makers and the general public want a greater deal with on the true wants of the gas system, in addition to the precise all-in prices of every different. Utilities must be required to offer detailed info on their gas demand projections and the way they plan to fulfill these wants. Options ought to embody non-pipeline options, similar to demand response, energy effectivity, and ground and air source heat pumps.
• Demonstrate compliance with climate targets: Gas utilities must be required to reveal that main infrastructure proposals is not going to intervene with New York’s greenhouse gas emission targets, as is required below the CLCPA. Without correct info and analyses from the utility, state regulators can’t assess whether or not their approval of initiatives and requests is in keeping with the new legislation.
• Address methane leaks: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas accountable for a couple of quarter of the warming we’re experiencing at present. It’s additionally the principal ingredient in pure gas. Reducing the quantity of methane leaking from the pure gas system is an important alternative to gradual the speed of warming now, at the same time as we proceed to decarbonize the energy system as a complete. We first want an correct stock of methane leaks. Utilities have successfully shown that superior leak detection technology and analytics can discover many extra current and ongoing leaks than conventional strategies similar to strolling surveys, which might usually miss comparatively massive leaks. We additionally must refine the present incentive constructions, which reward utilities primarily for reporting a decrease variety of leaks. While superior leak detection technology can discover many extra leaks (which might add to a utility’s backlog), utilities could also be reluctant to undertake such technology if they’re rewarded solely for decreasing the variety of leaks in their backlog. Utilities must be incentivized to seek out extra leaks utilizing superior leak detection, estimate the circulate fee (i.e., liters of methane per minute) and cut back these leaks by prioritizing the best quantity leaks first.
• Retiring leak-prone pipe: Utilities across the nation have hundreds of miles of ageing gas traces produced from forged iron and different leak-prone supplies. Replacing this plumbing is expensive; for instance, Central Hudson Gas & Electric estimates a median of $1.9 million per mile. Deliberate planning to retire gas infrastructure is important, together with methods to extend the adoption of heating electrification (e.g. air supply and floor supply warmth pumps). Where possible, secure and value efficient, utilities ought to take into account completely retiring sections of leak inclined pipe if prospects are in a position to convert to alternate types of energy (as Central Hudson not too long ago proposed and as Massachusetts is at present studying).
New York must be happy with the daring motion its legislature not too long ago took to set limits on the Empire State’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and ensure now we have the instruments in place to fulfill these targets.
Erin Murphy is an legal professional for energy markets and regulation.