New York Mulls Requiring Utilities to Address Climate Change Risks

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday announced his office would propose legislation that would require electric and gas utilities to assess and document their systems’ vulnerability to climate change.

Though Schneiderman hasn’t yet set a date for when his office will propose the state bill, the legislation is likely to establish a framework and process for the state’s investor-owned utilities and the Long Island Power Authority to carry out climate change planning. It will also likely require them to make initial assessments of the probable impacts of climate change on their infrastructure, operations, and service delivery, and to document how they intend to incorporate their findings into future operations, planning, infrastructure design, and emergency preparations. Utilities would also be required to update those assessments every five years, the attorney general’s office said on Tuesday.

The legislation that Schneiderman intends to propose stems from regulated utility Consolidated Edison Co.’s (Con Ed’s) recent proceedings before the state’s Pubic Service Commission (PSC), in which Con Ed sought $1 billion to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy and harden its system against future storms. Con Ed provides electric service in most of New York City.

The attorney general’s office ”intervened in the Con Ed proceedings to focus attention on the real and increasing threat that climate change poses to Con Edison’s infrastructure and, ultimately, its customers, and to ensure that any proposal by Con Ed to harden its system accommodates future climate impacts such as sea level rise,” it said. ”As a result of expert testimony submitted by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office and others on potential climate impacts, the PSC required Con Ed to ensure that any new infrastructure it builds can withstand a future with more extreme coastal storms and sea level rise. The PSC also required Con Ed to engage in an in-depth study of its system’s vulnerability to climate change.”

The office noted, “no single storm can be definitively attributed to climate change,” but said, “Sandy exposed critical weaknesses in the resilience of New York’s utility infrastructure.” Those extended power outages and other infrastructure failures in New York City alone were estimated to cause between $30 billion and $50 billion in lost economic activity, it said.

The office cited the federal government’s May 6–released 2014 National Climate Assessment, which claims climate impacts are already occurring and are expected to further strain electric and gas systems. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, at least 15 states have completed adaption plans to address vulnerabilities to climate change impacts, while adaption plans are in progress in five other states. Meanwhile, this June, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a climate rule for existing power plants that could cut greenhouse gas emissions from the utility sector by 25%, though industry experts note that the baseline for that reduction has not been finalized.

“By requiring gas and electric utilities to assess their vulnerability to climate change and then explain in public their plans to protect their energy systems, we can ensure that utility providers are investing ratepayer dollars wisely,” said Schneiderman, “Most of all, we will be ensuring that New Yorkers continue to receive safe and reliable service in a time of increasingly extreme weather.”

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

More Stories You Might Like