More Dirty Coal Power Coming to the Northeast
Weak NJ laws make New Jersey more vulnerable to imported dirty coal power
[Update 3/26/09 Here’s some really bad news:
Transmission Superhighway On Track to Carry Cheap, Dirty Coal Power to Northeast
“Thanks to federal funding and pending legislation, momentum is building behind a national transmission superhighway meant to propel America to a repowered clean energy future, but the end result in the Northeast may be just the opposite.
The rules proposed to help the nation tap abundant wind and solar resources in Western states will effectively open vast new markets in New England and Mid-Atlantic states to the cheapest, dirtiest power from aging coal plants in the Midwest and Appalachia.
Further, transmission legislation now before the Senate or about to be introduced excludes support for lines that would reach offshore wind resources along the Atlantic coast. The constant ocean winds, relatively shallow water and proximity to heavily populated cities make offshore wind one of the most promising sources of clean energy in the nation.”
[End Update – start original post]
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) just issued a Report that warns about the threats from imports of dirty coal power from mid-western states.
Contrary to public understanding, the UCS Report concludes that NJ’s current laws and policies “unwittingly” make existing problems WORSE. According to the scientists:
“Even as the Northeast blazes a trail for other regions and the federal government in fighting global warming, its pioneering efforts could unwittingly contribute to the growth of coal elsewhere. By adding to the price difference between electricity produced within the region and outside it, RGGI could drive some demand to uncapped sources, particularly nearby coal plants.” (page 25)
Data show that all of NJ’s efforts to reduce in state emissions of green house gases will be wiped out by expansion of coal power imports. (see Figure 11 on page 20 of the Report)
IMPORTING POLLUTION – Coal’s threat to climate policy in the US Northeast
As a result, NJ consumers will pay higher electric costs and be saddled with more pollution from dirty mid-western coal plants.
These troubling findings are well known and were predicted by NJ environmentalists years ago. The State’s policies were not “unwitting”. For example, DEP Commissioner Jackson testified to the Legislature on December 10, 2007. She warned an Assembly Committee that that “you will hear a lot about leakage” and suggested that the best solution was a national green house gas emission control program with “hard caps”. But, capitulating to polluters, State officials failed to adopt meaningful controls on coal power imports to prevent the problem.
The UCS Report shines a bright light on failed policies and battles lost by environmentalists in the NJ Legislature and in regional negotiations. Environmentalists were unable to convince the Corzine Administration to demand tough regulatory and economic tools to prevent the serious problems documented in the UCS Report.
NJ’s flawed approach contrast with the far stronger program under way in California. Here’s why.
Dirty coal power from the mid-west is a lot cheaper than cleaner energy sources produced in NJ. Simple economics and lax NJ policies allow market pressures to undermine global warming and clean air protections.
According to the Corzine Administration’s “Energy Master Plan” (EMP), NJ imports almost a third (27%) of electric power consumed in state from dirty coal power plants in the mid-west. According to DEP, this imported power accounts for significant global warming impacts. http://www.nj.gov/globalwarming/home/documents/pdf/final_report20081215.pdf
The 10 northeastern State’s “Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’ (RGGI) “cap and trade” program negotiated by former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson does not address the carbon emissions from these power imports, a major flaw known as “leakage”. Instead, the so called “emissions cap” only applies to instate power generation, ignoring the emissions from almost a third of NJ electric power demand.
The highly touted NJ “Global Warming Response Act” (GWRA) does not provide DEP with regulatory authority to control green house gas emissions from instate power plants or electric imports. Major polluters, like PSEG, convinced the Legislature not to delegate strong authority to DEP to regulate green house gas emissions. Instead, market based policies were adopted as preferable to disparaged “regulatory command and control”.
In addition to neutering DEP on the regulatory front, the BPU was not granted strong economic tools.
Instead of authorizing BPU to use contract powers and craft economic incentives to reduce emissions from dirty coal imports, the Legislature sought to minimize any impacts on consumer electric bills (just 50 cents per month per household). As a result, the fine print of the GWRA provides no effective authority to use the Board’s economic powers to limit dirty coal electric imports. The GWRA vaguely directs the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to monitor the problem and then react to adopt a mitigation policy after problems emerge.
The weak approach of the NJ GWRA contrasts sharply with the strong proactive regulatory and economic powers provided under the California Global Warming Solutions Act. California law provides strong regulatory and economic tools, plus the resources, scientists, and staff to enforce them.
Under the California law, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) prevents electricity distributors from signing power import contracts that don’t meet strict State environmental standards. NJ’s BPU does not do that.
The California law requires power plants to include an additional pollution cost for carbon emissions, including those “imported” from other states. NJ BPU does not do that.
According to the UCS Report, California’s efforts to deal with such emissions have caused cancellation of at least one out-of-state coal plant project, by creating uncertainty about its economic viability.
Former DEP Commissioner Jackson negotiated both the GWRA and RGGI. Jackson’s global warming “accomplishments” have been offered as a model for the Obama national program.
Let’s hope that Jackson does not look to her NJ experience to develop the national global warming program as head of US EPA.
If Jackson does, let’s hope that Carol Browner, Obama “Energy and Global Warming Czar” in the White House, blocks Jackson from doing so.
Here is UCS Press Release:
[Note: I can’t seem to post these replies so I will do so in the text of the post:
1. Dear TomTallTree:
You present straw man options – false choices.
Just like Peeltheonion, you also focus exclusively on supply and ignore cheaper and cleaner demand side solutions.
There are many more options than you list.
We don’t need to turn out the lights, take cold showers, or build new fossil or nuke power plants (or windmills in every backyard).
About 50% or more of the energy we use is wasted.
We lose a lot in more how we distribute electrical energy.
With existing technology, we could become 50% more efficient.
Existing renewable energy technology could meet existing demand of an energy efficient economy and future growth.
It would also save us money, cut air pollution, provide more jobs, and dampen global warming.
2. Dear peeltheonion – but – technologically speaking – you’re still cutting butter with a chainsaw –
and you haven’t addressed either the economic arguments (ROI), the liability/risk arguments, or the DEMAND side arguments.