NYC Bar Association Energy Committee Recommends New State Energy Planning Board

The Energy Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York has issued a Report on Energy Planning, urging state policy makers to take a more proactive role in planning for future energy needs. The Report has a useful history of the state’s prior energy planning, done under a now lapsed statute, and does not urge replication of the former planning structure of the now defunct state energy office. In reality, major stakeholders are always planning. What is lacking today in New York is transparency, coordination, and accountability of energy planners to consumers and to the public at large.

Over the past decade, New York state abandoned formal energy planning in the hope that reliance on deregulation and market forces would meet growing electricity needs at lower cost in an environmentally acceptable manner. Depending on one’s perspective, this was either a big mistake or a bad idea. Although some persist in confidence that unregulated markets will meet future needs, when the rubber hits the road and new power plants must be built, the merchant power sector generally has not met the need and it has been necessary for publicly owned utilities (NYPA and LIPA) or the old distribution companies (Con Edison) to address the need:

In metropolitan New York City, merchant power producers have not built new capacity to meet the growing load. For example, in metropolitan New York City, most recently-completed capacity (86 percent or 1,700 MW) was built by the New York Power Authority, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., or under contract to them. Generators and load serving entities are taking significantly different positions in an investigation of New York City’s generating capacity markets before the FERC about the ability of merchant suppliers to build new energy supply facilities. Some merchant generators consider that the revenue available through the NYISO’s current markets is inadequate to support investment in new generating capacity and that future capacity markets are unpredictable and unreliable.

The Report recognizes weaknesses in the NYISO planning, which only addresses reliability needs and not attainment of affordable prices or environmental goals. When “the market” fails to produce needed facilities, the NYISO “plan” ultimately punts to the old utilities to meet their duty to serve (eschewed by the NYISO and merchant power utilites) by undertaking regulatory backstop solutions to satisfy reliability criteria. This has meant either building their own plants or entering into long term contracts to buy the output from a new plant to be owned by others. Thus, commitments are made for which utility consumers must pay in the future in order to finance new “competitive” plants.

The Report recommends creation of a new Energy Planning Board comprised of state agency heads. Its members would include the PSC Chairman, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, Chairman of NYSERDA. The NYISO would have an important advisory role:

The Energy Policy Board would include the chairs of the Commission, the DEC, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (“NYSERDA”) and the Empire State Development Corporation. The Board would prepare a biennial statement of State energy policy recommendations, addressing the (1) risks, benefits and uncertainties of energy supply sources, (2) emerging energy trends, (3) energy policies and long-range planning objectives and strategies, (4) administrative and legislative actions needed to implement energy plans and objectives and (5) impact of the energy policy statement’s recommendations on economic development. The energy policy statement would provide the framework for coordinated actions and decisions by State agencies.

The proposed new board could foster coordination of Executive Branch agencies, but it leaves out any role for legislative leaders. In the current vacuum of energy planning, and the continued suctioning of wealth from New York City consumers to merchant power providers who may have an interest in sustaining scarcity there, New York City stepped up to the plate recently and proposed its own, highly proactive, energy plan. Unlike the Energy Committee Report, which seems careful not to trouble proponents of deregulation, the New York City Energy Plan issued earlier this year minces no words:

New Yorkers face rising energy costs and carbon emissions from an ineffective market, aging infrastructure, inefficient buildings, and growing needs. That’s why we must make smart investments in clean power and energy-saving technologies to reduce our electricity and heating bills by billions of dollars, while slashing our greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 27 million metric tons every year.

The ABCNY Energy Committee Report certainly points in the right direction toward a better planning process, and in many respects it is a breath of fresh air. But leaving out major players like legislative leaders, NYPA, LIPA, the City of New York, and distribution utilities who have the duty to serve, and relegating them to a role of commenting on draft plans of the proposed board, may not yet be a full solution to the energy planning needs of the state.

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