Governor Pawlenty has picked 51 people for the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG). Sadly, but predictably, no one from Energista was invited.
This group will be working with the Center for Climate Strategies to develop a Minnesota-tailored plan to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. I'm excited to see John Brandl, a professor and former Dean from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, appointed to the group.
Thanks to those of you still reading - Energista will now begin getting regular updates again.
The NY Times has an interesting article today on the debate in the Pacific Northwest over removing hydroelectric dams to restore wild salmon populations. The article talks about how Indians and commercial fishermen have been hurt by the decimated salmon populations, and how farmers could stand to lose if the dams are removed My personal position is this should be carefully evaluated on a case by case basis. If the dam is fairly small, then it may be worth removing. If the dam is relatively large, then firm plans must be developed to replace it with other renewable sources. Simply saying replace it with solar or wind is not sufficient since those are intermittent sources. If dams are haphazardly removed, it is likely they will be replaced with more coal or natural gas plants.
Last week's Minnesota House Session Weekly (pdf) details some of the wrangling over the Global Warming Mitigation Act and discusses increases in biofuels funding.
I hope to return to a regular posting schedule after in 1-2 weeks. As soon as I finish my coursework for the grad degree, I will devote a lot of time to creating original posts and covering local energy events. Thanks for sticking with us.
It is mostly about C-BED, a great set of rules that we have barely touched upon here. However, Article 2 deals with greenhouse gases and sets up a goal to reduce greenhouse gas reductions in MN by 80% by 2050. Nothing binding mind you, but it would be nice to reduce those pesky emissions.
Also, we need a plan.
By February 1, 2008, the commissioner of commerce, in consultation with the commissioners of the Pollution Control Agency, the Housing Finance Agency, and the Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Employment and Economic Development, and Transportation, and the chair of the Metropolitan Council, shall submit to the legislature a climate change action plan that meets the requirements of this section.
The plan must consider a cap and trade approach.
I cannot hide my disappointment over this bill. We have a Republican Governor who proposed requiring offsets for new large sources of greenhouse gases. We have a DFL in charge of the legislature. We don't have a bill that will actually force us to stop digging a deeper hole.
What he have is a bill to start studying how to stop digging. The utilities claim that Big Stone II will be a viable source of electricity even under a nationwide cap-and-trade system. Simultaneously, they claim that putting any price on their greenhouse gas emissions will prevent it from being built. I wonder if I am the only one who doesn't get that.
Fortunately for them, both parties in the Legislature appear to have understood their logic because the Senate stripped out offset language from the climate change bills. Odd that they claim people listening to all the worlds' scientists about global warming are alarmists while they decry that Minnesota will be without any electricity if they do not build a coal plant in South Dakota in 6 years.
Last night, I joined many others in a forum on climate change. Elizabeth Wilson was on a 5 person panel discussing the topic and taking questions from the audience. Listen to the show here.
Energista has been sagging in its MN Legislature coverage over the past two weeks, but Loon Commons has continued with great weekly updates. The Leg has the week off and I hope to catch up with their antics over the next couple of days. I have no clue what is happening in the Leg in relation to biofuels and would be thrilled if someone else can help us out with that.
Looks like the Global Warming Mitigation Act is pretty much dead in the Senate. At this point, I can do little more than quote the Loon Commons story:
The final curveball from the Senate this week was some significant struggles around passage of the Global Warming Mitigation Act we have been promoting. We were informed by Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon (DFL-Duluth), chair of the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Policy Committee that the Global Warming Mitigation Act (SF192 authored by Sen. Ellen Anderson) would not be receiving a vote in her committee. The most significant power a committee chair holds is setting the agenda for the committee. She indicated that any global warming provisions would be in her omnibus bill, but the language we were initially provided this week was a far cry from anything in the Sen. Anderson legislation we support.
The little more I can add is that I have heard that Chair Prettner-Solon is herself the stumbling block in her desire to forge consensus on this issue. She appears poised to move a do-nothing climate change bill through rather than proceed with a close vote (though I don't know that there are enough votes for the Global Warming Mitigation Act to survive). As someone who applauded her efforts to create consensus on the RES issue, I am disappointed that she feels consensus is needed on this bill as well. I'm tired of rhetoric suggesting Minnesota will be in the dark if new coal plants are forced to pay to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is that a worst-case scenario involves higher prices, not rolling blackouts. This is not trivial, but neither are massive investments into long-lived power plants that may not be economical in a carbon-constrained future.
How many states have Republican governors who will sign a bill requiring new large sources of GHGs to offset their emissions? That our Senate Energy Committee cannot move a strong bill out of committee is hugely disappointing.
The news is not all bad as the energy conservation bill pushed by Dibble in the Senate and Kalin in the House has passed the whole Senate and made it out of the House Finance Committee. The bill is not as aggressive as proposed, but should still encourage more conservation that we currently have. The switch from a spending mandate to a savings mandate should help and the decoupling part should provide better incentives for utilities to conserve. All in all, these are significant steps - ratcheting up the conservation requirement can be done overtime if there is evidence the utilities are capable of reaching higher targets.
I'm curious to see what I have been missing over the last two weeks of House Energy Finance Committee hearings. Chair Hilty has moved his (really the Governor's) Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 out of committee but Magnus (climate-change denier) has been stricken as an author. I'm curious to learn what happened there and what purpose the bill serves at this point (several pieces of it having already been passed in the RES and conservation piece I just mentioned).
Finally, the omnibus energy bills are hitting the committees soon. The House Energy Finance & Policy (H.F. 1392) is available for energy-obsessed masochists everywhere. The Senate Energy & Utilities Committee appears to have turned the Governor's Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 (S.F. 145) into their omnibus bill.
As noted yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in Massachusetts v. EPA. I put up a post about the case when it was argued back in November, 2006. Though the decision is exciting, its impact on the EPA will be minimal but may have larger implications. Compare it to throwing a pebble in a pond and creating larger ripples the farther they travel.
I'll get into the meat below but I want to first note that the Supreme Court has not ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs). The EPA must reconsider its decision not to regulate them. Regardless of what happens next, no one expects it to happen quickly. I doubt if anyone expects the Bush Administration to move on this issue before leaving office.
More importantly, the next administration will enter office with an understanding that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHGs. This may not be the best way to regulate them but it will be an option. Most importantly, this case removes a hurdle from California's efforts to develop a forward-looking energy policy (hat tip to MoJo Blog for reminding me of this). The Supreme Court, speaking with a split voice, has now resolved the question of whether the Clean Air Act (CAA) allows for greenhouse gas regulation. It does. A ruling in the opposite direction would have opened many of California's new energy initiatives to challenge.
Now into the decision.
This case came about because Massachusetts and other groups petitioned the EPA to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions from new cars under its authority under the Clean Air Act. The EPA said that the CAA did not give it the proper authority for regulating against climate change and that even if it had that authority, it wouldn't be prudent to do it now because it conflicts with other policies pursued by the executive branch and it would interfere with foreign policy and U.S. emissions from the auto sector are a minimal part of the total worldwide emissions anyway. Massachusetts asked the court to review this decision because the EPA based its decision on political factors rather than on the factors required by the Clean Air Act.
Summarizing the decision (emphasis added):
Under the Act's clear terms, EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. It has refused to do so, offering instead a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, including the existence of voluntary Executive Branch programs providing a response to global warming and impairment of the President's ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce emissions. These policy judgments have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and do not amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation by noting the uncertainty surrounding various features of climate change and concluding that it would therefore be better not to regulate at this time. If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment, it must say so. The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists for it to make an endangerment finding. Instead, EPA rejected the rule-making petition based on impermissible considerations. Its action was therefore "arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law," §7607(d)(9). On remand, EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.
This basically says that the EPA must find that climate change either poses a danger to human health and welfare or it does not (skip to sections VI and VII if you want to read this part of the decision). If it does pose a danger, the EPA is required to regulate it. The EPA may not just decline to regulate based on political concerns.
Much of the decision focuses on jurisprudence issues such as standing, which are interested but may be beyond the interests of the average energista reader... so I'll just write about some of the interesting parts.
Justice Stevens wrote the opinion and Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas dissented. The first couple of pages of the opinion (just after the syllabus) recount the history of climate science in an accessible manner. The Court notes that "harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized."
In response to the EPA argument that regulating greenhouse gases from cars would do little overall to stop climate change, the court wrote:
Agencies, like legislatures,do not generally resolve massive problems in one fell swoop ... but instead whittle away over time, refining their approach as circumstances change and they develop a more nuanced understanding of how best to proceed
This strikes me as being a brilliant retort to those who continue to argue that because Kyoto has not succeeded, all attempts to mitigate climate change are doomed to failure. Many argued that it does not matter whether the EPA regulates these emissions because other countries are increasing their emissions. The Court did not agree.
A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases,no matter what happens elsewhere.
The Court argues further against those who trivialize U.S. auto GHG emissions (6% of total GHG emissions worldwide) as being trivial by noting
To put this in perspective: Considering just emissions from the transportation sector, which represent less than one-third of this country's total carbon dioxide emissions, the United States would still rank as the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, outpaced only by the European Union and China.22 Judged by any standard, U. S. motor-vehicle emissions make a meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations and hence, according to petitioners, to global warming.
The dissenters mostly challenge the right of Massachusetts et al. to sue because they feel MA did not show particularized harm from global climate change and did not demonstrate that action by EPA would stop such harm if it were demonstrated. But they also cast doubt on climate science.
Scalia's dissent focused on how they would have decided the case if MA had standing to bring it. He argues that the Clean Air Act does not force the EPA to make a decision but that the EPA could essentially defer making a judgment on whether or not to deal with climate change forever. Additionally, they argued that greenhouse gases are not pollutants.
Senator Amy Klobuchar made the analogy at a policy presentation on climate change sponsored by the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute.
For those less technically inclined, UNIVAC I was the first commercial computer. It used 5,200 vacuum tubes, weighed 29,000 pounds and consumed 125 kW according to Wikipedia. An apt comparison for those familiar with the corn ethanol vs. cellulosic biofuel debate.
- Klobuchar is starting a "Carbon Busters!" award program (complete with generic superhero), which will be given to government, business, and schools that work to reduce their carbon footprints.
- Thinks cap and trade is the most realistic short-term solution
- "We don't need a silver bullet, we need silver buckshot."
Note that I am uncertain if the "generic" superhero of the Carbon Busters! program was Klobuchar's or Fecke's dry wit.
Future policy presentations will include other members of the Minnesota congressional delegation. Call your representative now if you want to see more energy related presentations.
Update: The presentation was heavily covered in the blog world -
"This isn't just about 8-year-olds crying about penguins anymore."
In a defeat for the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a U.S. government agency has the power under the clean air law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming.
The nation's highest court by a 5-4 vote said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "has offered no reasoned explanation" for its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change.
The NY Times is running an AP story about the decision - it notes:
The court had three questions before it.
--Do states have the right to sue the EPA to challenge its decision?
--Does the Clean Air Act give EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases?
--Does EPA have the discretion not to regulate those emissions?
The court said yes to the first two questions. On the third, it ordered EPA to re-evaluate its contention it has the discretion not to regulate tailpipe emissions. The court said the agency has so far provided a "laundry list" of reasons that include foreign policy considerations.
So don't expect the EPA to suddenly start regulating GHGs - they have lots of time to come up with more excuses not to and let challenges to that decision slowly work through the system.
This is a quick post to get the info out there - I'll post more this afternoon. Did not see this one coming. You can read the Massachusetts v. EPA opinion yourself.
Gore dropped by Congress to speak to energy committees on global climate change. He got the rock star treatment from the press and hostile cross examination from a comically absurd Senator Inhofe. The Economist covered his presentations.
GLOBAL-WARMING sceptics, says Al Gore, are looking at a burning cradle and speculating that perhaps the baby is flame-resistant. Testifying before Congress on March 21st, the former vice-president was as cautious and understated as any other movie star.
Many others covered it as well - I especially appreciated the NPR coverage. Sci-Tech Today covered some of Texas Republican Barton's pouting after he didn't like Gore's answers to Barton's suggestion that carbon dioxide emissions do not cause climate change. Onegoodmove has video of a comical interchange between Senator Inhofe (former committee chair) and Chair Barbara Boxer. Inhofe has claimed that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people - it probably comes close to the hoax of evolution.
Aside from the theatre aspect of the day, The Economist explains where we find ourselves
The Democrats have two options. They can push now for the toughest carbon-curbing law that will survive a filibuster in the Senate and a possible veto by President George Bush. Or they can wait two years and hope to pass something tougher in 2009, with someone greener in the White House. Mr Gore says there is no time to waste, but Congress may waste it anyway.
I have nearly listened to all the MN House hearings on the Global Warming Mitigation Act of 2007 (H.F. 375). By the end of the week, I hope to have a post that offers more detailed discussion of the hearings around that bill. As of now, the fate of the Mitigation Act looks uncertain but is leaning toward death from what I can tell.
I have had some thoughts and concerns over the course of the 12-15 hours of testimony and debate over this bill that I have been dying to express. They follow.
Much of the testimony on the bill is on section 5 (I'll explain the bill in greater detail in a future post) which requires any new large generation source to offset its GHG emissions. This has a major impact on the proposed Big Stone II plant in South Dakota (to supply electricity to Minnesota) and has therefore drawn a lot of ire from the utilities who have invested in Big Stone II and plan on it to supply future baseload power.
After listening to the same people offer the same testimony in front of two MN House committees (Energy Cmte and the Enviro and Natural Resources Cmte) as well as the Senate, I get testy. The utility testimony from Otter Tail Power offered the same flawed analogy 3 times in exactly the same wording without comment from anyone.
Big Stone II will be the most efficient plant for its time (a super critical pulverized coal), creating just less than 1 ton of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour produced. Otter Tail Power notes that it will be considerably more efficient than existing coal plants and should therefore be considered similiar to a hybrid vehicle. In this analogy their existing plants are essentially less efficient vehicles with greater pollution. They argue that not building Big Stone II, Otter Tail Power will be giving up a hybrid vehicle while it is forced to wait for some future zero emission vehicle. The lesson of the analogy is that such a wait is nonsensical.
This analogy is flawed in several ways. For one thing, Otter Tail gives the impression that they are replacing the old vehicle with the new hybrid, but they are in fact, continuing to run the old vehicles constantly while adding a new hybrid which pollutes a little bit less than the old vehicles, but still greatly adds to emissions. They have suggested that they might be able to retire one of the older plants five years after Big Stone II goes online, but have no obligation to do so.
The Mitigation Act legislation emphatically allows Otter Tail to do what their analogy suggests. They can offset their emissions from Big Stone II by reducing emissions from their older, dirtier, less efficient plants. This would be a tremendous benefit for the environment although such a trade certainly would not help Otter Tail add more baseload to their portfolio.
Otter Tail was not the only to note that plants like Big Stone II are good because they allow us to use coal more efficiently but they never noted that they are really proposing to continue using coal less inefficiently even after building these new facilities. No legislation is preventing them from making their older units more efficient.
Another concern of mine centers from that cold weekend in February when MISO asked everyone to conserve electricity because the grid had very little reserve capacity. This was brought on both due to extremely low wind speeds during high demand and the unplanned outage of a large coal generator (at the Sherco plant). Some Representatives (shockingly, only those who deny climate change science) have hammered on this issue by saying we need more coal generation to back up wind generation.
This is indeed one lesson that can be learned from that weekend. However, distributed generation advocates could also claim that by building massive centralized coal plants, we are setting ourselves up for a fall when one too many of the generators have an unplanned outage. This would also be a flawed lesson but seems just as valid as ignoring that component of the low reserve capacity in order to make a point.
What it comes down to is that a strong grid must have different technologies that compliment each other. As Chairman Hilty brilliantly reminded everyone, no utility is required to build that much wind to satisfy the renewable energy standard (although Xcel is - for reasons that I don't think were every justified). Utilities are required to build generation from a selection of eligible technologies. They have overwhelmingly chosen wind, despite its shortcomings, because it is cheaper. A stronger grid may not come cheap, but can be done by increased reliance on other eligible technologies like solar (though intermittent, tends to peak when needed) and biomass.
My last concern is about the rules of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX - wikipedia has the basics). While I like the idea of the climate exchange, I am concerned about what would happen if Minnesota joined it.
The way I understand it, CCX creates a baseline of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based on the client's emissions over base years 1998-2003 (or something close to that). It then requires (through force of binding contract) reductions from that baseline by certain percentages each year. Any upward deviation from those reductions requires credits from the exchange (currently selling around $4 per ton of carbon dioxide).
My main concern is with the accounting. If the Metropolitan Council joins CCX, its baseline will include the years before the Hiawatha light rail line began operation. LRT requires massive amounts of electricity, which is especially carbon intensive in this region. How is the Met Council expected to reduce its baseline with a spike on that magnitude?
LRT is a net reducer of GHGs but the Met Council does not get credit for the thousands of cars not driving when people take the train instead. This seems a fundamental flaw in CCX (unless I have misunderstood how it works) because it effectively penalizes the Met Council for reducing emissions via the LRT because the Met Council's baseline does not include emissions from all the private vehicles which are taken off the road.
Jesse, from Watthead, has a detailed post about the proposed RES in Oregon and other clean energy legislation that is currently being discussed in their legislature.
They appear to be heading for a 25% by 2025 standard with strong support from the Governor. Jesse's post explains how you can listen to the hearings directly; alternatively, Jesse will be offering updates on Watthead as the process moves forward.
Locally, our Global Warming Mitigation Act has passed out of the Committee and will soon be on the floor of the House. I believe it is still in committee in the Senate. I hope to have a roundup of what has been going on there after I finish listening to the hearings from the House. Clean Energy Minnesota describes the components of the bill as drafted. I believe the House has modified it, but I'm not sure how.
Nationally, I was just made aware of the National Wildlife Federation's comprehensive guide to global warming legislation. I think many of us have been too busy working on local stuff to follow the national scene but NWF has done the grunt work for us! They are keeping that site updated as things change.
The NY Times recently published an article called "From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype."
But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.
It would now appear that this article - about alarmists being alarmed at Gore's alarmism - is itself, (you guessed it) alarmist and inaccurate. I am not an expert on climate change and would guess that few readers of this blog are. We try to be informed and listen to reasoned arguments. Most of us tend to distrust popular science exercises done by former politicians like Gore.
Nonetheless, many of us have found Gore's presentation to be mostly accurate. I remain most confused about the sea level issue. I have heard that his estimates of sea level are at odds with what most scientists believe - but I have also heard that this aspect of climate science is presently the area with the highest uncertainty.
But when I read an article by William Broad in the NY Times that casts broad doubt on his presentation, it alarms me more than when I read similar reports from groups that are funded by ExxonMobil (duh).
Now it appears that William Broad's article was significantly off the mark. Real Climate has offered a thorough debunking of that article.
The first rule when criticizing popular science presentations for inaccuracies should be to double check any 'facts' you use. It is rather ironic then that William Broad's latest piece on Al Gore plays just as loose with them as he accuses Gore of doing.
I found their discussion of the extreme weather event issue to be particularly salient:
This is dishonest in at least two different ways. First of all, Broad conveniently forgets to mention that the 2006 Hurricane season was accompanied by a moderate El Nino event. It is well known that El Nino events, such as the 2006 El Nino, tend to be associated with stronger westerly winds aloft in the tropical Atlantic, which is unfavorable for tropical cyclone development. The season nonetheless produced a greater than average number of named storms in the tropical Atlantic (10), 3 more than the typical El Nino year. But El Ninos come and go--more or less randomly--from year to year. The overall trend in named tropical Atlantic storms in recent decades is undeniably positive. We can have honest debates about the long-term data quality, but not if we start out by misrepresenting the data we do have, as Broad chooses to.
I would have thought that Broad's editor (he does have one, right) would have done a little bit of fact checking on a topic with so much hype and obfuscation. It would appear that the editor did not exercise due diligence by quoting non-credible people:
Roy Spencer, best known for his satellite work arguing against warming of the atmosphere (which turns out to have been an artifact of a combination of algebraic and sign errors), criticizes Gore for pointing out that recent warmth appears to be anomalous in at least the past 1000 years. Spencer does this by both mis-characterizing the recent National Academies Report on the subject which indeed pointed out that there are numerous lines of evidence for precisely this conclusion, and by completely ignoring the recently-released IPCC Fourth Assessment report, which draws the stronger conclusion that the warmth of recent decades is likely anomalous in at least the past 1300 years.
At any rate, I remain frustrated by how difficult it is to find honest discussions of what is reliable information and what remains mostly unknown. While there are always uncertainties, I wish I had a better understanding of what "most" scientists believe right now on issues like sea level rise. While the IPCC report is supposed to offer this, my understanding is that it is simultaneously the alarmist work of a bunch of U.N. kooks and a massive understatement by U.S. government stooges.
Well, I stand corrected. This whole global warming thing is a big sham. (Click the link to see the video.)
It's a nice summary of the usual arguments: censorship and intimidation by mainstream science, the IPCC is a political, scientists are inventing the problem to get funding, they are trying to stifle economic development, etc.
That's what Gov. Scharwzeneggar is calling Tony Blair after he unveiled plans to legislate binding emissions cuts in the UK. Under the draft plan, which sounds similar to Minnesota's pending climate legislation, carbon emissions would be cut 26 to 32 percent in 2020 and 60 percent in 2050. There is no specification for how to achieve this cuts, but the bill would encourage consumers to "become energy producers" and includes the usual greater efficiency, renewables, and possibily carbon capture and sequestration. Expanding the nuclear option is also on the table.
This story also alludes to some of our discussion on offsets and self-sacrifice. When pressed, Tony Blair said he would not be giving up vacations anytime soon:
"There is a way that we can be responsible members of society but without trying to get to the stage where you say to people in Europe that you must never travel or take the aeroplane. That is not going to happen...", he said.
This comment was echoed by an environmentalist quoted in the story:
"It is inevitable that we are going to see some drastic changes, but with the right government programme put in place it will not impinge too heavily. For instance, it could mean changing the fuel we put in our cars, or the way energy is produced at source, or more recycling."