Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Role Of Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear Power Questioned In DEP Climate Plan Update

On December 4, members of DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee got the chance to comment on the draft 180-page 2018 PA Climate Action Plan Update and recommendations prepared for DEP by their consultant ICF.
DEP is required to prepare an update to the PA Climate Action Plan every 3 years by Act 70 of 2008.
Many of the comments were familiar, because they revolved around the roles coal, natural gas and nuclear energy do and don’t play in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Pennsylvania.
Some members thought the Plan should “set the table” more by explaining how far Pennsylvania has already come in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for example, from the electric power generation sector.
Members and DEP have noted Pennsylvania has already exceeded the original EPA Clean Power Plan goal of reducing power plant greenhouse gas emissions to 89,822,308 tons through a combination of market-driven techniques like switching from coal to natural gas and the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards requiring the purchase of renewable energy by electric utilities.
The updated Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory prepared for the Committee shows power plant emissions of greenhouse gases were reduced from 116.13 million tons in 2000 to 86.37 million tons in 2015, far below the CPP target.
           Total greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors in Pennsylvania have been reduced from 324.79 million tons in 2000 to 286.78 million tons in 2015, as reported to EPA.
Another comment questioned the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of a 26 percent reduction in net emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels and an 80 percent net reduction by 2050 used to gauge the results of the recommended strategies in the draft Plan.
           Even though the targets are in line with the goals established by the 2015 U.N. Paris Climate Agreement, the concern raised was over whether than Plan assumes everyone else in the world was doing their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or whether Pennsylvania was going it alone.
ICF staff at the meeting said the analysis of the effectiveness of the recommendations made in the Plan did not rely on the actions of other states or countries.
Another Committee member questioned a basic assumption used to do the projections in the draft Plan.  The statement said in part, “A carbon emission limit for each year is established, using a 30 percent reduction from 2020 CO2 [carbon dioxide] levels by 2030. Post-2030 the emissions cap is stringent enough to phase out most remaining coal generation other than waste coal by 2050. The carbon emissions limit in each year is first met through the expansion of the AEPS and nuclear generation and then by ramping up natural gas generation and displacing coal generation, then by reducing coal generation further through a reduction in exports.” (page 72)
The question was whether DEP was comfortable with its report saying they want to phase out “most remaining coal generation” in the state.
Others raised questions about the assumptions made about nuclear power generation in the draft Plan, in particular this section--
“While Beaver Valley and Three Mile Island nuclear plants will close in 2021 and 2019 respectively in the BAU Scenario, these plants will be brought back online or kept open as part of this strategy and all other levels of nuclear generation in Pennsylvania will remain constant through 2050. Prices used in this analysis represent what would be needed to pay to the nuclear facilities to keep the existing nuclear running.” (page 72)
Members also talked about the various assumptions involved in setting a price for carbon in a cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions, in particular statements in the draft Plan suggesting the price for carbon should be set high enough to reduce the cost-competitiveness of coal relative to natural gas which is higher than what is needed to meet carbon limits and overall greenhouse gas reductions.  Specifically--
“For the cap and trade program carbon prices are designed to achieve the cap selected for modeling purposes (see above); the carbon price is high enough to reduce the cost-competitiveness of coal relative to natural gas, which is the incremental step beyond the AEPS [Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards] that is needed to meet carbon limits and overall GHG reduction targets used for this modeling exercise.” (page 72)
Major Recommendations
The draft Plan includes over 100 recommended actions, in addition to citizen and business actions, that would help the Commonwealth reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fifteen actions under 7 general strategy categories were selected as the most cost-effective with the biggest greenhouse gas reductions--
-- Increase end use energy conservation and efficiency--
  -- Update building codes
  -- Increase adoption of energy efficiency and expand Act 129
  -- Create an Act 129-like efficiency program for natural gas
  -- Expand energy assessments and provide training on energy efficiency
-- Implement sustainable transportation planning and practices--
  -- Reduce vehicle miles traveled for single-occupancy vehicles
  -- Implement a strategic plan and incentives for increasing electric vehicle use
  -- Increase the use of clean public transportation through electric municipal bus fleets
-- Increase use of clean, distributed electricity generation resources--
  -- Invest in and promote building-scale solar
  -- Incentivize and increase use of combined heat and power (CHP)
-- Create a diverse portfolio of clean, utility-scale electricity generation--
  -- Increase Alternative Portfolios Energy Standard (AEPS) Tier 1 targets, further increase in-state generation, use of renewables
  -- Implement policy to maintain nuclear generation at current levels
  -- Limit carbon emissions through an electricity sector cap and trade program
-- Reduce upstream impacts of fossil fuel energy production--
  -- Implement policies and practices to reduce methane emissions across oil and natural gas systems
-- Increase production and use of alternative fuels--
  -- Increase recovery and use of gas from coal mines, agriculture, wastewater, and landfills for energy
-- Use agricultural best practices---
  -- Implement and provide training for no-till farming practices.
What’s Next
The Committee as a whole does not vote to approve or recommended against the Plan Update or specific items in the Plan based on its bylaws, but members of the Committee were encouraged to submit specific comments on the draft Plan to DEP in writing by December 21.
DEP staff said they will review the comments and hope to have a final Plan ready for the Committee’s next meeting now scheduled for February 12.
DEP said they would like to discuss how to implement whatever final recommendations are included in the Plan at the February meeting.
For more information and available handouts, presentations, past Plans and reports, visit DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee webpage.  Questions should be directed to Lindsay Byron, DEP, by calling 717-772-8951 or sending email to:
Other Climate-Related Proposals
In addition to DEP’s Update to the Climate Action Plan, there have been a series of proposals and actions on climate-related issues in the last 2 weeks.  This is a quick summary.
Wolf: Maybe PA Should Adopt Cap-And-Trade
On December 7, the Associated Press reported Gov. Tom Wolf is considering whether to support a petition submitted to the Environmental Quality Board November 27 creating a cap-and-trade greenhouse gas reduction plan to address climate change Pennsylvania.
The AP said Wolf “...hasn’t come to a conclusion on it, but he agrees climate change is a problem and that a cap-and-trade program may be something Pennsylvania should adopt.”  Read more here.
Cap-And-Trade Petition
On November 27, Robert B. McKinstry, Jr., the Clean Air Council, Widener University Environmental Law and Sustainability Center, eco(n)law LLC and 61 other individuals, groups, businesses and local governments submitted a rulemaking petition to the Environment Quality Board to establish a market-based cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emission reduction program that eliminates those emissions from major sources by 2052.
           The Department of Environmental Protection is now reviewing the petition to see if it meets the requirements for consideration by the EQB.  If it is acceptable, it will go to the EQB for a vote on whether the petition should be accepted for study.  Read more here.
Nuclear Energy Caucus
On November 29, Senators Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) along with Representatives Becky Corbin (R-Chester) and Rob Matzie (D-Allegheny), co-chairs of the Senate-House Nuclear Energy Caucus released a report summarizing their findings on the impact of closing nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania and outlining potential solutions.
The report, which will be transmitted to all members of the General Assembly and to Gov. Wolf, includes four options for the future of the state’s challenged industry, including the General Assembly taking action in 2019 to prevent the “employment, economic, and environmental devastation” associated with the premature closure of nuclear plants in the Commonwealth.
One of the options in the report is to put a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade or other program. Read more here.
Oil & Gas Methane Limits
DEP’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet December 13 on a draft regulation to set limits on volatile organic compound emissions-- with the “co-benefit” of reducing methane emissions-- from existing well sites, pumps, storage and other equipment at oil and gas facilities.  Read more here.
Senate Climate Hearing
On November 28, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing in Pittsburgh on local and state efforts to address climate change.
“In the absence of federal leadership on climate change, it is imperative that Pennsylvania continue to participate in cooperative efforts to stave off the catastrophic consequences of global warming,” said Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). “We need to maintain efforts to keep Pennsylvania on track to combat climate change.”  Read more here.
Auditor General Report
On December 3, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced plans to prepare a special report exploring how Pennsylvania is responding to climate change in light of a failure by national leaders to recognize and act on the issue.
DePasquale said his report will focus on state government’s response to climate change and steps that can better prepare the state for the future, noting that the problem will impact communities of all sizes. Read more here.
Visit DEP’s Climate Change webpage for more information on climate-related actions.
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