Wednesday, March 26, 2008

California leads the way in increasing the cost of electricity

Our country has a history of following “innovative” legislation enacted by California; other states are often quick to follow the California plunge toward liberalism. However in the case of a follow-the-leader response to changes in world climate, the country will leap off the edge of the cliff if states adopt California restrictions on fuel used for electric power generation.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law last September that went into effect in January this year. It essentially prohibits California utilities from signing long-term contracts for power, including those from out of state, unless they emit less CO2 per MWh of electricity produced from natural gas fired power plants). Although the law does not specifically ban power generation from coal-fired electric power plants, the limit imposed by the law is set so low as to exclude all coal-fired power plants.

To phase out coal in the rush to lead the way in the fight against global warming, regulations have been approved in California that limit the purchase of electricity from power plants that fail to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards. This is particularly bad news for neighboring states which have built coal plant facilities specifically to service the electricity demands of Californians. According to the Los Angeles Times, 47% of the electricity purchased by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power comes from giant coal-fired plants in Arizona and Utah.

The recent climate control law is part of the comprehensive effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California from all sources; power plants, cars, industry, and agriculture. Of course, the basic premise is that mankind somehow affects planet climate changes, in this case “warming”;the mounting evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

This climate change law is in addition to a new carbon cap law signed by the governor last year and going into effect by 2012. All electric power distribution companies in California are required to have 20 percent of their power generation from renewable resources by 2010.

The state estimates about 10 percent of California’s greenhouse gases may be attributed to electricity generation from coal-fired plants outside the state; there are none within California. The carbon cap requires greenhouse gas emissions to be cut to their 1990 levels by 2020, about 25 percent below where they would otherwise be. (But there is no realistic way of determining with any degree of accuracy what emmisions were in 1990.)

The California Public Utilities Commission has established a greenhouse gas emission performance standard for base load generation that must be observed no later than June 30, 2007. The standards require that emissions from power generation plants cannot be any higher than the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas fired plants. The effect of California’s legislation is to dictate how electric power is generated outside of the state because so much of electricity is imported from coal-fired power plants in nearby states.

Estimates vary but global warming enthusiasts believe that coal fired power plants emit roughly twice the greenhouse gases of natural gas fired power plant on a pounds per megawatt basis. California will clearly make it extremely difficult to sell conventional coal-fired electric generation into California.

Before these laws were passed in California, the State Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee acknowledged: "depending on the level of allowable greenhouse gas emissions and how existing plants' emissions are calculated, this bill could render many existing conventional natural gas, co-generation, biogas, and biomass plants, as well as coal plants, ineligible for [long-term] contracts unless they improve their emission performance by rebuilding or adding pollution controls." The state government ignored the fact that this technology does not yet exist, and the high cost, but adopted the rigid standards anyway.

California statutes clearly authorize utilities to recover costs associated with complying with the two statutes which means that industrial and residential consumers will be left to pay for this expensive “save the planet” effort of political correctness.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, consider the impact California leading edge climate control laws will have on our country’s dependence on foreign oil, and the resulting security risk that entails.

Alberta tar sands hold about as much oil as Saudi Arabia. The oil that is technologically retrievable today from Alberta's tar and oil sands is estimated at 280-300 GB (billion barrels). (The Wall St. Journal says "at least 174.") Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are listed at 240Gb. Total reserves for Alberta, including oil not recoverable using current technology, are estimated at 1,700-2,500 GB. The cost of producing oil from Alberta tar sands is about $25 per barrel.

However, tar-sand oil leads to high CO2 production; according to Wikipedia: "for every barrel of synthetic oil produced in Alberta, more than 80 kg of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. A barrel of oil weighs 130 kg, and that's about 80% carbon, so that's ~110 kg carbon." The molecular weight of CO2 is 12 for carbon plus twice 16 for oxygen, equaling 44 compared with pure carbon’s 12. So, 110 kg of carbon in a barrel of oil produces (44/12)*110 kg, or about 400 kg of CO2. Getting energy from tar sands instead of natural gas results in emitting more CO2 than emitted by by natural gas.

What does this mean? Since California law prohibits buying power from power plants using a fuel that exceeds the CO2 emissions of natural gas, the state will not permit use in California of electricity generated from plants that use oil from Canadian tar sands.

Many western states have established goals of reducing greenhouse gases by specific amounts or to particular baseline years. Oregon's and Washington's governors joined Governor Schwarzenegger in 2003 in the idea of adopting coordinated strategies to address greenhouse gas emissions. It is likely that these and other states could now follow California and also adopt similar statutes. States across the country have more than a passing interest in the California legislation. Many politicos believe what California has done will result in increased pressure on the federal government to also enact similar legislation.

Congress and all three presidential contenders believe the hokum about global warming. So a new administration combined with a Democrat controlled congress almost certainly will adopt restrictions on what fuel may be used not only for electric power generation but for other purposes that they believe will add to CO2 emissions.

We have learned many times it is the public that will suffer the possible consequences and pay the ultimate cost of damaging action by energy decision makers, both in dollars and in the quality of life; now we can also add national security because our dependence on foreign oil will only increase once limitations are placed on use of Canadian tar sand oil.

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