Author Archives: Tim O'Connor

Seeing Green: Emission Reducing Fuel Policies Help Lower Gas Prices

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

By: Tim O'Connor and Shira Silver

Californians struggling with high gas prices should feel optimistic about the future.  A new memo 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 Standardcap 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.

Read More »

Posted in California, Electric Vehicles| Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog

Tim O'Connor

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.

Read More »

Posted in California, Energy Efficiency, On-bill repayment| Tagged , , , | Comments closed

First Of Its Kind Non-Profit Network On Carbon Capture And Sequestration Launched

Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), along with eight other environmental advocacy organizations, announced the launch of the Environmental NGO Network on Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) – a collaborative effort to ensure domestic and international policies and regulations allowing for CCS ensure that the highest standards are met for public safety, atmospheric and environmental protection.

Right now, CCS projects are being developed by some of the world’s biggest energy and oil companies, and international negotiations are looking to provide carbon credit opportunities for use in carbon control regulations.  The CCS Network will serve as a communications medium between EDF and other member environmental organizations as we work towards a responsible CCS industry, enabling the world’s top experts from the NGO community to contribute and share ideas. 

New CCS projects represent an opportunity for long term carbon reductions, though they must adhere to best operational and environmental standards to enable long-term success.  The CCS Network will work together to find common ground on CCS-related efforts and work toward ensuring responsible development.

For more information about the network, visit: www.engonetwork.org.

Posted in General| Tagged | Comments closed

EDF Releases Ten Recommendations For The First Offshore CCS Projects In Texas

On December 2nd, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) completed a 2-year long research project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to support a University of Texas (UT) project to find suitable sites to sequester carbon dioxide below ground in Texas’ offshore state waters.   The research report, which directs site selection, anticipates environmental risks and provides recommendations during project siting and development, was generated to safely and efficiently guide offshore carbon capture and geologic sequestration (CCS) projects to minimize risks to human health and the environment.

Source: Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Region

Given that a CCS project off the coast of Texas would likely be the first of its kind in U.S. history, the report offers valuable insight to help guide a future demonstration project which may open the door to a potentially huge CCS industry.  In 2010, the U.S. DOE evaluated the gulf coast region and found vast potential for storing CO2 in deep saline formations (underground salt-water deposits) as well as in depleted oil and gas fields throughout the area.  Similarly, in 2006 the University of Texas evaluated geologic formations across the coastal region, finding exceptional geology for engaging in CCS projects.

EDF’s recommendations, included in Section VII or the report, provide guidelines for use in site selection and development for offshore CCS projects in Texas, including:

  • Following threshold standards to avoid negative effects on human health or coastal natural resources;
  • Taking an overall precautionary approach wherever possible;
  • Performing site-specific evaluations within the full zone of potential impact, even if not required by law;
  • Choosing sites with the least potential for leakage;
  • Applying recently adopted U.S. EPA rules for groundwater protection even if not required by law;
  • Locating sites as far from shorelines and existing aquifers as feasible;
  • Reusing or collocating equipment new project footprints;
  • Selecting back-up sites where possible;
  • Developing site specific monitoring, verification, accounting, and reporting plan; and
  • Evaluating feasible mitigation measure prior to site operation.

To complete the research project, EDF energy and oceans experts performed an in-depth look into the current state of the Texas gulf coast environment and extrapolated lessons learned from operations analogous to CCS to analyze the potential for impact and recommend ways to mitigate overall risk.   EDF used examples and best management practices developed for offshore oil drilling, onshore enhanced oil recovery, acid gas and wastewater injection, and offshore CCS projects in other countries to make its suite of recommendations.

Posted in Texas| Tagged | Comments closed

California Smart Grid Plans Expect Significant Benefits

But Missing Metrics and Milestones to Achieve Them

Over the course of the next 10 years, California’s electric grid is getting a 21st century facelift. Last month, the three biggest utilities, PG&E, SDG&E and SCE (with more than 11 million customer accounts) released smart grid deployment plans outlining roughly between $2.4 and $3.6 billion of new investments to make the smart grid a reality.

These plans were required by a 2009 law passed by the State legislature (SB 17), and the investments they outline are critical to helping California meet new infrastructure, efficiency and environmental policies. The state policies of note include reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, increasing renewable electricity use from 20 percent to 33 percent by 2020 and installing 1,940 megawatts (MW) of solar energy by 2017.   

Last January, EDF began developing a framework for evaluation. The framework determines how close a plan is to achieving the full range of smart grid benefits. In particular, it looks at whether plans have clear visions, effective deployment strategies, meaningful metrics, accurate baselines, and demonstrable roadmaps for success.

After nearly 1,000 pages of smart grid plans were released by the utilities in June and July, EDF energy experts used the framework to evaluate them and filed comments to the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”).

What we found was dramatic. Most importantly, according to the plans, if California deploys the smart grid in an effective way, utilities are going to significantly reduce air pollution, eliminate massive inefficiencies in the system, dramatically increase California’s reliance on renewable energy (including "distributed" energy generated in communities' own backyard), accommodate hundreds of thousands of zero-emission electric vehicles, and empower consumers to manage their energy use, footprint and bills.

These benefits, if realized, will be significant. PG&E, for example, estimated that it will cut costs by up to $2 billion and reduce up to 2.1 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. SCE estimated it will be able to charge 1 million electric vehicles by 2020 and avoid up to 1,900 (MW) of peak demand by 2014 (peak demand is typically the most costly to deliver and often the most polluting). SDG&E estimated that it will cut 6.8 MMT of different types of global warming pollution and cut fuel costs by $615 million.

Smart Grid Plan Evaluations and Scores

EDF evaluated plans on the individual pieces—their vision, strategy, metrics, baseline, and roadmaps—and also as a whole.  What we found was that while utilities are visionary and openly strategic about how the smart grid will be deployed, they are missing some key ingredients to overall success – such as quantifiable goals and numerous metrics which progress can be tracked. No utility plan scored above a B- because data was lacking.

EDF gave SDG&E and SCE the highest cumulative grades of a ‘B-‘; though SDG&E edged ahead of SCE with a higher overall points score (32.3 out of 40 for SDG&E compared to 31.8 out of 40 for SCE).  PG&E’s plan earned a ‘C’ (with 28.9 points out of 40). SDG&E earned the most overall points by working with numerous stakeholders and digging into ways to provide the full range of expected benefits.

From the beginning of this process, we advised utilities that these plans should be viewed as roadmaps that will guide a multi-year journey toward a modernized grid. The public, however, and the state’s elected and appointed officials need more information to gauge whether the state’s on the right track. 

EDF views the scores as mid-term grades, with room for improvement. Luckily, the smart grid planning process is still underway at the California Public Utilities Commission so utilities can improve their plans and raise their overall scores before they become final.

Posted in California, Smart Grid| 1 Response, comments now closed

Smart Grid Evaluation Framework Will Score California Utility Plans

The piece was originally posted on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

Today, EDF released a tool that will be used next month to critically evaluate the smart grid deployment plans of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE).

As a bit of background, we’ve been actively engaged with the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) since the start of the state’s smart grid planning process. Our comments and suggestions were included as mandatory requirements in the roadmap approved by the CPUC last June, which these utilities must follow in developing their plans. Plans are due to the CPUC by July 1st.

We’ve also been working with SDG&E on its plan, which was submitted to the CPUC earlier today. We advised the utility on steps it can take to empower customers to save energy and money, integrate large- and small-scale renewable energy projects and allow electric vehicles to charge when electricity is cheaper and cleaner.

The Evaluation Framework for Smart Grid Deployment Plans was generated by EDF energy staff and independent consultants. It was reviewed and critiqued by a diverse array of industry and consumer groups including the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), The Brattle Group and The Utility Reform Network (TURN).

The framework will help systematically peel back the layers of complex utility plans and help CPUC staff, policy makers and the public see whether they will deliver the envisioned benefits of a fully deployed smart grid.

Since these plans are the first of their kind by major electric utilities in the West, and are the building blocks that will help forge a new path for updating California’s grid, EDF expects there will be a certain amount of learning while doing.  

With utilities spending millions of dollars on everything from smart meters to automating new systems, it’s important to provide guidelines to help them get it right from the beginning. The framework will shine a light on the best ideas (with an eye toward establishing best practices) and identify where plans fall short.

Our goal is to guide all utilities on how they can deliver environmental and public health benefits to consumers and deliver returns on ratepayer investments in the form of cleaner air, improved public health, reduced energy costs and a stronger economy. Among other attributes, top plans should show how the smart grid will lead to consumers having more control over their energy use and better access to data – making it easier to implement new technology for clean energy and energy efficiency. 

EDF will put its framework to work over the coming weeks and months to evaluate these plans thoroughly and with equal rigor so that the best elements are adopted across the state and any weaknesses or gaps remedied.

Posted in California, Smart Grid| Comments closed