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|Tuesday, October 28, 2014
AFFORDABLE, RENEWABLE, LOCAL, THE PROMISE OF CCAs
Community Choice Aggregation is now an option in six states. In essence, it’s a community-owned utility, and because it represents many thousands of customers, it can negotiate a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with an energy provider that is below the retail rate. Paul Fenn, the ‘inventor’ of CCAs, says they can usually deliver cost savings of around 15 to 20 percent.
But CCAs can deliver much more than low prices, they can also provide communities (municipalities) with an opportunity to build publicly-owned utilities that generate power locally, from renewable resources. Fenn says a successful CCA may generate more than 80 percent of its electricity locally, and reduce grid load by an equal amount.
There are two essential conditions that make a CCA feasible. First, municipalities must be permitted to access data on customer’s energy use from utility companies. This information is needed to negotiate a PPA, and it’s even more important if the CCA wants to design a successful locally-produced energy system. Second, CCAs must have an opt-out provision—in other words all consumers in the catchment area are automatically included in the CCA unless they actively decide not to join. Human nature being what it is, only five to ten percent of the public will opt into a CCA, but if customers must opt out, the CCA is likely to capture in excess of 80 percent of the local market.
There are no CCAs in New York yet, but that may be about to change. Earlier this year both the Assembly and Senate voted out legislation that would approve a trial program in Westchester County. The state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has taken up CCAs as a part of its Reforming Energy Vision initiative, and a group, Citizens for Local Power, is lining up municipal support for a CCA in Ulster County.
To facilitate the widespread proliferation of CCAs throughout New York, we need enabling legislation such as the bill introduced by Assembly Member Kevin Cahill in the last session. It would require utilities to share data with municipalities and provide CCAs with the opt-out provision. It would also require CCAs to offer customers power at below the prevailing market rate.
VOTE NO ON PROP 1Proposition 1, is a constitutional amendment that would lock in legislative control of redistricting for years to come. It’s a bad deal for all New Yorkers, but should be of particular concern to fracktivists because it will virtually assure that the Senate remains the place where fracking-related legislation goes to die.
The amendment would permit legislative leaders to handpick a commission that would be required to defer to the gerrymandered districts we have today—and because the commission would give equal weight to both parties regardless of their performance at the polls, it’s bound to produce deadlock, which will throw redistricting back into the hands of the legislature—in other words we’ll be right back where we started.
Click Image to Enlarge
Image courtesy of Common Cause New York The most bizarre feature of Prop 1 is a complicated voting system that assures a political party that doesn’t control either the Assembly or the Senate still has the the power to veto any redistricting plan. Since the Democrats historically control the Assembly, this provision is likely to only benefit Republicans if they come up short in the Senate. Opposition to shale gas extraction itself may be non-partisan, but it’s a matter of record that Senate Republicans have been the main obstacle to legislation that would protect the public from fracking.
ASTORINO CUOMO HAWKINS
Republican Rob Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins have both been very clear—Astorino says would open New York State to high-volume fracking and Hawkins would ban it. After nearly four years in office, Governor Andrew Cuomo has refused to stake out a clear position on the issue. Polls will be open from 6 AM until 9 PM on Election Day, Tuesday November 4.
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METHANE: THE “LOW HANGING FRUIT OF CLIMATE CHANGE”
In an important article, Climate change, Obama, and methane, posted on The Hill, Cornell scientist Robert Howarth chides the president for “once again failing to announce strong, decisive action to combat methane at the recent Climate Summit.” Methane, he says, is the “low hanging fruit” of greenhouse gas because the planet responds much more quickly to reductions of methane emissions than to reductions in carbon dioxide.
In 2015 EPA will require oil and gas companies to use “green completion” technology when developing oil and gas wells, and that will help reduce wellhead emissions of methane, but that doesn’t begin to address the extent of the problem. If the U.S. is going to get serious about the issue, it must begin by framing it in a way that reflects the urgency of the situation.
First it must bring its estimates of “fugitive emissions” from natural gas production more in line with the work of independent scientists. EPA estimates the figure at 1.2 percent of total natural gas production, but Seth B. Shonkoff, Executive Director of PSE Healthy Energy, recently said, “The most authoritative [scientific studies] say the EPA underestimates methane emissions by about 50 percent.”
Second, EPA must stop referencing the global warming potential (GWP) of methane over a one hundred-year time period and, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assess its impact over the next twenty years—after all, this is all the time we have if we are to forestall the worst impacts of global warming. This simple recalibration would make it clear that methane emissions currently account for at least 27 percent, not 9 percent, of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions—even supposing EPA’s current estimates are otherwise accurate.
An IPPC study found that methane emissions have increased by 150 percent since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution; carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 40 percent over the same period.
LET THE SCIENCE DECIDE—OR DECIDE THE SCIENCE?
Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly said he wants science to decide the fate of fracking, but an investigative report by Scott Waldman posted on Capital New York indicates that officials in his administration, including at least one non-scientist, played a role in rewriting portions of a United States Geological Survey study so that it downplays the risks associated with shale gas extraction.
The study, Occurrence of Methane in Groundwater of South-Central New York State, 2012, was intended to establish a baseline of methane in groundwater in the Southern Tier, a region of the state that the Cuomo administration has considered opening up to hydraulic fracturing. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) helped fund the study, and that gave the administration access to an early draft of the report—and it used that access to influence the content of the published report.
Waldman cites a reference to hazards associated with gas pipelines and gas storage facilities that was dropped from the final report at the behest of someone in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “Everybody has an angle”, commented USGS hydrologist Paul Heisig, lead author of the study.
Another change highlighted by Waldman was the addition of a sentence reassuring the reader that “The risk [of drinking water contamination] can be reduced if the casing and cementing of [gas] wells is properly designed and constructed.” But that’s a very big “if”. A 2014 study suggests that the industry may be incapable of reliably designing and constructing leak-proof shale gas wells. Cornell’s Anthony Ingraffea led a team that examined records compiled on all the oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2012 and concluded that there are structural problems with almost ten percent of the shale wells drilled in Northeast Pennsylvania, the region adjacent to New York”s Southern Tier.
There’s no indication that the hard science in the USGS report was altered—a hydrologist examining the data on methane levels would not be misled; but the public, reliant on the USGS for context and interpretation, could be swayed by the spin.
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