The price we all pay for electricity generally does not reflect the “true costs” of producing it. As described in a recent blog post, generating electricity creates harmful pollution, damaging the environment and public health. This comes with a cost, but it is not necessarily paid for by those generating the pollution or purchasing the electricity. These types of costs are known as “external costs.”
For example, a coal-fired power plant releases pollution into the atmosphere, which adversely affects the health of residents in nearby communities. This pollution is an example of an external cost because it causes health problems that neither the plant owners nor the electric users pay for (unless they live near the plant and pay the cost through their health bills).
From coal mining and energy production, to distributing and using that energy, to disposing of waste products, electricity has many external costs. By examining them, we can better understand the true cost of electricity and how it varies depending on the technology or fuel used to generate it. Read More
By Mark Brownstein and Steven Hamburg
Washington Post science writer Chris Mooney weighs in today with a deep-dive on rising methane emissions from America’s surging natural gas production, calling it “most important mystery about U.S. climate change policy.” This story is just the latest to highlight the need to address this urgent climate threat. It follows Bill McKibben’s compelling piece in the Nation exploring the same question and suggesting methane has overwhelmed the benefits of carbon dioxide reductions.
McKibben raises a crucial question, one we’ve spent a lot of time looking at ourselves. He’s right that methane is one of the most pressing fronts in the fight against disastrous warming, and one of the many reasons we need to speed the transition to clean energy. But we are more hopeful than Bill is about prospects for effectively addressing the methane problem in the meantime.
Big Problem, Critical Opportunity
Oil and gas methane emissions are a huge threat. But the very same properties that make methane such a danger to the climate also mean it’s an opportunity — a chance to reduce the rate of temperature increase in the next two decades while we simultaneously do the hard work of reducing CO2 emissions. Tackling methane is the single most impactful move we can make to alter the trajectory of climate change we experience now, even as we continue to accelerate the shift to low- and zero-carbon energy. Read More
By Tim O’Connor and Lauren Navarro
Ongoing fallout from the catastrophic failure at the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility is exposing a critical weakness in the state’s energy system. Overdependence on natural gas – and on one provider of that gas – means we don’t have the flexibility we need to cope if things go wrong. And now that they have gone wrong, because of SoCalGas’ mismanagement of the Aliso Canyon storage facility, a group of state agencies says the region could be facing power shortages this summer as a result.
A new report released today by the California Energy Commission (CEC), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California Independent System Operator (CAISO,) the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) describes the problem. While a separate report released by CEC, CPUC, CAISO and LADWP, begins to lay out the short-term response plan. (Some of the efforts already under way are documented here, here, and here). Read More
When the White House confirmed plans to limit methane pollution from the oil and gas sector — not just from new or heavily modified facilities, but thousands of existing wells, pipelines and other facilities that are currently emitting at least 9.3 million metric tons of the invisible heat-trapping gas each year — industry responded with the usual complaints about back-breaking costs.
Unlike recent years, those objections come with a twist: The widespread (and very real) challenges in an oil and gas sector struggling with a global supply glut and sharply lower prices, both enabled by the same unconventional production technologies that fueled the boom in the first place. We simply shouldn’t impose new regulations in a down market, the industry says.
To be clear: There’s no disputing these are tough times for oil and gas. Hard working Americans have lost good jobs by the tens of thousands. Communities are suffering. It’s a cycle familiar to anyone who’s been around the industry, even if that doesn't make it any easier on people living through it now. Read More
Last week, the industry-sponsored Energy In Depth (EID) launched a critique of an analysis by ICF International showing that oil and gas companies can achieve major reductions in their methane emissions at relatively modest cost relative to the price of the natural gas they’re selling. In particular, EID emphasizes that natural gas prices have fallen substantially since the study was done, undercutting the result.
It’s true that natural gas prices have dropped, but the basic conclusion of the study still stands. While commodity prices fluctuate, the fundamental rationale for action hasn’t changed. In fact, over the same timeframe, EPA and other estimates of industry emissions have increased dramatically.
The bottom line is that reducing oil and gas methane emissions remains one of the biggest, most cost-effective opportunities we have for addressing climate change. Read More
It was a big week in Canada-US relations. For the first time in 19 years, the White House hosted the Canadian Prime Minister for a state dinner. And for good measure, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau announced a renewed collaboration to combat climate change starting with methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
Under the pact, the United States and Canada committed to reduce oil and gas methane gas emissions by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Both countries also said the goal would be met by developing regulations for existing sources as well as new ones – a crucial concern – and challenged other countries to adopt similarly aggressive oil and gas methane goals.
This new level of cooperation will deliver significant progress for both Canada and the United States toward achieving their emissions reduction commitments set at the Paris climate talks held this past December. Read More