Thursday, June 12, 2014

CO2 Emissions and Net Generation

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the new regulations that the EPA is proposing under the Clean Air Act to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing electrical power plants. Power plants are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but still only account for about 32% of greenhouse gas released in 2012 (and slightly more of carbon dioxide). Greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), fluorinated gases, nitrous oxide and methane (CH4). According to the EPA CO2 represents 84% of mass of greenhouse gas emissions and that the climate models indicate to be the cause of climate change.

The proposed regulations will require power plants to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% from 2005 levels or 18% from 2013 levels on average across the United States by using a combination of strategies. The proposed regulation will have a very limited if any impact on the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. If these regulations were implemented and in effect today, the effect would be to reduce overall CO2 emissions of all the nations on earth by about three quarters of a percentage point, and by the time they are actually implemented the impact will be far less as U.S. emissions shrink slightly as China and India grow rapidly. In 2012, the U.S. represented about 16% of world CO2 emissions. These proposed regulations for power plants will not change the fate of the planet.

The approach the EPA is taking is to allocate to each state a CO2 limit. The basic formula for the state limit is a rate:

CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants) divided by (state electricity generation from fossil-fuel fired power plants plus certain low- or zero-emitting power sources).

Existing hydropower is excluded from the base calculation, but additional hydropower will be included in the denominator. However the goals for states are very different. For example, the final goal for Virginia is 810 pound of CO2 emitted per net megawatt hours of electricity produce in the state, for Maryland it is 1,187 and for West Virginia 1,620. You may wonder why the targets are different. The existing power plants in the electrical grid and their location determine the basic scale of the numerator. Power and commerce does not stop at state boarders, it moves across state lines. In addition, power plants are built to last generations so the ratio is determined by location of nuclear power plants, coal fired power plant, access to natural gas pipelines to supply natural gas to fire power plants, and history.

Below is data for March 2014 for a few states, the California, New York, and Massachusetts operate versions of cap and trade programs. Of these states only New York generated enough electricity within their borders during March 2014 to satisfy the needs are the state. Those states have become net buyers of electricity. They have outsourced the generation of power and its related CO2 emissions to other states. In addition, it appears that those states have also outsourced much of the industrial sector, importing products from other states and countries. Though I have only listed a few states you can see the pattern, Texas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania are net generators of electricity. Note that the actual capacity of the system is higher; March is a relatively modest demand month (no need for air conditioning).

All data from EIA
Washington DC besides not being a state has no goals from the EPA because it does not generate any power, though the waste water treatment plant at Blue Plaines is expanding its use of generated methane to power the plant as a renewable source of power and looking at the possibility of installing solar panels to supply power to the facility. You can take a look at the data on the U.S. Energy Information Agency, EIA, site to see which states and regions are net generators and which are net users of electricity. Also, you can see by the use of electricity for industry where in the United States we have the most industrial production.

As the  economics writer Robert J. Samuelson recently pointed out in an editorial in the Washington Post that thought we believe that climate change poses a threat to many of the earth’s citizens, we lack the technologies to stop it. The purpose of the EPA regulations seems to be to create the political and economic that fosters the development of technologies that will be needed for mankind to weather the storm and survive. “...But there is no assurance that this will happen, and much time and money may be invested in futile and wasteful efforts.” Both Mr. Samuelson and I are among the supporters of the idea of a carbon tax. Taxing the carbon content of products might be a more direct method to control CO2 generation and more effective method of reducing CO2 production without regulators taking control of a significant segment of the economy and could be applied to imports. Cap and trade schemes have a tendency to export manufacturing and generation. We should all remember when making purchase decisions that when we buy items manufactured in China or India that they were made using the dirtiest coal fired electric power plants on the planet. However, a direct tax must come from the legislature, not regulation. It would certainly generate badly needed revenue for our government that is running at a deficit.

With the CO2 limits imposed on states and management of how to cut them, the EPA is now taking control of the power generation sector of the economy to remake that industry in a less carbon intensive and more efficient vision. These regulations are likely to increase the cost and possibly limit the availability of electricity. These regulations will mark the end of the era of using coal to generate electricity in power plants with the EPA issuing CO2 “budgets” and tightening regulations on other coal burning emissions. Creating regional or national carbon trading market for “carbon credits” has the potential to prevent the reemergence of manufacturing in the United States that has been sparked by cheap natural gas and other favorable conditions. The EPA CO2 regulation for power plants may not be the right plan- my crystal ball is unclear. It is being proposed and will be implemented entirely by regulation without the support of congress as the elected representatives of the American People.
Supply and demand are more balanced on a regional basis, but Texas is still carrying the west

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