Climate 411

Analysis: North Carolina can curb emissions and reduce costs through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

As North Carolina Governor Cooper considers policies to reach the state’s climate goals, analysis from EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates shows that joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) can help get the job done. RGGI would significantly reduce climate-warming pollution in North Carolina by capping and reducing power sector carbon emissions.

The analysis underscores that North Carolina will not reach its emission reduction targets under a business-as-usual scenario, though a strong cap on emissions can deliver the reductions necessary while driving investment in zero emitting resources. We also found that RGGI can help North Carolina reduce emissions while lowering overall system costs, reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, and improving public health through reduced air pollution.

EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates modeled the potential impacts of placing a cap on power sector emissions that declines at a rate consistent with the cap trajectory adopted by the 10 other states participating in the regional program. This analysis looked at several different scenarios, which evaluated a range of fuel prices and different options regarding whether surrounding states capped power sector emissions and found substantial benefits from participation in RGGI. The analysis was completed prior to availability of data related to potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on carbon emissions, electricity demand, and economic recovery, though COVID-19 considerations are addressed below.

By modeling a range of fuel price and policy scenarios, we can draw useful insights about expected trends in emissions, electricity generation sources, and power sector costs based on a number of different factors. Energy models, like the one used in this analysis, are not crystal balls that predict exactly what emissions or costs will be in the future, but they provide useful insights about the directional impacts of climate policies compared to a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario with no carbon limit.

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Also posted in Cities and states, Greenhouse Gas Emissions / Read 1 Response

Creating a cleaner and more affordable power sector in North Carolina

For more than a year, dozens of advocates and stakeholders – including the electric utilities – have been working together on North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan development process, which calls for creating a 21st century energy system that is clean, affordable, reliable and equitable. As discussions have progressed in ongoing working groups to explore policy pathways for climate action and systemic utility regulatory reform of North Carolina’s power sector, we recently learned that over the past several months, the major electric utilities across the southeast have been engaged in a separate dialogue on a proposal to create an automated market for trading among the utilities.

We must not let these conversations distract from real opportunities to achieve Governor Cooper’s ultimate goal of moving North Carolina to a clean energy future. The electric power sector is the largest source of climate-warming pollution in North Carolina, making up 35% of the state’s emissions. Gov Cooper has committed the state to doing its part to address pollution from this sector, and both the state and Duke Energy have set goals to achieve net zero carbon emission from the power sector by 2050.

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Also posted in Cities and states / Comments are closed

Four reasons why investing in clean energy is essential for rebuilding the economy

Working upon wind turbine, over 80 meters of high in a wind farm.

As federal lawmakers continue to debate different approaches for jump-starting our economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they must also consider how the investments we make today can be designed to avoid the worst environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change in the long run. Amid much disagreement, one promising area of investment continues to stand out: clean energy.

A big investment in clean energy, clean transportation, energy efficiency deployment and R&D can generate substantial returns on job growth and emissions reductions. Boosting these areas now can be a critical step toward building a 100% clean economy over the next 30 years, a science-based goal that calls for allowing no more climate pollution produced than can be removed from the atmosphere across all sectors of the economy.

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Also posted in Green Jobs, Jobs / Comments are closed

New report: How economic development policies can support fossil fuel communities in the move to a clean economy

This first report in a new joint research series by Environmental Defense Fund and Resources for the Future examines US federal economic development programs and policies that can revitalize communities that have been historically reliant on fossil fuels. Daniel Raimi, Wesley Look, Molly Robertson of RFF and Jake Higdon of EDF contributed to the report described in this blog post.

For a long time, Boone County, West Virginia was a vibrant coal community at the center of Appalachia, ranked consistently as the top county for coal production in the state. At one point, the county was able to capitalize on a surplus of revenue, derived largely from the state’s coal severance tax, to fund new sports fields and judicial buildings. But the decline in US coal production over the last decade, driven by increasingly competitive energy alternatives, including wind and solar, led to mine closures in West Virginia — and an exodus of coal workers and their families. Boone County’s budget diminished along with the closures: Its General Fund Revenue fell by half in the last five years.

In 2019, local officials faced a $2.5 million budget shortfall, forcing them to make difficult cuts to essential community services.

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Also posted in Green Jobs, Jobs / Comments are closed

New research series: Ensuring fairness for workers and communities in the transition to a clean economy

EDF and Resources for the Future (RFF) partner on a new research series to inform policymaking on fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities in transition.

Coal burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.

Coal burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.

The shockwaves from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to reverberate across the United States, with tens of millions unemployed and workers in every sector in need of support. The energy sector is reeling from the impact — especially the many workers and communities living in coal-dominated regions already grappling with job loss.

In Northeast Wyoming, the Powder River Basin region experienced the largest round of coal mine layoffs in years. In West Virginia, Longview Power — cited as the most efficient coal-fired power plant in the country — filed for bankruptcy. And in Somerset County, Pennsylvania a local coal mine went “indefinitely idle” and laid off 100 workers. These are just a few examples from this spring that reveal how the steep drop in energy demand, largely a result of shutdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19, exacerbated loss in the coal industry. But they don’t capture the whole story.

The loss of these coal jobs will cause a ripple effect beyond the workers: these families will see a drop in income, making it harder to make ends meet, and may also lose health care and other critical benefits. Surrounding businesses — from restaurants to gas stations — will see a drop in customers and the communities and towns dependent on taxes from the coal industry for building roads and schools face an uncertain future too.

But well before the coronavirus outbreak, coal-dependent regions were already facing chronic job loss, public health crises, and other hardships. The rise of cheaper energy alternatives, including the dramatically improving costs of wind and solar power, has been steadily moving the needle toward a low-carbon economy in the US.

For years, many coal communities anticipated the gradual decline in jobs and revenue; few were prepared for the free fall from coronavirus.

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Also posted in Green Jobs, Jobs, News / Comments are closed

Two new analyses: significant benefits for Pennsylvania from historic move to limit carbon pollution

(This post was co-written by Mandy Warner)

Two new analyses show significant opportunities for Pennsylvania under environmental protections that are compatible with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – commonly known as RGGI.

RGGI is a collaboration of nine northeast states that is designed to lower carbon pollution from the power sector. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed an historic executive order last month directing the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to develop a regulation that is compatible with RGGI. That order followed Wolf’s commitment to reducing Pennsylvania’s climate pollution by 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by mid-century, compared to 2005 levels.

Pennsylvania has the fifth dirtiest power sector in the nation, and the power plants operating in Pennsylvania emit more carbon pollution than all the other power plants in the nine northeastern states in RGGI combined. A binding, declining limit on carbon pollution is a necessary element of any strategy to address this problem.

Two studies underscore the value of Pennsylvania’s actions:

  • EDF and M. J. Bradley & Associates released a new analysis that found there could be significant economic and emissions reduction benefits for Pennsylvania from setting a binding, declining limit on power sector carbon pollution, and creating a flexible, market-based mechanism to achieve that limit. The analysis was based on policy specifications, inputs, and assumptions developed by M.J. Bradley & Associates at the direction and on behalf of EDF, with feedback from participating stakeholder companies.
  • A recent report by Resources for the Future had similar findings.

Here are five key takeaways from both of these analyses.

  1. Pennsylvania has a significant opportunity for cost-effective pollution abatement by limiting carbon pollution and linking with RGGI

While carbon pollution from Pennsylvania’s power sector has declined in recent years, driven primarily by market trends including cheap natural gas prices, it is projected to start increasing again. By mid-2020, under business-as-usual forecasts with no carbon limits, both analyses found Pennsylvania’s power sector carbon pollution would be more than 30 percent higher than current levels.

By setting a binding, declining limit on power sector carbon pollution and creating a flexible, market-based mechanism to achieve that limit, Pennsylvania can significantly reduce its carbon pollution at low cost.

The EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates analysis found that linking with RGGI and designing the program in a way that ensures all electric power used in Pennsylvania is covered under the cap could lower carbon pollution by more than 35 percent and produce roughly $200 million in net savings for Pennsylvania in 2030. That’s compared to business-as-usual scenarios with no carbon limit.

The lower costs are due to reduced need for capital expenditures like building new power plants, and to declining fossil fuel costs – both driven by more of the existing nuclear fleet remaining in operation.

Resources for the Future’s analysis similarly found that linking with RGGI could lead to significant carbon pollution reductions in Pennsylvania with no observable increases in electricity prices.

Earlier studies have also demonstrated the benefits of RGGI. By driving investments in energy efficiency, RGGI has already reduced consumer energy bills, generated net economic benefits for participating states, and has  produced enormous public health benefits. RGGI has helped save hundreds of lives, prevented thousands of asthma attacks, and saved billions of dollars in health-related economic costs.

According to electricity bill modeling by the Analysis Group, the average residential electricity bill in RGGI states will be 35 percent lower in 2031 than it is today, due to investments in energy efficiency.

Linking Pennsylvania with RGGI could offer further benefits – including allowing for emissions trading, which can lower total costs and make Pennsylvania’s program resilient to unexpected changes in weather or other events that could affect electricity markets while still preserving state autonomy and programs.

  1. Limiting carbon pollution and linking with RGGI provides support for existing and new zero-emission generation

Placing a binding, declining limit on carbon pollution – and then letting the carbon pollution limit drive a price in the energy market – provides Pennsylvania with a technology-neutral approach that ensures the most cost-effective deployment of zero-emission resources to meet the state’s climate goals.

The EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates analysis found that under business-as-usual scenarios using EDF’s reference natural gas price assumptions, all nuclear capacity in Pennsylvania retires by 2030.

According to the analysis, linking with RGGI and designing the program in a way that ensures all electric power used in Pennsylvania is covered under the cap can help support the state’s existing nuclear fleet – retaining roughly 50 percent of the fleet in 2030.

Resources for the Future similarly found that limiting carbon pollution and linking with RGGI would forestall expected nuclear retirements, increasing Pennsylvania’s nuclear generation by up to 280 percent in 2026 relative to business-as-usual scenarios.

The natural gas prices used by Resources for the Future for their analysis are higher than currently observed, which would allow nuclear capacity to remain profitable with greater ease than may be possible with lower natural gas prices. But the preservation of existing nuclear capacity is a robust result under all scenarios that limit carbon pollution across both analyses, providing valuable insight into the role a limit on carbon pollution can play in preserving assets that are zero-emitting.

The EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates analysis also found that linking with RGGI can increase wind and solar generation in Pennsylvania by almost 75 percent in 2030 compared to current levels. Resources for the Future found that limiting carbon pollution and linking with RGGI could generate up to 25 percent more wind and solar generation in Pennsylvania by 2026 compared to business-as-usual scenarios.

  1. Pennsylvania can reduce carbon pollution while increasing net exports from the state

The EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates analysis shows that limiting carbon pollution and linking with RGGI would enable Pennsylvania to achieve its environmental objectives at low cost while at the same time increasing net exports from the state at least nine percent in 2030 compared to current levels.

Pennsylvania can also design its program to shift allowance value to producers with updating output-based allocation, which can increase gas and nuclear generation and energy exports in the state. According to Resources for the Future, the production incentive from output-based allowance allocation can increase exports from Pennsylvania above business-as-usual levels by 2026. Most of these exports are to other RGGI states so the overall pollution in the region is unaffected.

Resources for the Future also finds that using an output-based allowance allocation to non-emitting producers can provide incentives to shift generation in Pennsylvania from fossil fuel to zero-emitting sources, further decreasing carbon pollution in Pennsylvania and nationally.

  1. Smart policy design can amplify these benefits and further lower overall pollution

When a state or group of states puts a limit on carbon pollution, particularly in states that are served by a multi-state wholesale electricity market, emissions leakage to emitting sources that are not covered under the program is always a concern.

While both analyses demonstrate clearly that such leakage will not even come close to dwarfing the significant climate benefits of Pennsylvania’s program, it may partially erode the potential for greater pollution reductions. Linking programs can help reduce leakage but is not sufficient to fully mitigate it.

The EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates analysis finds that an effective leakage mitigation mechanism, such as putting emissions associated with imported power under the cap, can lower overall carbon pollution – driving 75 percent more reduction in pollution in the Eastern Interconnect in 2030. The analysis also shows that leakage mitigation can help provide more support for Pennsylvania’s existing nuclear fleet and lower overall system costs, more than doubling nuclear generation in the state and lowering system costs by roughly $330 million in 2030 compared to no leakage mitigation.

Pennsylvania has options available today to mitigate leakage concerns and ensure that the state is not disadvantaged in the broader marketplace relative to other states that choose not to control carbon pollution. Resources for the Future has shown that an output-based allowance allocation to producers has the potential to result in negative leakage.

Regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection is also looking into ways to enhance technical capabilities to support state policy choices such as carbon limits. As part of its Carbon Pricing Senior Task Force, PJM is actively exploring with its stakeholders what data needs and frameworks can best support state carbon outcomes in the context of a regional market. They are also considering ways to ensure that states that are controlling carbon are seeing those policy choices accurately reflected.

This PJM stakeholder process provides an important opportunity for Pennsylvania to engage to ensure the state has the information it needs to deploy the policy frameworks that can effectively mitigate leakage.

  1. More ambitious carbon pollution limits can provide even further benefits

The EDF and M.J. Bradley & Associates analysis also finds that more ambitious carbon pollution limits (in line with deep decarbonization trajectories) with leakage mitigation can accelerate pollution reductions, retain all of the state’s existing nuclear fleet, and incent new clean energy resource builds – all at lower system costs compared to business as usual scenarios with no carbon limit.

According to the analysis, more ambitious carbon pollution limits can increase solar capacity in Pennsylvania by more than 10 times, leading to an increase in renewable generation of more than 130 percent in 2030 compared to business-as-usual scenarios.

Public support for concrete climate policy is sky-high in Pennsylvania

There is strong support in Pennsylvania for moving forward to reduce carbon pollution.

A poll conducted by EDF Action earlier this year found that 79 percent of Pennsylvania voters support regulations to reduce carbon pollution. That includes 66 percent of state Republicans polled.

Major Pennsylvania power companies, including Exelon and FirstEnergy, applauded Governor Wolf’s executive order. The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce noted that “climate change is real” and that the business community needs to be “at the table to discuss solutions.”

The time for action is now

It is becoming increasingly urgent to address climate change. That means it is critical for Pennsylvania to move forward without delay, and put in place an ambitious program to secure carbon pollution reductions and lock in public health benefits at the lowest cost.

The good news is that Pennsylvania can build on planning it has already completed as part of previous compliance work. Governor Wolf’s executive order sets a deadline of July 31, 2020 for a proposed rule to cut carbon emissions to be presented to the Environmental Quality Board. But there’s no reason not to move forward more quickly.

We urge Governor Wolf to develop a proposed rule to submit to the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee at its February meeting. That would help create certainty about the state’s emissions trajectory on a short-term time horizon, including creating regulatory certainty for affected industries.

Also posted in Cities and states, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed