Friday, March 30, 2007

Sugar-crazed Official Opposition overlooks flaw in Clean Air amendments
Yesterday’s giant cake in the Bill C-30 committee room generated a bit of media attention, but probably not as much as some opposition members had hoped. Just as well. Most opposition members and onlookers failed to notice a fundamental flaw in the amendments the opposition offered up to the Canadian government’s Clean Air Act.

The amendments call for both a $20 levy (why don’t we just call it a tax) for every tonne of carbon a company emits above a pre-determined cap, and for Canada’s participation in an international carbon market.

I know some opposition members hate big business, but this is piling on. Carbon levies and carbon markets are two ways of accomplishing the same thing, which is to impose a cost on emissions that rise above a cap. We have to pick one or the other. If we choose both, then we’re essentially billing twice for the same tonne of carbon.

I doubt any of this matters to the drafters of the bill C-30 amendments. Why quibble over the fine points when you can zing the government with hyperbolic brain candy. The trouble (for the opposition) is, few people know—or care—what any of these stunts are supposed to mean.

Which means that, after all, the government could still roll out an emission trading scheme and successfully position itself as friendly to the environment.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Conservatives leaning toward emission trading
Will Canada participate in emissions trading? Judging from recent public comments, the prospects for Canada’s participation in some scheme or other seem to depend on the day of the week. Senior Conservatives have changed their tune on this issue more times than a Barry Manilow song. Well, at least they’re thinking about it.

Readers will note that I have advocated emission trading as one way (among many) of reducing capital costs in projects to build capital-intensive low- or zero-emission electricity generation plants based on nuclear and coal gasification technology. A structured market would enable quantification of financial risk, and thereby enable prospective financiers to divide prohibitively lengthy construction periods into more manageable increments at the ends of which they could exercise options.

Together with incentives like construction delay insurance, loan guarantees, and power production tax credits—which only the federal government could offer—an emission trading scheme could channel private investment into these capital-intensive technologies.

In my view, it’s time to put money on the right horse. Nuclear is a proven emission-reducer (as witness Ontario’s dramatic million-tonne power-sector emission reductions in recent years; see Ontario Liberals admit they’ve reduced power emissions). And coal gasification is a no-brainer. North America has zillions of tonnes of cheap coal. Public concern over climate change and air quality makes pulverized coal combustion—the most emission-intensive kind of electricity generation—less and less attractive.

Those who fear increased electricity prices as a result of emission trading, need not worry. As I pointed out in Talk meets reality
, the much-vaunted European Emission Trading Scheme is, at present, more about public relations than emission reductions. This is as it should be, because major emitters need time to incorporate the costs of carbon and governments need time to prepare the electricity consuming public for higher prices.

Therefore, emissions trading is another relatively risk-free way for the Conservatives to outflank the chattering green opposition.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Public relations vs. public policy: how will renewables and conservation solve our power problems?
There is so much information and misinformation swirling through the public debate on Ontario electricity that a casual observer might get the impression that renewables and conservation will play a major role in the solution to our supply problem. They will, but not in the way many of their proponents think.

Let’s be clear up front. In terms of kilowatt-hours, renewables and conservation, combined, won’t close the looming gap between electricity supply and demand. They won’t even come close. Here’s why.

Renewables. In
Could windmills replace Nanticoke? I pointed out that we’d need 7,700 giant-size windmills to generate as much power as the Nanticoke coal-fired station generated in 2003 (roughly 20 billion kilowatt-hours). Anyone who thinks it is remotely possible to build even a fraction of the required 7,700 turbines in this province is dreaming in colour. And if they also think the turbines’ owners would find enough buyers of intermittent power to cover the costs of building the turbines and connecting them to the grid... well, they should submit this fantasy to the Jungian society’s Dream-of-the-year contest.

Conservation. Conservation proponents point to Ontario’s high per capita electricity consumption relative to that of New York and California as proof that Ontarians are power hogs. This comparison is simply facile. New York and California don’t have major nickel processing, steelmaking, or pulp and paper manufacturing, all of which are extremely electricity intensive. Ontario does. Take major power consumers out of the mix, and Ontario’s per capita consumption is nearly identical to New York’s or California’s.

This means that for conservation to play a major role in closing the supply–demand gap in electricity, big power consumers like Inco, Dofasco, Falconbridge, and Stelco would have to curtail or cease operations. Those stuck in the electricity-is-bad mindset might encourage this. Thousands of Inco or Stelco employees would take a different view.

So what role will renewables and conservation play? Public relations. Windmills are visible evidence that somebody is going green. All you need is one or two to create a landmark. Same thing with conservation: install a few compact fluorescent lightbulbs in prominent places, and everybody will be able to tell—from the lousy quality light—that you’re saving electricity.

Carefully crafted public policy that supports the real solution to our power supply problem—nuclear and gasified coal—while paying the proper lip service to conservation and renewables could both solve the problem and manage public expectations. Good policy is good politics. In
Conservatives go big on wind power, I suggest a way of combining the two.

But let’s just not fool ourselves into thinking we can nickel-and-dime our way to solving our power supply problems.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Feds focus funds on foul air in 416: Toronto transit expansion attacks real source of pollution
Of all the ways to deal with the pall of smog that hangs over Toronto in the summertime, expanding the city’s transit system is one of the smartest. Motor vehicles are the primary source of all that smog. The federal, provincial, and city governments should be congratulated for recognizing this, and for collaborating on extending the Spadina subway. Toronto transit provides a more efficient way for people who would otherwise drive light-duty vehicles to get into and around the city.

Most important, it shifts the primary motive fuel from gasoline to electricity (in the case of subways and streetcars). This is where we’ll make stunning gains on air quality. As I have pointed out, Ontario electricity is relatively clean for the size of the provincial economy: provincial generators collectively emit 272 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour. That’s three times better than electricity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, more than twice as good as in Nova Scotia, and one-and-a-half times as good as in New Brunswick.

And when Ontario’s nuclear generating fleet is back to its 1994 level in terms of dispatchable capacity, Ontario electricity emission intensity will be around 104 grams of emissions per kWh—more than twice as clean as it already is.

Those who claim that coal-fired power generating plants are the source of Toronto’s air quality problems need to look at publicly available information. If they did, they might find out that in 2002, Ontario transportation sources—mainly light-duty cars and trucks—collectively produced more than 167 times as much carbon monoxide as Ontario coal plants. Carbon monoxide (CO) is the world’s most prolific toxic killer.

Moreover, cars and trucks are far more efficient at distributing this deadly gas: they cover every street in the GTA, emitting CO from tailpipes literally meters from where humans inhale it. By contrast, of the two provincial coal plants that could conceivably affect Toronto’s airshed, one (Nanticoke) is 125 kilometers due south from the Big Smoke. The other (Lambton) is 286 kilometers southwest. Don’t tell me their emissions magically settle to the ground in Toronto.

So supporting transit expansion in Toronto was a good move for Harper. Next, he should introduce tax breaks for hybrid cars.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hybrid cars vs. compact fluorescents: how not to nickel and dime our way to Kyoto
Last week I talked about the proposed ban on incandescent lights that is sweeping across the country. I said that the energy savings from replacing incandescent bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescents are negligible. Let me quantify that statement.

I have 16 100-watt incandescent lights. If I replaced them today with 29-watt compact fluorescents (the package says that is equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent), it would cost me $292 including tax. At the rate they save energy, it would take me more than 8 years to pay off the $292.

(Here’s how I arrived at that number. The federal government estimates that household lighting accounts for 11 percent of residential electricity use in Canada. According to my most recent power bill, I used 614 kilowatt-hours over two months. So, by the federal government’s estimate, 67 of those 614 kWh went to lighting. That works out to 33 kWh per month for lighting.

If I were to replace all my 16 incandescent lights with compact fluorescents—which I won’t do, because their light quality is inferior—I would cut those 33 kWh to 11. This would save 22.5 kWh per month, shaving less than $3 per month off my power bill. Each 29-watt compact fluorescent costs $18.24, including tax; sixteen of them would cost $292. To pay off $292 with the energy savings—$3 per month—it would take 8.1 years.)

What emission reductions would result from replacing incandescents with compact fluorescents? It depends on where you get your electricity. I live in Ontario, where according to Environment Canada the average annual emission intensity of electricity generation is 272 grams per kilowatt-hour. Over those eight years, my $292 investment in inferior-quality lighting will prevent 587 kilograms of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from going into the atmosphere. If I live in British Columbia, the same $292 investment would prevent 52 kg over 8 years; in Quebec, just over 17.

The Ban-the-incandescent movement appears to have taken hold in Nova Scotia, and other provincial governments including Ontario are also talking about it like it is a serious measure against climate change. How much money and time will they spend in the effort to achieve such meager savings? In my opinion, any amount is too much.

Rather, they should focus where they can achieve truly dramatic emission reductions. I showed in Taking the giant step that you could cut 1,200 kilograms of GHGs in a single year by driving a Toyota Camry Hybrid rather than its non-hybrid counterpart.

If you live in British Columbia, getting a hybrid would result in GHG reductions more than 180 times as big over the 8-year payoff period as what you’d get by nickel-and-diming with a bunch of sub-standard lightbulbs. And if you live in Quebec, the hybrid option would achieve a reduction more than 560 times as big.

Governments should focus their efforts on getting more hybrids on the road. A break on the GST would help.