Column from Otsego Electric Cooperative Inc.
New York’s Climate Action Council is finalizing its Scoping Plan for meeting the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals. The Climate Action Plan needs to achieve an affordable, dependable, and safe electric grid but we are not certain that the CAP will achieve this.
OEC is a distribution utility. We do not generate our power supply. OEC has been a green energy utility since the early 1960s. OEC currently buys about 85 percent of our power from hydro and other zero emission sources; our goal is 100 percent zero emissions. The Climate Action Plan presents challenges for OEC and the New York electric grid. If vehicles, businesses and households are going to become electric, we will need to increase energy supplies rapidly.
New York’s Independent System Operator estimates winter peak demand will almost double by 2040. Capital investments in diverse sources are needed to ensure reliability and safety. Most investment to date has been in intermittent sources (solar and wind) but we feel this is too narrow. We need investment in energy efficiency to ensure affordability. The CAP extensively affects our rural way of life. Large solar farms will eliminate over 1,000 acres of farmland. We need to preserve open spaces and rural views that make living in the country so desirable. Solar sites bring incompatible uses with clearing, metal and silicon, chain link fencing, and substations. OEC endorses “smart solar siting” to reduce impact on agricultural land. These projects serve distant locations and construction projects will only create temporary jobs.
Electric demand will exceed supply and electric bills will increase during transition. We serve many impoverished homes, so we are concerned about costs of the proposals. The critical concerns at OEC are reliability and affordability of the transition. If homes, businesses and vehicles are electrified before quick start energy sources are developed, outages will cause serious safety issues. Wind and solar are unreliable during storms and in the winter. Battery storage is resource intensive and of limited duration but is increasingly efficient. Efficiency enhancements for low- and fixed-income households will help decrease bills at once. Older housing is poorly insulated and heated with fossil fuels. OEC will also need to: track more data; install bigger transformers; string heavier wire; and add smart grid devices and more personnel to analyze changes. Who will pay for all of these changes?
OEC offers many programs to reduce carbon: rebates on new heat pumps; rebates on electric water heaters with load control devices; completely automated meters; a broadband network so members can work and study at home and install smart thermostats or other Internet of Things devices to reduce consumption in households; replaced halogen yard lights with LEDs 20 years ago; and $150.00 rebates for EV purchases. We will also offer incentives to help members reduce or shift consumption as we move to an electrified economy.
OEC is committed to working toward more electrification. We are seeking funding to help keep changes affordable and safe. We look forward to New York State meeting the challenges in the proposed CAP but they will need to make difficult choices, invest large amounts of money, and do careful planning to accomplish the goals fairly.