Colorado Largest Utility Switches OFF Coal
Posted: 01 Apr 2010 08:34 AM PDT
Colorado's largest utility, Xcel Energy, has come to an agreement with the state government where it would retire coal plants powering about 900 megawatts by 2017 and replace them with natural gas-fired power. This move will mean a 30 percent reduction in Xcel's Colorado coal fleet and a cut of as much as 5 million tons a year in carbon pollution. And this is all without federal legislation requiring cuts in emissions. CAP's Tom Kenworthy has the story in this repost.
Advances like Colorado's are being made possible by technological advances in developing shale gas fields, which mean that the domestic supplies of the natural gas that can power electric plants with half the CO2 emissions of coal are 39 percent larger than previously thought. Gas-powered electricity can make it far easier to meet global warming pollution reduction limits established in the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House last year. And a shrinking limit on carbon pollution that establishes a price on these emissions should propel the electric power industry to retire aging coal plants and utilize spare capacity in building natural gas plants. Gas electricity will mesh well with rising levels of clean electricity from wind and solar power since gas plants are easier to power up when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine.
Gov. Bill Ritter unveiled Colorado's innovative agreement with Xcel Energy in a March 5 announcement of the Colorado Clean Air Clean Jobs Act. And the state is now moving swiftly to enact the bill, backed by an unusual coalition of lawmakers from both parties, the gas industry, environmentalists, and Xcel, Colorado's largest utility. The State House passed the measure 53-12 on March 22, and the State Senate will take it up early next week.
Some of the urgency comea from anticipated new clean air directives from the Environmental Protection Agency that will require Colorado to ease pollution on the state's populous Front Range region that includes Denver. The plan to retire some of Xcel Energy's coal-fired plants, said Ritter, "will keep Colorado at the forefront of America's energy revolution. It will protect consumers, clean our air and protect public health, and create new jobs by increasing demand for Colorado-produced natural gas."
Yet the bill could face a challenging environment in the State Senate despite the broad coalition supporting the coal-to-gas bill. Organized labor is worried about a potential loss of coal-mining jobs in western Colorado, though most of the state's coal production is exported. And some conservation groups from the same region are wary about ramping up natural gas development after a big run-up in drilling during the last decade brought a range of problems ranging from reduced air and water quality to increased costs for providing county services.
When the EPA relaxed oversight of the industry during the Bush administration, drilling permits soared in Colorado, more than quintupling from 1,529 in 2000 to 8,027 in 2008. Colorado responded to that surge in oil and gas development in 2008 by enacting a comprehensive overhaul of its rules governing oil and gas drilling with a much greater emphasis on protecting public health and safety and the state's water and wildlife. Jim Martin, executive director of Colorado's Department of Natural Resources, says the new rules are already doing a better job of better protecting the values that state residents cherish. And he expects the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will only marginally increase drilling activity in western Colorado, which is well below its peak in large part because of the prolonged national economic downturn.
As Colorado increases its clean energy investments, its largest utility "got religion," too. Xcel Energy opposed a state ballot initiative just six years ago to impose Colorado's first Renewable Electricity Standarda modest 10 percent by 2015. Yet Xcel has since then determined that clean energy is the future of Colorado and supports many efforts to invest in the clean energy technologies of the future. It supported legislation that ratcheted up the RES to 20 percent and did not oppose the most recent increase to 30 percent, which Ritter signed into law just last week. Xcel is the state's largest utility with 1.1 million residential customers and is backing Ritter's Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which will require Xcel to submit by Aug. 15 a plan for cutting nitrogen oxide emissions at its coal plants by up to 80 percent to meet current and upcoming federal requirements under the Clean Air Act.
And Colorado isn't the only western state pursuing a clean energy future. The week, the developers of a planned 750-megawatt coal plant in Nevada announced they will shift to a 700-megawatt gas-fired plant combined with a 50- to 100-megawatt solar PV plant. Company officials said environmental concerns were the main driver behind the change. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that, "Clean natural gas projects like this will help us use this clean energy source to strengthen our economy while protecting Nevada's great outdoors."
Posted: 01 Apr 2010 06:14 AM PDT
CAP's Andrew Light and Sean Pool have put together a simple update on the status of the Copenhagen Accord, and how close it brings us to stabilizing global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius. Click the map above to go to their interactive tool. I repost their comments here.
The agreement that emerged from December's U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen continues to attract support from a growing number of nations despite naysayers who still insist that the meeting ended in failure. A recent Reuters article shows that there are now 110 countries on board, including the world's major carbon emitters, representing more than 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
These countries' collective commitments will not yet achieve the accord's stated goal of holding temperature rise over pre-industrial levels at 2 degrees Celsius, but achieving these commitments could hold us to a 3-degree increase rather than the 4.8 degree rise we would see by 2100 under a business as usual scenario. These commitments also represent a vital first step toward achieving the 2-degree goal.
These results are consistent with CAP's previously published analysis following the first deadline for submissions to the accord on January 31. Modeling from Project Catalyst showed at that point that the largest emitters had increased their ambitions for reducing carbon pollution from the period prior to the December Copenhagen climate summit to their January submissions to the Copenhagen Accord. Developed countries increased their reductions from 3.6 to 4.9 gigatons annually by 2020 and developing countries boosted theirs from 8.7 to 8.9 gigatons by 2020. More recent numbers from Project Catalyst project these commitments to the accord at 5.0 and 9.2 gigatons respectively for developed and developing countries.
These commitments bring us a bit less than 5 gigatons shy of the reductions needed to stabilize temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels assuming that countries succeed in meeting the high end of the goals they have set for themselves and also that commitments tied to other countries' comparable efforts go forward.
So how do we achieve the remaining reductions needed to achieve climate safety? The first step in this process is to make the Copenhagen accord binding in order to lock in the reduction commitments, and the second is to increase the ambition of those parties that have signed onto the accord.
On the first issue, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon previously pledged to shift the Copenhagen Accord from a political agreement to a legally binding agreement by the next U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico this December. U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern has agreed that we should be moving toward a legal agreement this year. Most participants in the process believe that the 2010 meeting in Cancun should at least include a discussion of how to make the accord legally binding by the 2011 meeting in South Africa if it cannot be made legally binding before then.
On the second issue, the easiest way to increase the ambitions of countries signing onto the accord is to fix one of the biggest holes in the agreement: the lack of any emission reduction targets for those parties signing on. This gap is in sharp contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, which did include such targets. Reduction targets for developed and developing countries, starting with the 17 to 20 largest emitters responsible for almost 80 percent of emissions globally, should be the first priority. This would bring us closer to the overall temperature goal of the accord than simply increasing the number of parties signing onto it since the countries that have not yet made commitments collectively represent a tiny fraction of global emissions.
Any emission reduction targets added to the Copenhagen Accord will have to conform to the 2 degree Celsius temperature target that is part of the accord. As such, additional emission targets would need to aim to close the 5-gigaton gap from the current Copenhagen pledges if this figure does, in fact, represent the reductions needed to achieve the 2 degree Celsius target for climate safety. If it turns out that we need to achieve greater additional reductions than 5 gigatons, then we should do so.
The United States can make the needed reductions, but it would be a big help if Congress were to pass legislation like the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would achieve overall emissions reductions greater than the current U.S. pledge of 17 percent cuts below 2005 levels by 2020. The direct set aside in ACES for international forestry programswhich is separate from the allowable forestry offsets in the billcould alone achieve 750 megatons of reductions annually by 2020. But if emissions reduction programs like this are eliminated in a Senate bill, then these additional reductions would be difficult to achieve, even if the bill is ultimately successful. Those interested in a global agreement on achieving climate safety will therefore have to work hard to make sure that Senate legislation is structured so that it generates revenue to pay for such programs.
One good outcome of Copenhagen is that the accord is still a work in progress. Our calculations of what can be achieved by current pledges under the accord are not final. They can still be improved. It doesn't make sense to worry that the commitments made so far put us on a disastrous pathway to a world 3, 4, or more degrees warmer. That would only be a legitimate worry if the Copenhagen Accord had been finalized last December as a legally binding document at the current level of commitments. Instead, we still have time to use the accord to get us to a safer world.