Climate Roundup: Utilities Ease Way to CO2 Reduction

By Published On: July 31, 2014

Utilities in and outside California are using lower carbon fuel resources and cutting greenhouse gases, with state policies a key motivator, according to a report by Ceres, a sustainable business coalition, and Clean Edge. “Renewable energy and energy efficiency, two of [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s] Clean Power Plan building blocks, are increasingly cost-effective options for electric utilities seeking to lower their carbon emissions,” Mindy Lubber, Ceres president, said at the report’s July 24 release. The federal agency proposes cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by nearly a third from 2005 levels, giving states options for achieving that target. * * * * * Among 32 utility holding companies ranked for the highest renewable sales, Pacific Gas & Electric, Sempra, Edison International and NV Energy were in the top tier, according to the report, Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy. Renewables made up around one fifth of their portfolio—17 to 21 percent of their retail electricity sales in 2012. In addition, top energy efficiency performers included PG&E, Edison International, and Northeast Utilities, “whose cumulative annual energy efficiency savings were equivalent to 16 to 17 percent of their annual retail electric sales in 2012,” the report added. “Our customers want PG&E to provide solutions to the challenge of global warming, while at the same time helping them use less energy and save money,” stated Chris Johns, utility president. * * * * * On the first day of a week-long trade mission to Mexico, Gov. Jerry Brown and Mexican environment officials agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. “California can't do it alone and with this new partnership with Mexico we can make real progress on reducing dangerous greenhouse gases," Brown said July 28. California and Mexico signed an agreement to align their greenhouse gas reduction programs and also collaborate on fire emergency response along the border and other climate change adaptation strategies. The next day, the two neighbors agreed to work together to stimulate cross-border renewable projects. Brown said July 29 that the joint agreement seeks to “dramatically increase solar, wind and other renewable investments.” The signatories also agreed to work jointly to: • Promote renewable research and development; • Back energy efficiency project investments; and • Explore integrating Baja California Norte into the California Independent System Operator’s energy imbalance market. * * * * * The California Air Resources Board is closing in on readopting its low-carbon fuel standard in January 2015 to comply with a court decision that found there were procedural deficiencies when it initially was adopted. Air Board staff discussed the status of the standard at a meeting of the agency’s board on July 25. The rule—which the court ruled had to be readopted, but could continue to be enforced in the interim—carves out a growing role for the state’s utilities to provide natural gas and electricity as transportation fuels. The aim is to cut the carbon content of transportation fuels in California 10 percent by 2020. Under it, sellers of fuel with zero or low carbon content compared to gasoline and diesel get carbon reduction credits they can sell to conventional fuel suppliers to offset the carbon content of their products. In readopting the rule, the Air Board is eyeing granting credits to electric utilities not only for electricity provided to charge up electric cars, but also electricity provided for public transit systems, from electric buses to electric trains. * * * * * In a bid to expand the availability of offsets under its carbon cap-and-trade program, the California Air Resources Board plans to begin allowing credits for reducing greenhouse gases through forestry projects in Alaska and changes in rice cultivation in California later this year. Agency staff briefed its board on the status of carbon offsets July 24. Currently, offsets can be created for the state carbon cap-and-trade program through California forestry projects, destroying ozone depleting compounds, and capturing methane from livestock waste and coal mines. Since the state’s climate protection law was passed in 2006, the Air Board has issued 11 million compliance offsets. Each offset represents a ton of carbon dioxide emission reductions. * * * * * As the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, the Department of Energy stated July 29 that the greenhouse gas methane escapes from natural gas transmission, storage and distribution infrastructure, costing both the natural gas industry and consumers money and raising safety concerns. The department plans to establish standards for new natural gas compressor units, which are currently estimated to consume more than 7 percent of natural gas in the U.S. Improved efficiency will help provide energy savings for consumers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. * * * * * Pacific Gas & Electric executives met with Department of Energy staff July 29 to present plans for methane reduction. The utility told the agency it intends to replace old cast iron pipes on its system by the end of this year. It also informed the government that it’s deploying along its 80,000-miles of gas pipelines a “car-mounted leak detection system which is 1,000 time more sensitive than traditional equipment.”

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