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Scientists Warn of Expansion of Coal Power Imports

Posted by Bill Wolfe December 19, 2008 4:56PM

Weak NJ laws make New Jersey more vulnerable to imported dirty coal power

Pennsylvania coal power plant - Reliant Portland Generating Station, directly across Delaware River from NJ, just below Water Gap

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) just issued a Report that warns about the threats from imports of dirty coal power from mid-western states.

Contrary to public understanding, the UCS Report concludes that NJ's current laws and policies "unwittingly" make existing problems WORSE. According to the scientists:

"Even as the Northeast blazes a trail for other regions and the federal government in fighting global warming, its pioneering efforts could unwittingly contribute to the growth of coal elsewhere. By adding to the price difference between electricity produced within the region and outside it, RGGI could drive some demand to uncapped sources, particularly nearby coal plants." (page 25)

Data show that all of NJ's efforts to reduce in state emissions of green house gases will be wiped out by expansion of coal power imports. (see Figure 11 on page 20 of the Report)

IMPORTING POLLUTION - Coal's threat to climate policy in the US Northeast

As a result, NJ consumers will pay higher electric costs and be saddled with more pollution from dirty mid-western coal plants.

These troubling findings are well known and were predicted by NJ environmentalists years ago. The State's policies were not "unwitting". For example, DEP Commissioner Jackson testified to the Legislature on December 10, 2007. She warned an Assembly Committee that that "you will hear a lot about leakage" and suggested that the best solution was a national green house gas emission control program with "hard caps". But, capitulating to polluters, State officials failed to adopt meaningful controls on coal power imports to prevent the problem.

The UCS Report shines a bright light on failed policies and battles lost by environmentalists in the NJ Legislature and in regional negotiations. Environmentalists were unable to convince the Corzine Administration to demand tough regulatory and economic tools to prevent the serious problems documented in the UCS Report.

NJ's flawed approach contrast with the far stronger program under way in California. Here's why.

Dirty coal power from the mid-west is a lot cheaper than cleaner energy sources produced in NJ. Simple economics and lax NJ policies allow market pressures to undermine global warming and clean air protections.

According to the Corzine Administration's "Energy Master Plan" (EMP), NJ imports almost a third (27%) of electric power consumed in state from dirty coal power plants in the mid-west. According to DEP, this imported power accounts for significant global warming impacts. http://www.nj.gov/globalwarming/home/documents/pdf/final_report20081215.pdf

Lisa Jackson, former NJDEP Commissioner and Obama nominee for EPA Administrator

The 10 northeastern State's "Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative' (RGGI) "cap and trade" program negotiated by former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson does not address the carbon emissions from these power imports, a major flaw known as "leakage". Instead, the so called "emissions cap" only applies to instate power generation, ignoring the emissions from almost a third of NJ electric power demand.

The highly touted NJ "Global Warming Response Act" (GWRA) does not provide DEP with regulatory authority to control green house gas emissions from instate power plants or electric imports. Major polluters, like PSEG, convinced the Legislature not to delegate strong authority to DEP to regulate green house gas emissions. Instead, market based policies were adopted as preferable to disparaged "regulatory command and control".

In addition to neutering DEP on the regulatory front, the BPU was not granted strong economic tools.

Instead of authorizing BPU to use contract powers and craft economic incentives to reduce emissions from dirty coal imports, the Legislature sought to minimize any impacts on consumer electric bills (just 50 cents per month per household). As a result, the fine print of the GWRA provides no effective authority to use the Board's economic powers to limit dirty coal electric imports. The GWRA vaguely directs the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to monitor the problem and then react to adopt a mitigation policy after problems emerge.

The weak approach of the NJ GWRA contrasts sharply with the strong proactive regulatory and economic powers provided under the California Global Warming Solutions Act. California law provides strong regulatory and economic tools, plus the resources, scientists, and staff to enforce them.

Under the California law, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) prevents electricity distributors from signing power import contracts that don't meet strict State environmental standards. NJ's BPU does not do that.

The California law requires power plants to include an additional pollution cost for carbon emissions, including those "imported" from other states. NJ BPU does not do that.

According to the UCS Report, California's efforts to deal with such emissions have caused cancellation of at least one out-of-state coal plant project, by creating uncertainty about its economic viability.

Former DEP Commissioner Jackson negotiated both the GWRA and RGGI. Jackson's global warming "accomplishments" have been offered as a model for the Obama national program.

Let's hope that Jackson does not look to her NJ experience to develop the national global warming program as head of US EPA.

If Jackson does, let's hope that Carol Browner, Obama "Energy and Global Warming Czar" in the White House, blocks Jackson from doing so.

Here is UCS Press Release:

COMMENTS (13)Post a comment
Posted by DiscussedTed on 12/19/08 at 7:14PM


I believe that you proceed from a false assumption....

Carbon dioxide has not been proven to be a cause of artificial global warming. Increasingly, the evidence points toward no relationship between carbon dioxide levels and average climate temperature. Sunspot activity is now suspected.

You might believe that we need to act now, before the "proof" is in. After all, can we afford to wait?

What if it turns out that carbon dioxide actually cools the planet, and that what is warming the planet is actually the wind being slowed by windmills?

The point is that I would like to see some proof before I agree to commit financial "hari-kiri."

I also sense that you want New Jersey to dictate environmental policy for the rest of the nation, by refusing to purchase power that is not "clean" enough.

I prefer a more constitutional approach of leaving this sort of policy decision to the federal government.

After all, if we are all to commit financial "hari-kiri," then I would like to see more of the country "go-along with it" then just the People's Republic of New Jersey.

Posted by unprovincial on 12/19/08 at 7:26PM

DiscussedTed: You types that claim there is no proof when the vast majority of climatoligists and other with expertise in atmospheric science agree that global warming is man-made make me laugh. You apparently believe the claims of so-called scientists whose "research" is funded by Exxon. News Flash: Exxon decided within the past year that it was a losing cause to keep funding these hired guns. So go read your "science" written by someone with a degree from a college that teaches the earth is 3 or 4,000 years old and that dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark. You won't believe anything real science proves anyway. And I can't believe I just wasted a couple of minutes to respond to your idiotic comment.

Posted by rightwaynj on 12/19/08 at 9:33PM

Folks are losing interest in all this wacky "man made" global warming nonsense. We are experiencing some of the coldest temps in a long time.

Man cannot control the climate, so stop being so arrogant.

California has had strong pollution controls for years and it has accomplished nothing.

This is all just another failed liberal ideal aimed at weak individuals who need to feel good about themselves because they are "green".

It's pathetic.

Posted by unprovincial on 12/20/08 at 12:40AM

Educate yourself then. We are talking about trends over thousands of years. So we have a cold snap. It means nothing. The geologic record proves the world has been heating up at a faster RATE since the dawn of the industrial age. Ice cores from the polar caps prove it. I give up already. Why do you even read Wolfe's column then?

Posted by nohesitation on 12/20/08 at 7:49AM

unprovincial - seems like any post on global warming brings out the deniers.

They must somehow monitor and jump in to distort the conversation with misinformation and lies.

I find it best to not argue with them.

Posted by givmeliberty on 12/20/08 at 9:15AM

Guys, consensus and proof are not the same thing. And yes, we do have the same conversation over and over again on this topic.

Whether or not you think climate change is man made, consider this. If we put all that CO2 in the air that is warming the planets and melting the ice cap, wouldn't it be necessary to go back to some low level of atmospheric CO2 to get the warming to stop, or reverse? All we are talking about is trying to slow down the increase in our CO2 production (at great cost), reversals are out of the question. However, if all you do is slow it, you won't be able to get this warming process to stop. Even Wikipedia says something to the effect that at current levels, warming will continue for the next 1000 years. In other words, climate change is here, it is just a question of how fast sea level rises, etc. etc.

The Chinese usage of coal will make our reductions meaningless, anyway.

Eliminating coal as a source of power means using a more expensive alternative. We have a lot on our plates right now - throw in the cost of the bailouts and national health care insurance, and we are talking about a very different standard of living for us non-masters-of -the-universe. Perhaps nuclear is the answer - it's not without risk, but at least it would let us use the power grid we have without the trillion dollars worth of battery storage that wind and solar would require.

Only time will tell who was right about climate change, but if you want the deniers to go along with all these regulatory controls and costs, you have to engage them and hammer something out. When you want to make something like energy much more expensive, you do have to convince people and not insult them. Silencing people and changing their minds are not the same thing.

Posted by nohesitation on 12/20/08 at 9:31AM

Givemeliberty - you can have your liberty, but it's killing me and the planet.

BTW, there is no "liberty" interest, or right, to cheap power.

Higher energy costs are here to stay, so get used to it.

Energy demand reduction (nega-watts) SAVES money and is economiclly more efficient.

That is the preferred ECONOMIC strategy, even if there were NO global warming.

Peak oil will force the transition anyway.

In terms of your "time will tell" - who was it that said "in the long run we are all dead".

That kind of approach is the height of irresponsible reckless behavior. Shame on you (in the biblical sense).

Posted by ferdek on 12/20/08 at 10:11AM

John Maynard Keynes said "in the long run we are all dead." This was in response to free market advocates who said that in the long run there were natural forces that eventually bring economies out of recessions so short-run government interference, fiscal/monetary policy, was really unnecessary. As we all are aware, politicians need to get reelected so are not prepared to wait until things cure themselves "in the long run."

Posted by nohesitation on 12/20/08 at 10:20AM

ferdek - as they say, never ask a question you don''t already have the answer to.

I beg to differ with your conclusions of Keynes quote with respect to policy. (i.e. you disparage "politicians" and intervention by claiming: "As we all are aware, politicians need to get reelected so are not prepared to wait until things cure themselves "in the long run.")

Firt, you left out the preface: "Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs"

Keynes was using that quote in favor of what you disparage as "political" intervention and against those that opposed intervention and advocated reliance on "free markets".

Economically, it's not a case of "waiting until things cure themselves". That kind of market fundamantalsissm is irresponsible, as lots of avoidable damage occurs in the intermim.

Last, you seem also to disparage democracy - elections are democracy 's tool.

Posted by peeltheonion on 12/20/08 at 10:42AM

The choice of Lisa Jackson to head the E.P.A. in an Obama administration committed to hearing all viewpoints, opens up the issue how N.J., among states across the U.S., have benefited from the economical and stable base load energy that nuclear technology has supplied for over 30 years.That stock of aging powerplants needs to be replaced and expanded with 21st Century technology. Testing of the 4th generation most advanced Julich type pebble-bed High Temperature Gas Cooled nuclear reactors, have proved them to be both meltdown proof and 48% more efficient than those now in use . Because of that safety factor and modular design size of 100-300 megawatts, they are capable of being installed even in urban settings. It's use of helium for reactor core temperature control in the range of 1,200-1,400 degrees can be transferred similar to the way the heater in your car works, to be used for such things as water desalinization, a vast array of chemical and industrial processes, and even production of hydrogen based fuels from water. The need to haul oil across the world or mine for coal would almost disappear, as such plants from shoreline to shoreline could be our future gas stations, home heating suppliers, and generate electricity for homes and industry. Combined with reprocessing of existing and future spent fuel, now called waste, and processing of the overstock of nuclear warheads for fuel, there already exists a 20-30 year supply of nuclear fuel for such reactors. The latest issue of 21rst Century Science and Technology lays this out in detail

Posted by wereallblue on 12/20/08 at 10:47AM

So jack up the cost of BPU-regulated energy to the point where more and more people burn wood to heat their homes. I see it all the time, people installing their wood burning stove and then the mound of firewood in their back/side yard. All in a response to more expensive energy.

Since the BPU started mucking around with rates our energy costs have skyrocketed. If Kansas is going to foul up the air with coal anyway, I want some of the energy. If China is bringing new coal-generated power plants online daily, we must do the same to compete.

Posted by unprovincial on 12/20/08 at 2:15PM

givmeliberty: There are methods to remove the carbon from the atmosphere, and not surprisingly, these methods have received a lot of research funding through the Bush Administration's Dept. of Energy. But I think it should be looked at seriously. The majority of environmental groups do not support it, thinking it will lead to full tilt burning of fossil fuels, but I think it makes sense to try to turn back the carbon levels in the atmosphere. This involves carbon capture by various means and some methods include the storage of carbon in deep geologic reservoirs, similar to what is done with some toxic wastes. We're talking about a "repository" reached by drilling to a formation surrounded by confining formations. I think it's promising.

Posted by givmeliberty on 12/20/08 at 5:06PM

Hi Unprovincial - maybe its not the best source, but on carbon capture, the Wikipedia article says: Capturing and compressing CO2 requires much energy and would increase the fuel needs of a coal-fired plant with CCS by 25%-40%[1]. These and other system costs are estimated to increase the cost of energy from a new power plant with CCS by 21-91%" The number of people burning fossil fuel the world over probably dwarfs our ability to do much with this technology anytime soon. Of course, then we have to figure out how to transport and store the carbon, which is also an expensive proposition.

After rereading the main article here, I came across this paragraph:
"The California law requires power plants to include an additional pollution cost for carbon emissions, including those "imported" from other states. NJ BPU does not do that." Mr. Wolfe does not explain where the energy comes from that does not have carbon emissions, nor does he mention a dollar figure of what he considers an appropriate fine or surcharge to be.

I have a 3-bedroom house that is about 2000 square feet. All together, gas and electricity cost us about $6000 a year. I never said anything about having a right to cheap energy - I don't have cheap energy right now.

The tax incentives currently existing for electricity customers to install solar panels get that money from ratepayers. Solar panels are a lovely idea, however, unsubsidized, they are not affordable by the average family, or company, for that matter.

The town, state and federal government already get at least half of our income for all the worthy and not so worthy things they spend money on. Before they take more of my money by making electricity more expensive, I would like to feel some assurance that there is some point to it. Anyone who thinks I should feel ashamed about this is daft.