CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: Air Board Urged to Restrict Offsets from UN Projects

By Published On: February 5, 2010

As the California Air Resources Board fleshes out the details of its proposed carbon cap-and-trade program, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley advises it to ban use of the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for producing emissions offsets. The Air Board’s proposed rule would allow power generators, utilities, and other companies to fulfill almost half their emissions reductions with offsets, including those produced abroad under the UN program, which stems from the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate change accord struck in 1997. In lieu of cutting emissions at a coal power plant in Utah, for instance, CDM projects might include planting trees in deforested rain forest areas to absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere or helping villagers in India shift from charcoal for cooking to lower emitting fuels However, Barbara Haya, a researcher at Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group noted in correspondence to the Air Board January 27 that “experience with the CDM has been exceptionally poor.” She said the UN has failed to exclude offset projects that do not really cut greenhouse gas emissions. The UN also has allowed projects that harm the environment, she said, such as providing incentives for the continued production of refrigerants that act as powerful greenhouse gases when released to the atmosphere. She urged the Air Board to place restrictions on international offsets. For instance, she advocated defining which technologies would be eligible for producing offsets used in California and making sure that projects have adequate long-term support. * * * * The first of its kind air quality permit restricting greenhouse gas emissions was approved for the 600 MW Russell City project in the East Bay City of Hayward. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District February 3 approved a federal permit for the Calpine plant. “This permit is the most stringent the Air District has ever issued,” stated Jack Broadbent, Air District executive officer “Calpine will go beyond existing federal law and become the first power plant in the country to accept enforceable limits on greenhouse gases.” “Calpine will help meet California’s growing demand for electricity while dramatically decreasing emissions,” added Jack Fusco, Calpine president and CEO. The plant is expected to produce 25 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the standard set by the California Public Utilities Commission, according to the developer. The combined-cycle natural gas project is expected to supply power to the transmission-constrained San Francisco Bay Area. The permit requires the power plant to use state-of-the-art air pollution control equipment, including selective catalytic reduction and oxidation catalysts. It will be cooled with reclaimed water from Hayward in Alameda County. * * * * The California Air Resources Board got hit with another suit to thwart its Low Carbon Fuel Standard aimed at cutting transportation fuel greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2020. Oil refiners and the trucking association filed suit in the federal district court in Fresno February 2. The challenge asserts California’s unprecedented low carbon fuel standard interferes with interstate commerce, in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state’s low carbon standard “would have little or no impact on [greenhouse gas] emissions nationwide and would harm our nation’s energy security by discouraging the use of Canadian crude oil--our nation’s largest source of crude--and ethanol produced in the American Midwest,” stated Charles Drevna, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association president. Mary Nichols, Air Board chair, shot back that the fuels standard “will protect us from volatile oil prices and provide consumers with cleaner fuels and provide the nation with greater energy security. Our analysis shows that producing alternative fuels under this standard can save consumers as much as $11 billion over the next decade, and that’s in California alone.” California’s low carbon transportation fuel rule went into effect last month. It was dragged into court at the end of last year by the Renewable Fuels Association. The group also sued in federal district court in Fresno, claiming the state rule requiring transportation fuel makers to ratchet down their greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2012 violates the U.S. Constitution. * * * * Geothermal power holds the potential to provide carbon-free baseload power to California as state utilities phase out coal plants under greenhouse gas reduction policies, according to the Geothermal Energy Association. In a letter last month, the association urged the California Air Resources Board to help capture that potential by initiating a 33 percent renewable energy standard study that would examine the potential to tap both in and out-of-state geothermal resources to replace coal power. If the study shows it’s feasible, the association said the Air Board then should establish preferences for geothermal energy in its greenhouse gas policies, such as any carbon cap-and-trade program or renewable energy standard. The association suggested that geothermal could provide an additional 2,000 to 4,000 MW of power to the state within the next 10 to 15 years. * * * * Biomass for fuels would receive new subsidies under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program introduced February 3. In a related biomass fuel move the same day, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule increasing the amount of biofuels to be manufactured to 36 billion gallons/year by 2022. The crop assistance program is “to incent producers of feedstock so they know there’s a market there,” said Tom Vilsak, Secretary of Agriculture. “There’s a commitment by the administration to make it successful.” In California, 37 facilities that convert biomass feedstock to power plant fuel or biofuels are certified by USDA and could receive federal funding. Meanwhile, EPA found that corn-based biofuels would decrease greenhouse gases more than previously calculated. The new calculations include indirect land-use analysis, according to Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator. Responding to questions about the agency’s findings, which are contrary to many previous ones, Jackson said, “You have to be energy efficient in the way you produce corn, and the way you produce ethanol” to get those reductions. She added, “We wanted to make sure they really are renewable fuels.” Corn ethanol is said to meet the 20 percent greenhouse gas reduction requirement for qualifying biofuels. * * * * President Obama established an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage February 3. It’s set to be co-chaired by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. While California lacks the main target of such a move--coal plants--it is no stranger to carbon capture. Last December, the California Public Utilities Commission approved up to $30 million for Southern California Edison to study carbon capture and sequestration. Last month, the California Energy Commission during a workshop contemplated applying carbon capture technologies to natural gas-fired generating units. The federal task force is to propose a plan “to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within 10 years, with a goal of bringing 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. The plan should explore incentives for commercial carbon capture and storage adoption and address any financial, economic, technological, legal, institutional, social, or other barriers to deployment,” the President stated.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now