More evidence emerges that California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is a winning strategy and oil industry cost estimates are full of holes

California drivers and policy makers should be breathing an extra sigh of relief this week with the release of a new study by the California Electric Transportation Coalition (CalETC).  The study, an evaluation of electricity use within the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), clearly shows that electrification benefits are on the horizon and oil industry funded analyses have yet again over-dramatized the difficulty of meeting one of the state’s landmark environmental laws.

In the study, CalETC shows that using electric passenger vehicles (both battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles), and electric off-road equipment (forklifts and trains), has the potential to generate a significant amount of creditable greenhouse gas reductions in the LCFS.

According to CalETC, three electrification solutions can cut up to 4 million tons of greenhouse gases per year by the year 2020, a significant portion of the total reductions required under the law.  What’s more, since electricity as a fuel source costs one to two dollars per equivalent gallon less than gas and diesel, once the vehicles are on the roads and rails, the LCFS can actually save drivers a significant amount of money at the pump.

Prior industry reports on the LCFS like the one funded by the Western States Petroleum Association have lamented that compliance with the LCFS isn’t possible without oil companies going out of business or charging consumers significantly more at the pump.  However, a plain reading of oil company cost analyses shows they purposely avoid consideration of the benefits of widespread deployment of alternative electric vehicles (EVs) in their research.

Not the first, probably not the last

Of course, this isn’t the first time industry cost estimates of environmental regulations, and specifically the LCFS, have emerged as highly suspect.  For example, in September 2012, the non-partisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) published a report showing how well positioned the US biofuel industry is to meet demand under the California standard – a direct counterpoint to recent oil industry estimates that say biofuels simply aren’t available.

In that E2 report, researchers found that 1.6 to 2.6 billion gallons of advanced biofuel will likely be produced in 2015, with increasing volumes thereafter, meaning LCFS compliance can be achieved solely through blending low carbon biofuels in the short, medium, and potentially long term.  This blending will allow for compliance over and above what the electrification opportunities provide.

Similarly, for natural gas vehicles, the industry modeling of compliance scenarios assumes natural gas technologies won’t be sufficiently ready for widespread consumer use to be counted as a legitimate LCFS compliance opportunity.   However, consistently low natural gas prices along with recent investments and R&D from companies like Chesapeake Energy Corp., Clean Energy, General Electric, Whirlpool and 3M have all been aimed at increasing the availability of natural gas as a fuel for passenger vehicles and heavy duty trucks.

In yet another analysis of LCFS compliance, it was found that "significant inaccuracies and faulty assumptions" led to the results of oil industry funded studies.

A first of its kind strategy whose time has come

California’s first-of-its-kind LCFS strategy for cutting climate change pollution from transportation fuel is designed to work alongside the state’s landmark cap-and-trade regulation between now and the year 2020, facilitating the transition of California’s transportation sector towards one which is lower carbon and is powered from an array of resources.

As Elisabeth Brinton, head of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s retail business, so aptly puts it, the California LCFS is “a great idea whose time has come.”

For more information about entities that support the California LCFS, (read here).

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