Author Archives: Tim O'Connor

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How Two Companies are Turning Your Trash into Low Carbon Fuel

ca_innov_series_icon_283x204By Tim O’Connor and Chloe Looker

EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goal of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technology and ideas.

Modern society makes a lot of garbage. The decomposition of organic material from garbage in landfills releases methane gas, a potent global warming pollutant.

At the same time, the modern transportation system is powered mostly by fossil fuels and also releases global warming and toxic air pollution. Today, two companies are turning rotting lemons (garbage) into lemonade (low carbon fuels for cars and trucks), and are showing that AB 32 creates a powerful incentive for new ideas and innovations.

Although the ultimate solution to the problem of waste generation and pollution from landfills must include reduction of waste going into the landfills, the fact of the matter is landfills aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Read More »

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, Climate | 1 Response, comments now closed

Some Records Are Not Meant to Be Broken

Source: Drought Monitor

By Tim O’Connor and Katie Hsia-Kiung

2013 was a record-breaking year in many respects. Peyton Manning broke the record for the most touchdowns and passing yards thrown in a single NFL season. At age 19, Ryan Campbell became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, and at age 80, Yuichiro Miura was the oldest to climb Mount Everest.

While many of the records broken last year demonstrated remarkable human stamina, determination, and grit, there were other “accomplishments” that shouldn’t be received so warmly.

Sacramento, for example, experienced the driest year since they began measuring rainfall in 1878.  Conditions are so dry that some cities in the Central Valley are already imposing water rationing orders and more are expected to follow. According to the U.S. Drought Monitoring System, approximately 85% of the state is suffering from severe drought, and the snow pack is so meager in some places, there is simply no snow to measure.

Across California, temperatures on Christmas Day set new heat records, reaching 15 degrees above average in some areas.  These unseasonably high temperatures followed a record-breaking cold snap just a few weeks earlier, begging the question of whether Santa left sweaters or T-shirts under the tree.

These extreme weather records are not just unique to California. This past December, New York City, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City all broke previous high temperature records– which has now been followed by extreme cold and snow storms across the eastern half of the U.S.

One question on the minds of many is what is causing this extreme weather, and whether man-made climate change is the culprit.  The response lies in science. That is, while it is difficult to attribute individual weather events to climate change, the continued rise in record-breaking events is just what has been predicted and statistically too significant to ignore.

Ironically, unlike records from sports or other human feats, it takes drive and determination to avoid breaking climate change records. Scientific experts across the world agree that after over a century of increasing fossil fuel combustion, the planet is on a path towards more frequent extreme weather events, and we must cut climate pollution to stop this from happening.  This will require investment in low-carbon solutions like clean energy, clean fuels, and efficiency.

Similar to how taking steroids out of baseball brought the sport back to its rightful state, cutting climate pollution through efforts like California’s Global Warming Law, AB 32, will bring the atmosphere back towards greater stability.  Though the state can’t solve climate change alone, AB 32 is a huge step in the right direction, one which is leading other jurisdictions to take action.

Like home runs and touchdowns, droughts and snowstorms will always be a part of the environment we experience, we just don’t need any extra ones. As climate pollution is reduced, and with it the human caused impacts of climate change, we’ll see lot fewer records being broken every year, letting communities – and statisticians everywhere – live a little better.

Posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 | Comments closed

California’s Innovation Story: Real People, Real Solutions

EDF’s Innovator Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32.  Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.  

Time and again, the people of California have affirmed  that pursuing policies to cut climate pollution is critically important for the health of current and future generations.  At the same time, history has shown it to be much harder to implement environmental policies if there is a perception that economic health will suffer.  The ultimate goal is well-designed public policy that delivers environmental, health and economic benefits together.

In 2006, the state legislature took the environmental and economic paradigm to heart when it passed California’s global warming law, AB 32, creating a fundamental promise that cutting pollution and growing the Golden State’s prosperity will go hand in hand.  Today, California business and community leaders are proving that promise to be a reality – and new stories are regularly emerging to show it.  Our new AB 32 Innovator Series will work to capture these stories, bringing the companies – and people behind them – into light.

One of the reasons AB 32 has succeeded has been its ability to use market-based programs to cut pollution, allowing for both environmental and economic progress.  Economic, government and academic experts have long suggested that well-designed market-based programs are the best tools for achieving pollution reductions because they inspire businesses to identify and apply new and innovative solutions.  These solutions are often cheaper and faster at cutting pollution than prior methods, resulting in reduced compliance costs and rapid pollution declines.

For example, in a 2012 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, it said this about a market mechanism used in AB 32 (cap and trade):

“Facilitating innovation in “clean” technologies may be the key to achieving climate change stabilization without dampening economic productivity…CTPs [cap and trade programs] have several attributes that support clean technology innovation.”

For a concrete example of the possibility that innovation provides, think back to the acid rain problem of the 1990’s.  Sulfur pollution was spewing from major coal-fired power plants across the U.S., degrading forests, lakes and architectural landmarks at a threatening rate.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a cap-and-trade regulation to help solve the problem, most experts thought installing expensive scrubbers and equipment upgrades across the U.S. was the solution.  As a result, power companies across the U.S. predicted runaway costs and facility closures.   However, when faced with the opportunity of a market-based solution and its inherent signal to innovate, a simple low-cost solution was developed by these same companies: find lower-sulfur coal and bring it to the power plants by train, rather than using high-sulfur coal located closer by.

Through this simple innovation, compliance costs were 80–90% cheaper than initially estimated.

Unfortunately, most economic models and regulatory implementation scenarios are ill-equipped at predicting innovation because it tends to happen in ways people don’t expect.  If it was easy to predict how and when ground-breaking ideas occur, they would have already been applied.   As the acid rain example shows, innovation can, and does, take many forms. Accordingly, by documenting the development and implementation of innovative solutions as they emerge, the true potential of policies like AB 32 can be realized. This is the essence of our new California Innovators Series.

In California, AB 32 is helping to develop groundbreaking solutions, proving that the state’s climate policy mission of protecting the economy and the planet can be realized.  EDF’s Innovator Series will recognize several of these bold solutions throughout the year in an effort to distinguish the companies positively impacting California’s landscape and inspiring future innovators to come.

Please note, EDF has a standing corporate donation policy and we accept no funding from companies or organizations featured in this series.  Furthermore, the EDF California Innovators Series is in no way an official endorsement of the people or organizations featured, or their business models and practices.

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, General, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs | Comments closed

From the ozone to your refrigerator, putting the chill on climate change

oconnor_tim_287x377(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Back in the 1980s, an international alarm was sounded when a growing hole in the Earth’s ozone layer was discovered over the Antarctic. This phenomenon was caused, scientists said, by the presence of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) like the gases used in air conditioners, refrigerators and elsewhere.

There were predictions, if the ozone hole were to spread, of massive crop failures, an explosion in skin cancer rates, and mass extinction of species. Concern over the problem became so widespread that it even became the subject of a skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

Ultimately, however, the world community acted: In 1987 theMontreal Protocol was signed  by 46 nations, mandating a global phase out of ODS. Since then, scientists have shown that the production phase out of ODS has helped to shrink the hole in the ozone layer, while at the same time helping slow climate change.

Replacing chemicals that are 10,000 times more potent than CO2 as accelerants of climate change with ones that are a few thousand times stronger is no solution. ODS substitutes still make their way into the atmosphere when refrigerators are recycled and air conditioners leak. Furthermore, as globalization and economic growth makes refrigeration increasingly available in the developing world, the climate change problem associated with growing use of ODS substitutes is getting worse.

Studies have revealed that cooling systems in places like grocery stores and office buildings in Southern California regularly leak 15% to 30% of their refrigerant per year. That means that, worldwide, millions of tons of climate change pollution is being released every year.

NASA Goddard Photo and Video/flickr

There are simple fixes to this leakage problem. In California, for example, equipment inspection and leakage standards have been adopted as part of the state’s global warming law (AB 32). This has resulted in reduced ODS substitute losses into the air and savings for businesses that otherwise would have to buy recharge chemicals. In addition,companies are popping up to help manage refrigeration use, and some equipment operators are demonstrably leaking less.

In June 2013,President Obama and President Xi of China agreed to work together to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a key ODS substitute gas. This a pact that has the potential to reduce about 90 gigatons of CO2equivalent by 2050 (that’s equal to roughly two years’ worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions).

The U.S.-China pact could point the way toward a national and international policy on ODS substitutes. In the face of the growing urgency over climate change, we need a comprehensive solution to this problem.

Posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets | Comments closed

From the Pacific Coast Climate Plan, a Path Forward for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard

While several stories have been written on this week’s historic climate pact signed by California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, little has been mentioned about the path its created for low carbon fuels in Western North America.  Such a clear statement on the direction for West Coast low carbon fuels development has never been made, so it certainly deserves a deeper dive.

In Part II of the pact: “Transition the West Coast to clean modes of transportation and reduce the large share of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector” the leaders agreed to “Adopt and maintain low-carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction. Oregon and Washington will adopt low-carbon fuels standards, and California and British Columbia will maintain their existing standards.”

The relevance of this statement cannot be understated.

According to the US Energy Information Agency, the 3 western states burn a combined 23.7 billion gallons of gas and diesel every year, emitting just over 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.  British Columbia, for its part, releases about 15.5 million tons from burning gas and diesel in cars and trucks every year.

Furthermore, based on recent projections of alternative fuel industry growth from the California energy commission, the US Energy Information Agency, and consulting firms like Navigant, stringent Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) are achievable.

For example, according to recent cutting-edge research on electric vehicle (EV) sales, California and Washington will likely lead the nation in EV sales by the year 2022 with about 813,000 and 105,000 EV’s sold respectively.  Additionally, the state of Oregon is expected to account for over 5% of all EV sales in 2022.  With policies like the LCFS, these vehicles can capitalize on the huge amount of zero carbon power (hydroelectric, wind, etc.) produced throughout the pacific northwest on a yearly basis – yielding even greater economic investments while also significantly reducing pollution that causes climate change and public health impacts.

In addition to the EV example, a set of LCFS standards across the western region can build upon the large amount of low carbon biofuels that are being produced.   By way of example, according to the US EIA, at least 14 different biodiesel production facilities with a production capacity of 183 million gallons of fuel are already located in California, Oregon and Washington, with more to come.  Furthermore, as documented by the California Energy Commissions, at least a 3-fold increase in alternative fuels production is expected by 2020, enabling the achievement of goals for “petroleum displacement, in‐stage biofuel production, and LCFS compliance.”

These alternative fuel facilities and companies mean local jobs, economic growth and reduced imports – a much different picture than the current trend of buying massive amounts of foreign crude oil and sending billions of dollars abroad.

For years, members of the oil and traditional ethanol industries have fought to undermine the LCFS in the media, the courts and at the ballot box. These groups have spared no expense to build implementation road blocks and cast doubt over the standard, hiring consulting firms that deliver highly criticized sky-is-falling cost estimates, sponsoring industry groups aimed at casting doubt over implementation readiness, and suing California in state and federal court.  With this most recent announcement, those efforts were again proven futile.

Though time will tell how Oregon and Washington will implement the LCFS portion of the recent climate pact, for now, a green light means it’s go time for low carbon fuels across the region.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

History Repeats Itself Again: CARE’s New Cost Analysis Paints a One-Sided Picture

Major polluters funding skewed analysis of the costs and benefits of environmental regulations is a long-standing tradition in regulatory circles. In a recent version of this phenomenon, CARE (Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy), an industry funded front group aimed at attacking clean energy and clean fuel policies in California, hired Navigant Consulting to do just that.

Last week, EDF economists pulled back the curtain on the recently released CARE report and found more of the same scare tactics: one-sided costs estimates yielding unfounded results and cherry-picked outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, our economists found that the CARE study “focused exclusively on the costs of California’s complementary clean energy and clean fuels policies while avoiding comparative assessment of the benefits.”  Additionally, the study was found to “rely on sources that have not been peer reviewed, and misinterpret analyses and energy market trends.”

Due to the noted inaccuracies of the study, the memo makes the point that “policy makers should treat the Navigant study with extreme caution; it likely overstates costs while considering neither the benefits to be enjoyed nor the cost-minimizing aspects of policies carefully designed to deliver environmental benefits as efficiently and quickly as practicable.”

A CARE funded analysis that results in a one-sided finding shouldn’t come as a shock.  The group is funded by some of the largest polluters and fossil fuels producers in California – those that have the most obligations to change under the state’s comprehensive clean energy and climate change laws.  CARE members include the Western States Petroleum Association, the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and the California Chamber of Commerce, as reported on its website.

As California transitions to cleaner, more diversified sources of energy, many businesses will be faced with the stark choice of participating in the modernization of our energy and transportation system or fighting against progress and innovation.  Whichever way those businesses trend, the recent CARE report prepared by Navigant shows that misinformation will continue to be a part of the portfolio approach used by polluters to undermine California’s progress.

For other analysis of industry reports that have overblown costs and underestimated benefits of California’s clean energy and clean fuels policies, read here, and here.

Posted in Cap and trade, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

California’s LCFS Ruling is a Win for Consumers and Alternative Fuels Companies

By Tim O'Connor and Larissa Koehler

Last week, we saw a big win for California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) – a regulation to diversify the state’s fuel mix with lower carbon sources of energy.  After almost a year of deliberation, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals filed a decision in the case Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, et al. v. Corey, in favor of California.

In its 79-page decision, the Court addressed two major constitutional issues: 1) whether the LCFS was invalid because it directly regulated wholly out-of-state ethanol producers (extraterritoriality); and 2) whether the LCFS was invalid because it impermissibly discriminated against out-of-state producers based solely on origin, thereby violating the Commerce Clause.  The court overturned a District Court ruling on both grounds, finding that the state can move forward with the LCFS unimpeded.  Of course, the ruling is only a temporary win for California, as additional legal process at the District court — and possibly U.S. Supreme Court — is forthcoming.

Although not required to do so, the Court of Appeals went to great lengths to recognize the importance of California’s leadership in developing and implementing environmental policy.  The Court said it did not wish to “block California from developing this innovative, nondiscriminatory regulation to impede global warming… [as] it will help ease California’s climate risks and inform other states as they attempt to confront similar challenges.”

These words of support for the LCFS and California’s leadership are supported by tremendous growth in alternative fuels industries like California biodiesel, and also by analysis that shows fuel diversification can yield long-term price reductions at the pump.  The 9th Circuit's decision which allows these trends to continue is not just a win for the state in a long legal battle, but also a win for California’s consumers and environment.

Posted in Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Litigation, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

Seeing Green: Emission Reducing Fuel Policies Help Lower Gas Prices

By Tim O'Connor and Shira Silver

Californians struggling with high gas prices should feel optimistic about the future.  A new memo [PDF] by economists from EDF and Chuck Mason, a prominent economist at the University of Wyoming, demonstrates that policies established to reduce emissions and help the state reach its climate change goals also help to arm consumers at the pump.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard, cap and trade, and other complementary policies such as Governor Brown’s Zero Emission Vehicle program and national Renewable Portfolio Standards seek to integrate lower or zero-carbon fuels into the energy market in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

As our memo explains, in California these efforts also help to increase the market share for alternative, lower-carbon fuels. Between now and 2020, alternatives may grow to occupy between 15 and 24 percent of the market, creating new jobs and addressing the large market share that oil companies have in California.

Currently six oil companies control 94 percent of the fuels market in California. Through a set of mergers and other factors they have developed a strong lock on fuel in the state, and more specifically on consumers’ pocketbooks at the pump.

When alternative fuels enter the market, however, and establish themselves collectively as a ‘competitive fringe’ sector in the market, they could reach almost a quarter of the fuel market for cars and trucks. They have the potential to displace up to 3.7 billion gallons of gasoline a year.

Figure 1. Alternative fuels 2020 projections and market share

Alternative Fuel Type

Year 2020 Projected Volume

Volume of displaced gallons of gasoline in California in 2020 (per year)

% of fuel market share of cars and trucks in CA in 2020 (gasoline and diesel)

Natural Gas-cars

95 MM therms sold

76 million

.5%

Natural Gas-trucks

15-35% new heavy duty trucks

199 million -221 million

1.3-1.5%

Biofuel-ethanol

1.6 billion-2.4 billion gallons

1.6 billion-2.4 billion

10.9-16.4%

Biofuel- biodiesel

5% belend-15% blend into diesel

200 million-600 million

1.3-4%

Electricity and hydrogen passenger vehicles

500,000-1,000,000 vehicles on the road

160.5 million-321 million

1-2%

 

Total displaced gallons of gasoline:

2.3 billion-3.7 billion per year

Market share of alternative fuels:

15-24%

With increased consumer choice from options such as natural gas vehicles, biodiesel and electric cars – overall consumer choice goes up and prices go down.  This healthier market would result in fewer price spikes at the pump, and a more sustainable transportation system.

For the sake of our pocketbooks, we must continue to foster policies that help the environment, create jobs, spur new industries and reduce gas prices. Because in the end we could all use a little more green.

Posted in Clean Energy, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

AB 32’s Scoping Plan is a Tale of Two Energy Futures

For a window into two vastly different visions of our state’s future, take a look at the comments filed last week as part of the AB 32 Scoping Plan update process. The 2008 Scoping Plan lays out the approach that California will take to achieve its goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and this is the first 5 year update.

EDF’s comments reflect what most Californians have already asked for – a laser focus on expanding emission reductions and providing ample clean energy opportunities for businesses throughout the state.

This includes:

  • Increasing emission reductions from vehicles, goods movement and the agriculture sector;
  • Developing diversified low-carbon fuels that yield cost reductions;
  • Integrating clean energy and energy efficiency through programs like “time-of-use” pricing and On-Bill Repayment;
  • And, extending the cap-and-trade program and low carbon fuel standard beyond 2020;

All of the opportunities outlined by EDF aim to fulfill the Scoping Plan’s mission: achieving the maximum technologically feasible reductions in greenhouse gas pollution in a cost-effective way.

A recent report by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) shows that refineries and other businesses are investing in the future by taking advantage of energy efficiency and savings opportunities under AB 32 – at a rate that has increased since the adoption of the 2008 Scoping Plan. A price signal for cap and trade beyond 2020 would reduce uncertainty, create a robust and stable market, and is key if California wants to continue driving these energy and money saving opportunities.

Comments filed by the California Chamber of Commerce (Cal Chamber) tell a different story.

Rather than encourage long term planning and a robust low-carbon economy, they've joined in lockstep with organizations like the Western States Petroleum Association (a representative of large oil including Exxon and Chevron) to try and hinder the state’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas pollution. Just as their frivolous lawsuit shows they would rather expend resources on litigation rather than innovation, they used the entirety of their comments to discourage CARB from using the Scoping Plan update as a tool to drive the state forward towards a clean-energy future.

Although they admit “the AB 32 mandate does not vanish in 2020,” they’re short on ideas that reduce greenhouse gas pollution in the state at the lowest possible cost.

They also fail to recognize that under the current cap-and-trade program, businesses have the tools and flexibility to reduce emissions through cost-effective means, and ignore the over 350,000 jobs created from California’s green economy.

A major part of the Cal Chamber’s argument is that California is going it alone, creating an unfair playing field for businesses in the state. They conveniently forget that Quebec will link with California’s cap-and-trade program in January 2014, and that there are complementary programs nationally and globally: RGGI has proposed severely lowering its emissions cap, and even China – the world’s biggest polluter – has started pilot emissions trading programs in an effort to potentially move towards a nationwide carbon cap in 2016.

While ideas like extending the market signal and expanding programs that help integrate clean energy and energy efficiency point us towards a bright future of innovation under AB 32, oil companies continue to stand in the way of progress and resist moving toward a robust, low-carbon economy. With apologies to Charles Dickens, this is a tale of two (very different) visions for California’s clean energy future.

Posted in Cap and trade, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

California’s Refineries Data Yet Again Shows Climate Change Controls are Working

Some hope is on the horizon as more evidence shows the 12 biggest refineries in California are exploring and undertaking large energy efficiency improvements.

A recently released ARB report points out that these investments will save money, decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and reduce air pollution.  Of course, many of them come with a hefty price tag – even by oil industry standards – but they are also yielding outsized benefits.

In the report, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) identified 401 energy efficiency opportunities that are completed, ongoing, scheduled or under consideration at the state’s biggest polluters. Most of these investments have been undertaken since 2009 – the first year following the adoption of California’s AB 32 Scoping Plan, a blueprint for reducing emissions throughout the economy.

In total, these projects would reduce GHG emissions from these 12 facilities by 2.78MMT CO2e annually, about 9% of their statewide total for climate change pollution.  In addition, these improvements would create individual net savings of up to $25 million annually. What’s more, these savings estimates do not include the benefit these companies get from having to secure fewer allowances in the state’s landmark cap-and-trade market – worth another $50 million a year at a forecasted carbon price of $18 a ton.

As we wrote earlier, annual data released by CARB shows that many of these 12 refineries’ emissions have been decreasing every year from 2008-2011, and the 401 energy efficiency projects are likely part of the reason.  To support this, data on individual firms shows that almost all of the state’s facilities have either taken part in the efficiency improvement process or are in the stages of doing it soon.

Out of the 401 opportunities, nearly 80% of the emissions reductions have been completed or will be in the next few years. Another 7% are scheduled and 15% are under consideration. The majority of improvements are from equipment upgrades, adapting new technologies, and from changing processes such as reducing steam usage, improving boiler function, and changing equipment duty cycles.

Valero’s Benicia refinery, one of the 12, has identified 43 projects that are completed or currently underway, with a 7% annual GHG emission reduction. These improvements are mostly through new steam boilers or other new electric equipment. These upgrades also have a less than two year payback period, with an annual cost savings of $16 million.

Figure 1.

These findings confirm a 2010-2012 DOE Industrial Assessment Centers audit, which found that large industrial facilities had an average of 16% electricity cost savings available from energy efficiency upgrades, a 3% increase from the 2006 audit’s findings. This demonstrates that innovation and technology are constantly improving and savings opportunities continue to emerge.

Of course, refineries aren’t just giving themselves a chance save money from reduced energy or carbon credit purchases when they invest in efficiency. They’re helping reduce the poorest air quality and highest asthma rates — in communities located right next door to them.

As CARB’s report shows, improvements to cut GHGs at refineries have the double benefit of cutting the release rates of hazardous chemicals and pollutants that make people sick – since refining oil is a process that inherently causes harmful pollutants to be released.

Altogether, this new data proves AB 32 is working, not just for the health of the planet by fighting climate change, but for the public health of California.

Posted in Climate, Energy, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 | 1 Response, comments now closed