Energy & Technology

Exceeding Expectations: Recent developments in U.S. Carbon Capture Policy

By Fatima Maria Ahmad, Solutions Fellow, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

A version of this article first appeared in the Sep./Oct. 2016 edition of the Carbon Capture Journal

Introduction

Even in an election year, there are areas of energy policy where leaders of both parties and stakeholders from diverse sectors of the economy can find common ground. Encouraged by the landmark Paris Agreement in December 2015 and motivated by the need to avoid stranded assets and preserve jobs in the power sector, policymakers took seriously the challenge of accelerating deployment of carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS or carbon capture). Midway through the year, the International Energy Agency issued a report concluding that financial and policy support for carbon capture is not at a sufficient level to ensure an adequate pipeline of carbon capture projects that will enable the world to stay on track to meet mid-century goals of keeping global warming within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.[1] Bipartisan proposals that are before Congress this year would encourage CCUS technology. State political leaders also supported carbon capture in notable ways this year.

H.R. 4622, the Carbon Capture Act

On Feb. 25, 2016, Rep. Mike Conaway (D-Texas) introduced H.R. 4622, the Carbon Capture Act, a bill to extend and expand Section 45Q, which is the primary tax credit for the use of carbon dioxide in enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR), a form of tertiary production.[2] In the United States, carbon dioxide has been safely used in commercial enhanced oil recovery for more than 40 years. The United States produces about 4 percent of its oil through CO2-EOR. However, most of the carbon dioxide used is from naturally occurring underground reservoirs instead of from man-made sources. In addition to the climate benefits of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide vented into the atmosphere, CO2-EOR maximizes production from existing oil fields and may displace more carbon-intensive imported crude oil.

Rep. Conaway’s bill has 45 co-sponsors: 30 Republicans and 15 Democrats. These co-sponsors hail from 24 states and all regions of the country. This broad support challenges the notion that energy policy debates must be polarized and partisan.

H.R. 4622 provides four changes to 45Q. First, it would remove the existing cumulative cap of 75 million tons of CO2 and make the tax credit permanent. With less than half of the credits left for new projects to use, there is too much uncertainty for carbon capture project developers to secure financing.[3] By making the tax credit permanent, the bill aims to establish certainty that would enable carbon capture project financing.

Second, the bill would increase the value of the credit per ton of CO2. Under current law, there is a credit of $10 per ton of CO2 for EOR and $20 per ton of CO2 for saline storage. Rep. Conaway’s bill would increase these values to $30 for both EOR and saline storage. These increases would ramp up over time reaching their full value in 2025. 

Third, the bill would lower the threshold for qualifying facilities to 150,000 tons of CO2 for both power plants and industrial facilities. Industrial facilities that emit CO2 include ethanol plants; natural gas processing facilities; steel, cement, fertilizer and chemical plants; hydrogen production plants, and refineries.[4] Capture of industrial CO2 emissions is critical because the sector accounts for almost 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.[5]

For these industrial sources, the cost to capture CO2 is often lower than for power plants.  Technology to separate the CO2 stream has been used in natural gas processing for decades.  The by-product CO2 stream is often of higher purity, i.e. less mixed with other gases, than power plant emissions. Importantly, there is no alternative to CCUS to achieve deep decarbonization in the industrial sector because production of CO2 is often an inherent part of the chemical or industrial process. By lowering the threshold for industrial sources of CO2, the bill aims to incentivize investment in industrial carbon capture projects. 

Finally, the bill would allow transferability of the credit within the chain of CO2 custody. This change would allow entities with little or no tax liability to benefit from the incentive by transferring it to entities with the ability to use the credit.   

In the Senate, companion legislation was offered on April 12, 2016, by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) in the form of an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill.[6] The amendment had bipartisan support from two Democrats and five Republicans.[7] While the amendment was voted into the tax title of the FAA bill, the tax title was ultimately dropped for other reasons.[8]

S. 2012, Energy Policy Modernization Act

On Apr. 20, 2016, the Senate passed a broad energy bill authored by Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).[9] The bill was approved 85-12, demonstrating bipartisan support. Section 3403 of the bill authorizes a new research, development and demonstration program at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on CCUS technology.[10] Section 3404, added by Sens. Heitkamp and Capito and co-sponsored by six Democrats and four Republicans,[11] directs the DOE to report on long-term contracts to provide price stabilization support for carbon capture projects, a mechanism that is often referred to as a Contract for Differences (CfD).[12] The DOE report would identify the costs and benefits of entering into CfDs and would outline options for how such CfDs could be structured and describe regulations that would be necessary to implement such a program.[13]

North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership

On Jun. 29, 2016, President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the North American Climate, Energy, and Environment Partnership.[14] The three nations aim to achieve 50 percent clean power generation by 2025, including through CCUS technology. One of the goals identified in the White House Action Plan is leveraging participation in Mission Innovation[15] by identifying joint R&D initiatives to advance CCUS technology. By highlighting the role of CCUS in achieving deep decarbonization in North America, there is a renewed opportunity to focus on how the three nations can work together.  

S. 3179, the Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Act

On July 13, 2016, Sens. Heitkamp and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced S. 3179, the Carbon, Capture, Use and Storage Act, along with co-sponsoring Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Bob Casey (D-PA).[16] Republican co-sponsors include Sens. Capito and Blunt and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, putting the Kentucky Republican and some of the Senate’s leading advocates for climate action on the same side.

The Senate bill allows forms of CO2 utilization beyond EOR to be eligible for the tax credit.  Under the bill, utilization is expanded to include the fixation of CO2 “through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis, such as through the growing of algae or bacteria,” chemical conversion of CO2 to a material or chemical compound in which CO2 is securely stored, or the use of CO2 for “any other purpose for which a commercial market exists.”[17] A leading example of carbon dioxide use beyond EOR is algae biofuels. 

The Senate bill would extend the tax credit for seven years and would allow the credit to be claimed for 12 years.[18] For new facilities, the Senate bill increases the value per ton of CO2 of the tax credit to $35 for EOR and $50 for geologic storage.[19] The bill lowers the threshold for qualifying facilities to 100,000 tons for industrial facilities.[20] Finally, the Heitkamp-Whitehouse bill provides the tax credit to the owner of the carbon capture equipment.[21]

Other Federal Efforts:  H.R. 2883, the Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act and S. 2305, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act.

Developments this year build on previous efforts to promote carbon capture. On June 24, 2015, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) re-introduced H.R. 2883, the Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act, which would extend the publicly traded partnership ownership structure available for certain oil and gas activities to renewable energy development.[22] The bill would also extend the tax treatment to carbon capture for EOR or other secure geologic storage. The bill was co-sponsored by six Democrats and six Republicans.[23]

Additionally, on Nov. 19, 2015, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced S. 2305, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, which would allow the use of tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs) issued by state or local governments to finance carbon capture projects.[24]

From the perspective of project developers, the extension and expansion of Section 45Q will do the most to accelerate the deployment of CCUS technology, although the MLP and PAB efforts will play a critical role.[25] Like with other low- and zero-carbon energy technologies such as wind and solar, multiple and complementary incentive policies are often more effective in enabling investment to drive deployment than any single incentive policy.

State Policy

A number of states have demonstrated leadership on carbon capture policy in 2016 by voicing growing support for federal incentives. In February, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) adopted a resolution urging Congress and the Obama Administration to support state efforts on CCUS including CO2-EOR.[26] In June, the Western Governors’ Association followed up on a June 2015 resolution supporting CO2-EOR[27] with a letter of support for federal incentives for this technology.[28] In July, Montana Governor Steve Bullock released Montana’s Energy Future Blueprint, which highlights the need for federal and state support of accelerated commercial deployment of CCUS technology.[29] Last fall, the Southern States Energy Board also issued a resolution supporting federal incentives for CO2-EOR.[30]

Conclusion

Despite encouraging progress at the federal and state levels, formidable challenges lie ahead. Developers of carbon capture projects face serious obstacles in obtaining financing. Deployment of carbon capture technology is not on track to meet our climate goals. Fewer than half of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models were able to stay within a 2-degree scenario without CCUS.[31] Without carbon capture, the costs of climate change mitigation increase by 138 percent.[32] Carbon capture projects are capital-intensive and require long lead times to reach commissioning. In this context, the need for action is urgent. 

What we have seen this year is that U.S. political leaders are able find common ground on energy policy where the goals of emissions reduction, energy security, and economic development converge. Looking forward, there is reason to hope that through working together on carbon capture policy this year, elected officials on both sides of the aisle have developed working relationships and built bridges that will enable continued action on climate in the next administration.



[1] International Energy Agency, Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2016 11, 30-31, available at https://www.iea.org/etp/tracking2016/

[2] See H.R. 4622, 114th Cong. (2016) available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4622

[3] The IRS announced that almost half of the credits available under the cumulative cap have been claimed. U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Notice 2015-44, Credit for Carbon Dioxide Sequestration:  2015 Section 45Q Inflation Adjustment Factor (2015), available at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-15-44.pdf

[4] In the U.S., there are states and regions that will have candidates for carbon capture at lower-cost industrial facilities before they do in the power sector.

[5] Global CCS Institute, Global Status of CCS: Special Report – Introduction to Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage 4 (2016), available at https://www.globalccsinstitute.com/publications/industrial-ccs

[7] Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Barrasso (R-WY), Dan Coats (R-IN), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Mike Enzi (R-WY).

[8] Geof Koss, Blame Game Follows Collapse of Senate Tax Talks (E&E News PM, Apr. 12, 2016).

[9] S. 2012, 114th Cong. (2016), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/2012

[10] Section 3403 establishes a new coal technology program, which includes programs for research and development, large-scale pilot projects, demonstration projects, and co-fired biomass-coal projects.  Id.  The section authorizes $632 million annually from 2017 – 2020, and $582 million in 2021.  DOE continues to do substantial work and focus domestic and international policy efforts on CCUS.  An important domestic DOE initiative is the creation of seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships to help develop infrastructure and regulations for CCUS technology and sequestration.  An important international DOE initiative is the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, a ministerial-level panel that meets to advance CCUS RD&D worldwide.

[11] Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Al Franken (D-MN), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), John Barrasso (R-WY), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Mike Enzi (R-WY).

[13] As context, carbon capture projects often face steep financing challenges. This is because one of the main uses of CO2 that is in commercial operation today is CO2-EOR and the revenue from the sale of CO2 for EOR is dependent on volatile oil prices. The futures market for oil prices does not enable the type of commercial hedge that is needed to finance these projects. A CfD would address that market weakness by providing a reference oil price that would remain the same over the duration of the contract. When oil prices are above the reference oil price, the developer would pay the U.S. Treasury. When oil prices fall below the reference oil price, the Treasury would pay the developer. By providing certainty, a Federal CfD would make it easier for carbon capture projects to reach financial close.

[14] The White House, North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan (Jun. 29, 2016), available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/06/29/north-american-climate-clean-energy-and-environment-partnership-action

[15] Mission Innovation is an initiative that was launched in Paris in November 2015. Through this initiative, 20 nations have committed to doubling their clean energy R&D investments over five years.  The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is an independent initiative spearheaded by Bill Gates that launched simultaneously with Mission Innovation.  Through the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a global group of private investors have committed to commercializing the research that is funded by Mission Innovation. 

 

[17] S. 3179, 114th Cong. § 2 (2016), providing a new Section 45Q(e)(7)(A).

[18] S. 3179, 114th Cong. § 2 (2016), providing a new Section 45Q(a)(3) and 45Q(d)(1)(A).  The determination of eligibility is based on the date that a project commences construction.  This provides greater certainty for investors than the existing cumulative cap of 75 million tons of CO2 but not as much certainty as a permanent tax credit. 

[19] S. 3179, 114th Cong. § 2 (2016), providing a new Section 45Q(b)(1).  The value of the credit ramps up over time.  The Senate bill does not increase the value of the credit for existing facilities.  S. 3179, 114th Cong. § 2 (2016), providing a new Section 45Q(a)(1)-(2).

[20] S. 3179, 114th Cong. § 2 (2016), providing a new Section 45Q(d)(1)(B).  For power plants, the threshold for power plants remains at 500,000 tons.  This would exclude some smaller demonstration carbon capture projects at power plants.  The threshold is 25,000 for projects that utilize CO2.     

[21] S. 3179, 114th Cong. § 2 (2016), providing a new Section 45Q(e)(5).  Like H.R. 4622, this would enable rural electric cooperatives without tax liability to benefit from the incentive because the incentive could be claimed by a third-party that puts up the investment funds in the equipment.  This would reduce the cost of capital for these projects. 

[22] H.R. 2883, 114th Cong. (2016), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2883

[23] Representatives Mark Amodei (R-NV-2), Peter Welch (D-VT-At Large), Paul Gosar (R-AZ-4), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Mike Coffman (R-CO-6), Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), Mia Love (R-UT-4), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26), John Delaney (D-MD-6), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), and Scott Peters (D-CA-52).

[24] Access to tax-exempt private activity bonds will provide project developers an important tool in a broader toolkit of measures needed to help attract private investment and finance carbon capture projects.  The benefits to consumers and businesses of PABs include their tax-exempt status and the fact that they can be paid back over a longer period of time.  S. 2305, 114th Cong. (2016), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/2305

[25] MLPs and PABs will be especially helpful for electric power generation and some industrial sectors where the costs of carbon capture remain high.

[26] National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, ERE-1: Resolution on Carbon Capture and Enhanced Oil Recovery (Feb. 17, 2016), available at http://pubs.naruc.org/pub/66436AF7-DFB2-C21E-43B2-1AE83A02D8F5

[27] Western Governors’ Association, Policy Resolution 2015-06 (Jun. 25, 2015), available at http://westgov.org/images/images/RESO_EOR_15_06.pdf

[28] Letter from Matthew Mead, Governor, State of Wyoming, and Steve Bullock, Governor, State of Montana to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (Jun. 3, 2016), available at http://westgov.org/letters-testimony/343-energy/1195-letter-governors-support-enhanced-oil-recovery-technology

[29] State of Montana, Montana’s Energy Future (Jun. 21, 2016), available at https://governor.mt.gov/Newsroom/ArtMID/28487/ArticleID/4325

[30] Southern States Energy Board, Resolution Supporting Carbon Capture and Storage and Enhanced Oil Recovery (Sep. 28, 2015), available at http://www.sseb.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/6.2015.pdf

[31] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group III Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (2014), available at https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_full.pdf

[32] Id.

 

A critical opportunity to build on the Paris Agreement

International negotiators are gathering in Kigali, Rwanda, with the goal of phasing down one of the most potent and rapidly expanding greenhouse gases affecting the climate.

Momentum is building for taking action on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a family of industrial chemicals used worldwide in air conditioners, refrigeration, foam products, and aerosols.

  • On the sidelines of the recent U.N. General Assembly, more than 100 nations signed a declaration calling for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to ambitiously deal with HFCs, with an early freeze date for developing countries and an early first reduction step for developed countries.
  • To jump start the transition away from HFCs, 16 donor nations have offered $27 million in new and additional money for use by developing countries in limiting HFC use in 2017. Donor countries are also committing to support the longer-term phase-down costs under the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.
  • In an unprecedented move, a group of philanthropists (19 foundations and private individuals including Bill Gates and Tom Steyer) have offered an additional $53 million to developing countries to support efforts to move from HFCs to more energy-efficient alternatives.
  • More than 500 companies and organizations issued a call to action in support of an ambitious agreement on an HFC phasedown at the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol October 10-14.

Action on HFCs is the single most significant step nations can take this year to advance the goal established in the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Estimates are that an ambitious HFC amendment would reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees by the end of the century. 

While momentum for an ambitious agreement this year is strong and building, it is by no means assured. Even with more than 100 nations on board, reaching an international consensus in Kigali will not be easy. 

A large number of developed and developing countries have supported a developing country freeze in HFC use beginning around 2021, but India has supported a 2030 freeze date and Gulf Cooperation Council countries proposed a 2028 freeze. 

Issues under discussion include the costs and availability of alternatives, the role and timing of patent protections, the rules governing support of projects under the Multilateral Fund, and the need for updated standards for the safe handling and use of more flammable refrigerant alternatives. While there is general support for incorporating enhanced energy efficiency into the transition away from HFCs, there are questions about the ways to achieve this objective.

Solutions are on the table for all of these issues. Given progress to date and the financial resources now available to developing countries to support an ambitious HFC amendment, agreement in Kigali is well within reach. The costs of acting to reduce HFCs are small compared to the very real and present costs of inaction to limit changes to our climate.

How the first US offshore wind project holds lessons for carbon capture

Top: Siemens 2.3 MW Offshore Wind Turbines, courtesy Siemens Press.

Bottom: The ADA-ES 1 MWe pilot unit, courtesy US Department of Energy.

This fall, America’s first offshore wind farm will come online off the coast of Rhode Island, launching a new industry with the potential to create clean energy jobs in manufacturing and in the marine trades, attract private investment to New England, and reduce carbon emissions.

In Europe, the number of offshore wind farms grew from zero to 84 in just a few decades. What lessons can we draw from the growth of offshore wind that could help advance carbon capture technology?

State Leadership

New energy technologies often need both state and federal support to be deployed commercially. Rhode Island has been a leader in supporting offshore wind. In 2010, its legislature authorized a state utility to enter into an offtake agreement for offshore wind power. This year, Massachusetts did the same, and New York announced a new Offshore Wind blueprint.

Rhode Island also brought stakeholders together to create an Oceanic Special Area Management Plan outlining multiple uses for the marine environment. These efforts laid the groundwork for Deepwater Wind to develop the Block Island Wind Farm, a 30 MW, five-turbine project that can provide power for most of Block Island’s 1,051 residents.

Similar state policies could help deploy more carbon capture technology as well. A handful of states have clean energy standards that include carbon capture technology, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Utah. This year, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock highlighted carbon capture in his state’s Energy Future Blueprint. Other states could follow this model.

Both the Western Governors’ Association and the Southern States Energy Board have issued resolutions supporting carbon capture technology as did the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

Financing Support

National policies and early financing support played a role in the success of offshore wind projects in Europe. A report by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute noted that European nations included offshore wind in national energy policies and established feed-in tariffs to provide incentives for deployment.

Multilateral development banks like the European Investment Bank played a leadership role by lending to early offshore wind projects, paving the way for commercial banks to follow. Once these major factors were in place, then technology development, the establishment of standardized contract structures, and maintaining a certain level of deal flow helped drive efficiencies that brought down costs.

When it comes to financing carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) in the U.S., we have some pieces of the puzzle in place. There is already a basic federal and state regulatory framework for underground storage of CO2, for example.

Still, financing policies are needed to enable investment in carbon capture projects. We should extend and expand commercial deployment incentives like tax credits and open up the use of master limited partnerships and private activity bonds to carbon capture, among other things.     

Regional Approach

A third lesson to draw from offshore wind is that to create new domestic industries, it helps to take a regional approach. Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced funding for a multi-state effort for offshore wind in the Northeast to develop a regional supply chain.  

DOE is taking a similar approach with CCUS and launched seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships to characterize CO2 storage potential in the U.S. and to conduct small and large-scale CO2 storage injection tests. Millions of tons of CO2 have already been stored for decades in West Texas as part of enhanced oil recovery operations. The regional partnerships characterized the potential for more CO2 storage in deep oil-, gas-, coal-, and saline-bearing formations as illustrated in the Carbon Storage Atlas. To date, the partnerships have safely and permanently injected more than 10 million metric tons of CO2 in these types of formations.    

Investing seriously in carbon capture technology has economic benefits including for electrical workers, boilermakers, the building trades, and steelworkers. A new CO2 commodity industry could be created to reuse CO2 to make other products.

Carbon capture also has environmental benefits, helping us address emissions from industrial plants, which are the source of 21 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and from coal and natural gas power plants, which currently supply two-thirds of U.S. electricity.

This fall, as we celebrate the beginning of the new offshore wind industry in the U.S., let’s keep thinking big about what is possible with carbon capture technology. With sufficient financial and policy support, we can create skilled jobs, attract private investment, and lower CO2 emissions.  

Cities flex their muscles to improve existing commercial buildings

With up to 70 percent of total global emissions originating within the boundaries of cities, local governments are at the center of the fight against climate change.

One area where local governments are stepping up to meet this challenge is the building sector, which offers a variety of opportunities to reduce energy demand. Local governments have long sought to improve energy performance among new buildings, however, new buildings aren’t replacing older ones at a fast enough rate to put a noticeable dent in commercial building energy use. In response, cities are working to improve the performance of the existing commercial building stock.

The new C2ES brief, Local Climate Action: Cities Tackle Emissions of Commercial Buildings, explores four commercial building policy strategies that leading cities are adopting: energy use benchmarking and disclosure mandates, retro-commissioning, retrofitting, and requirements for building upgrades to meet current codes. The brief offers examples of how these policies are developed, structured, and implemented. We looked at several examples in an earlier blog post.

These policies are showing promise for reducing emissions in cities that adopt them. For example, New York City is pursuing a suite of building actions, including a local law that requires buildings greater than 50,000 square feet to ensure all lighting systems meet current city standards in common areas and non-residential tenant spaces greater than 10,000 square feet by 2025. Those non-residential spaces must also be sub-metered, and energy use disclosed to tenants. The city intends to extend the policy to include buildings between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet. The move is expected to reduce annual emissions by about 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2e) and cut energy costs by $35 million annually.

As we reviewed these four policy categories, two conclusions became clear:

  1. Although policies like New York’s retrofitting requirement are not common in U.S. cities, replicating them broadly could provide widespread co-benefits in our communities and possibly contribute measurable greenhouse gas reductions at the national level.
  2. A larger energy transformation is needed to achieve the aggressive community emissions targets cities have set, and that won't happen without stronger collaboration.

While a number of federal programs provide cities with technical assistance and funding, additional support could be provided by U.S. states and businesses in the form of complementary programs, private investment, and active engagement in policy development. We’ve already seen more of this kind of collaboration through initiatives like the City Energy Project. The increasing number of businesses publicly committing to climate goals indicates there are many more opportunities.

In addition, the Clean Power Plan requires states to meaningfully reduce emissions from the power sector. Properly designed, state implementation plans for the Clean Power Plan could incentivize utilities and commercial building operators to improve the performance of the building stock.

If the actions of New York City, Seattle, and others are any indication, local governments have the potential to enact policies that foster climate action. These key players must continue taking bold actions to help create a policy environment across the country that promotes high-performing buildings, no matter when they were built. 

Local Climate Action: Cities Tackle Emissions of Commercial Buildings

Local Climate Action:
Cities Tackle Emissions of Commercial Buildings

September 2016

By Todd McGarvey and Amy Morsch

Download the brief (PDF)

As a significant source of emissions, cities have an important role to play in addressing the carbon footprint of activities occurring within their boundaries. Among many actions targeting different sectors, cities are actively pursuing improvements in the energy performance of commercial buildings. This brief explores several policies that leading cities are adopting: energy use benchmarking and disclosure mandates, retro-commissioning and retrofitting policies, and requirements for building upgrades to meet current codes. Our review finds these policies stand to deliver and facilitate emissions reductions in cities that adopt them. However, it should be noted that achieving deep reductions and a true market transformation will require collaboration between cities, state and federal agencies, and a range of non-government entities. The need for such a collaborative approach is applicable not just to addressing emissions from buildings, but indeed is relevant broadly to city efforts to reduce emissions.
 
Amy Morsch
Todd McGarvey
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Putting carbon capture technology in context

 

Photos by Dennis Schroeder / NREL, Iberdrola Renewables, Inc., U.S. Department of Energy

Wind and solar power were once considered expensive and were not widely deployed. Today, skeptics say the same about technology to capture, use and store carbon dioxide emissions (CCUS or carbon capture).

So what lessons can we draw from the experience of the wind and solar industries as they’ve become more mainstream to facilitate a faster and broader deployment of carbon capture technology?

Wind Energy

The cost of wind energy has declined by more than 60 percent since 2009 and average nameplate capacity increased 180 percent between 1998-99 to 2015. These improvements have led to an installed wind capacity of 74,821 MW in the United States, enough electricity to power nearly 20 million average U.S. homes every year.  

These wind energy milestones in cost reduction, performance improvements, and scale of deployment were supported by the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal deployment incentive. It’s reasonable to assume that the PTC would have been even more successful if it had been maintained consistently instead of experiencing periods of uncertainty regarding its fate, leading to boom-and-bust wind power development cycles.

Ongoing federal research and development (R&D) also spurred improved wind industry technology. For example, in 2007, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory initiated the Gearbox Reliability Collaborative in response to industry-wide technology challenges. That research led to improved gearbox designs, reducing the overall cost of wind energy and showing how collaborative industry efforts and federal support for R&D can resolve performance challenges.  

Solar Energy

Solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies experienced similar dramatic cost declines due to economies of scale and improved manufacturing and performance. The cost of utility-scale solar has fallen more than 54 percent since 2011. The efficiency of all PV cells steadily improved between 1975 and 2010, supported by multi-decade R&D programs like the Department of Energy’s Thin Film PV Partnership.

These cost declines and performance improvements were facilitated by the Investment Tax Credit, another federal deployment-focused incentive, and the Section 1603 Treasury program, a federal loan guarantee mechanism to support project financing. Strong state policies like the California Renewables Portfolio Standard enabled developers to enter into above-market power purchase agreements. The experience of utility-scale solar PV demonstrates that overlapping policies are essential to achieve financing for first-of-a-kind projects.

Lessons for carbon capture

We can draw three key conclusions from wind and solar energy’s experience:

  • Stable, long-term deployment incentives that build on previous public and private investments in technology research, development and demonstration (RD&D) are essential to facilitate a large volume of projects;
  • As more projects are deployed, costs are reduced through economies of scale, learning from experience, and technological innovation;
  • Ongoing government support for RD&D can deliver cost reductions by supporting innovation and overcoming performance challenges.

In contrast to wind and solar, the U.S. lacks an effective federal incentive for commercial deployment of CCUS—despite being a world leader in public and private RD&D for early stage technology demonstration. Fifteen commercial-scale CCUS projects are operating globally; eight of those are in the United States. But that’s not nearly enough to meet our mid-century climate goals.

Carbon capture can be used at coal- or natural gas-fired power plants, which are baseload generation resources. It’s also the only way to reduce carbon emissions from some industrial plants, such as facilities producing chemicals, steel, and cement.  Also, over the long-term, we’ll need to integrate biomass energy systems with carbon capture (BECCS). Combining the capture of photosynthetic carbon from biomass with CCUS can enable negative emissions.

While first-of-a-kind, commercial-scale CCUS projects are expensive, we know that as more projects come online, they will become cheaper. SaskPower estimates it could cut costs by up to 30 percent on the next unit to be retrofitted following its current experience operating the world’s first commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant carbon capture project. Developers are exploring novel approaches, including the Exxon and Fuel Cell Energy partnership and the Exelon-supported NET Power project, that have the potential to reduce costs still further. 

It’s essential to extend and expand tax incentives for carbon capture, update state laws to include CCUS technology in clean energy standards, and fund continued carbon capture  RD&D, among other things, if we are going to reach our emissions-cutting goals. 

 

Exciting year for carbon capture technology

This year we will witness a number of milestones in technology to capture, use and store carbon dioxide from industrial sources and power plants – technology we need to reach our goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We will need continued policy and financing support, however, to accelerate deployment worldwide. Innovative research in finding uses for captured carbon will also be essential.   

In 2016, the Emirates Steel Industries project in Abu Dhabi will be the world’s first steel plant with carbon capture, use and sequestration (CCUS) technology to begin operations. Globally, seven commercial-scale CCUS projects are under construction and many more are in the planning stages.

In the U.S., two notable CCUS projects are expected to come online soon, including the first-ever incorporation of CCUS technology at a bioethanol refinery at the Archer Daniels Midland project in Illinois and the incorporation of CCUS technology at the coal-fired power plant at the Southern Company Kemper project in Mississippi. Not far behind, in 2017, the NRG Energy Petra Nova project in Texas will also incorporate CCUS technology on coal-fired power generation.    

These anticipated project developments reflect the fact that CCUS technology is advancing around the world. Fifteen commercial-scale CCUS projects are operating. Eight of those are in the United States, which has been a leader in this area.

Recent North American milestones include the retrofit of the SaskPower Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant project in Canada with CCUS technology in 2014. In April 2016, the company announced it had exceeded the carbon capture reliability goals established for the technology. SaskPower estimates it could cut costs up to 30 percent on future units based on the experience it has acquired. Also in Canada, in November 2015, Shell incorporated CCUS technology on hydrogen production at the Quest project in Alberta. 

CCUS technology grows increasingly important as nations begin to implement their emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report concluded that CCUS technology will be essential to meet mid-century climate goals of keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius of preindustrial levels. In fact, without CCUS, mitigation costs will rise by 138 percent.

Even as nations take on climate change and diversify their energy portfolios, fossil fuels are expected to serve 78 percent of the world’s energy demand in 2040. The most recent Energy Information Administration analysis suggests that global energy consumption is expected to rise by 48 percent over the next 30 years led by significant increases in the developing world. In Asia in particular, power generation from fossil fuels is expected to continue to grow over the near term.

Earlier this spring, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a study on retrofitting China’s coal-fired power plants with CCUS technology, which will be critical because China has roughly 900 GW of installed coal-fired power plant capacity and has committed to peaking its CO2 emissions by 2030. The IEA study concludes that one-third of the coal fleet in China is suitable for retrofitting with CCUS technology.

Aside from the power sector, CCUS is a critical technology for the industrial sector, which contributes roughly 25 percent of global emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product of many manufacturing processes for chemicals, steel, and cement production as well as refining. There are no practical alternatives to CCUS for achieving deep emissions reduction in the industrial sector.

In some cases, the cost of incorporating CCUS technology into industrial processes may be lower than in the power sector because the CO2 stream in the industrial sector is often relatively pure, i.e. less mixed with other gases. A number of industrial CCUS projects are already operational including the Uthmaniyah natural gas processing project in Saudi Arabia that came online in 2015. In the U.S., the Air Products Port Arthur project in Texas incorporating CCUS technology on hydrogen production has been operational since 2013.

As new projects begin operating around the world, the Global CCS Institute concluded that policymakers can learn lessons for CCUS from the development of offshore wind in Europe. Those projects benefited from policy support from national governments through feed-in tariffs and long-term offshore wind capacity targets in national energy plans. The report also concludes that a multi-source approach to finance, including project finance, export credit agency support, multilateral institution lending, and green bank funding, will be helpful for CCUS technology. 

Finding uses for the captured carbon will also be essential. At the January World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the Global CO2 Initiative was launched to develop innovative approaches to transform CO2 into commercial products. Promising options include construction materials, plastics, chemicals, and agricultural products. 

As researchers continue exploring new uses for captured carbon, CCUS project developments this year and next continue to highlight the significant potential for CCUS technology to contribute to global emissions reduction.

This blog post first appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of The Current, a publication of the Women's Council for Energy and the Environment.

A tale of two states: NY and CA chart different courses on nuclear

California and New York are leaders in setting ambitious climate goals. Both have committed to producing half their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Both have set identical goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Where they part ways, however, is on nuclear power, which supplies the majority of zero-emission electricity in the United States. California is letting its nuclear plants ride off into the sunset while New York, which just approved a Clean Energy Standard that specifically includes nuclear power, is actively trying to preserve them.

California’s path

This summer, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) announced it will close its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant – the last one in the state of California – by 2025. After striking an agreement with environmental and labor groups, PG&E said it will seek to replace Diablo Canyon’s roughly 18,000 GWh of annual electricity – almost 10 percent of California’s in-state electricity – through improved energy efficiency, which will decrease demand, and renewable energy.

Many experts think it will be a stretch to reach that goal, especially by 2025, and that natural gas will have to fill the gap, as it has where nuclear plants have closed elsewhere in California, Vermont and Wisconsin. In New England, emissions increased 5 percent in 2015 after the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shut down and was largely replaced by natural gas-fired electricity.

Diablo Canyon might have kept going if PG&E had gotten its way in negotiations with the state last year to include nuclear power in California’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). That standard requires utilities to produce a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower. Including nuclear would have helped it compete economically with other low-carbon energy.

New York’s path

That’s exactly the path being taken in New York, which gets a third of its in-state electricity from nuclear power. To preserve the low-carbon benefits of its economically troubled upstate reactors and ensure its electricity mix becomes increasingly clean – with no backsliding – New York’s Public Service Commission has approved a clean energy standard (CES), which is essentially an RPS that includes nuclear.

New York’s CES mandate, which will take effect in 2017, is a novel approach that incorporates best practices from other states. It’s designed to incentivize new renewables deployment while also preserving existing clean electricity generation.

New York’s CES has three tiers, each with its own supply-demand dynamics. Tier 1 will incentivize new renewable development. Tier 2 is designed to provide sufficient revenue for existing renewable electricity supply. Tier 3 is designed to properly value the emission-free power from the state’s at-risk nuclear power plants.

Nuclear plant operators have long sought to correct what they perceive as a market failure to compensate nuclear power for its low-carbon benefits. If the at-risk reactors were replaced by an equivalent amount of fossil generation, emissions would increase by 14 million metric tons – increasing the state’s carbon dioxide emissions nearly 10 percent.

New York’s plan isn’t without controversy. There’s concern that it’s too costly. However, an associated cost study by the PSC found that the state could “meet its clean energy targets with less than a 1 percent impact on electricity bills.”

Most U.S. states have a renewable portfolio standard or alternative energy standard. Only Ohio allows new nuclear to qualify. Only New York has provisions for existing nuclear power plants.

Illinois is working to expand its RPS to include nuclear into a low-carbon portfolio standard, similar to New York’s CES, but efforts have stalled in the state legislature. Exelon has announced plans to close two nuclear power plants in the state in 2017 and 2018, which could lead to an additional 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions for the state.

Across the U.S., nine reactors are scheduled to close by 2025, which could increase carbon emissions by about 32 million metric tons, or 1.7 percent of the current total U.S. carbon emissions from the power sector.

New York’s approach to reducing its emissions is a practical, well-considered model that many other states could be following (Arguably, a national price on carbon would be more efficient, though more challenging to enact.)

New York’s four upstate reactors provide significant environmental and economic benefits. From a climate perspective, it doesn’t make sense to prematurely close these facilities when, in the short- and medium-term, they cannot realistically be replaced by alternative zero-emission power sources. Keeping these reactors operational also buys us additional time to address energy storage and transmission challenges to support more renewable generation.

With reasonable policies in place to support the existing U.S. reactor fleet, it will be easier for the U.S. to reduce its emissions and achieve its climate goals.

A bright future for the International Solar Alliance

Rooftop solar panels in central India.

Photo courtesy Coshipi via Flickr

A bold initiative to vastly expand solar energy in developing countries recently reached two major milestones toward its ultimate goal of mobilizing $1 trillion in solar investments by 2030.

In late June, the World Bank Group signed an agreement establishing it as a financial partner of the International Solar Alliance, providing more than $1 billion in support. The Bank Group will develop a roadmap and work with other multilateral development banks and financial institutions to mobilize financing for development and deployment of affordable solar energy.

The news follows the June 7 joint announcement between India and the United States to launch an initiative through the Alliance focusing on off-grid solar energy.

The International Solar Alliance was announced at the Paris climate conference in December by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President François Hollande. It was one of many new initiatives involving business, civil society, and public-private partnerships launched in Paris.

The alliance will comprise 121 countries located between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer that typically have 300 or more days of sunshine a year. Companies involved in the project include Areva, HSBC France and Tata Steel. 

According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), global solar capacity experienced record growth in 2015, with the annual market for new capacity up 25 percent over 2014. More than 50 gigawatts were added, bringing the total global capacity to about 227 gigawatts. That’s about 10 percent of the total amount of electricity the U.S. produced in 2015.

In developing and emerging economies, affordable financing is a challenge. The alliance will work to expand solar power primarily in countries that are resource-rich but energy-poor by mobilizing public finance from richer states to deliver universal energy access. Strategies include lowering financing costs, developing common standards, encouraging knowledge sharing and facilitating R&D collaborations.

President Hollande laid the foundation stone of the International Solar Alliance at the National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurgaon, Haryana in January, marking the first time India has hosted the headquarters of an international agency. The Indian government is investing an initial $30 million to set up the headquarters. The French Development Agency has earmarked over 300 million euros for the next five years to finance the alliance’s first batch of projects.

The solar alliance complements India’s own ambitious solar energy goals, which include a 2030 target of 40 percent of electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel energy sources as part of its intended nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement. India also plans to develop 100GW of solar power by 2022, a 30-fold increase in installed capacity. 

The growing support for the solar alliance is evidence of rising political momentum around the world to act on climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy. Look for a third major milestone in September, when the Alliance meets for its inaugural Founding Conference in Delhi.

Climate Innovation: Imagine how we can beat expectations next

Back in 2005, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that, under current policies, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would increase nearly 18 percent by 2015.

They did not.

In fact, emissions fell – by more than 12 percent. So we were off by 30 percent.

As Yogi Berra may have said: It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. We didn’t know then the impact a variety of market and policy factors would have on our energy mix. And we don’t know now all of the factors that could help us meet, or exceed, our Paris Agreement pledge – to reduce our net emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

U.S. emissions have fallen over the last 10 years due to factors that include:

  • Growth in renewable energy
  • Level electricity demand
  • Improved vehicle efficiency
  • A shift in electricity generation from coal to natural gas.

An unanticipated abundance of cheap natural gas has transformed the U.S. electricity mix. Coal-fired generation has fallen from 50 to 33 percent of the mix, while less carbon-intensive, natural gas-fired generation has risen from 19 to 33 percent.

The last 10 years also included a major economic downturn, which in 2009 drove electricity sales below 2005 levels. Despite a return to positive economic growth in the following year that continues through today, electricity sales have remained flat. Declines in manufacturing; improvements in energy efficiency, including in buildings, lighting, and appliances; warmer winters; and increased use of on-site generation like rooftop solar panels are the likely drivers.

What will happen in the next 10 years?

Certainly, the electric power sector will continue to decarbonize. It is not unreasonable to assume that natural gas will play an even larger role, while coal will play a substantial albeit diminishing role in the electricity mix.

Here are some other factors that are hard to quantify now, but could affect how quickly we transition to a clean energy future:

More zero-emission electricity

Increased clean and renewable electricity production, spurred by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and congressional tax credit extensions for wind and solar, could reduce renewable power costs, which have already been dropping. In other words, economies of scale could lead to higher deployments and lower emissions than currently forecast.

Wind and solar generation have grown nearly twelve-fold since 2005, nearly eight times greater than what was expected back then. In the 2016 Annual Energy Outlook, wind and solar generation are projected to increase 2.5 times by 2025.  Historical precedent would tend to suggest that this is a highly conservative estimate.

However, sustained low prices in wholesale power markets from low natural gas prices and a proliferation of renewable electricity sources could harm another zero-emission source: nuclear. In particular, we could see natural gas continue to replace zero-emission merchant nuclear plants, moving us in the wrong direction, unless remedies are implemented. Also, low wholesale prices would tend to discourage new renewable generation.

More zero-emission vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) make up less than 1 percent of new U.S. car sales. But as their prices drop and range expands, the adoption rate could accelerate over the next 10 years, spurring important reductions from what is now the largest emitting sector. In one sign of growing demand, more than 400,000 people have put down a deposit for a Tesla Model 3 EV that won’t even be on the market until 2018.

Advances in battery storage could drive the transformation of the transportation sector and would provide obvious benefits to the electric power sector as well.

Meanwhile, automakers are exploring alternative fuels: natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells, and biofuels. And more than a dozen states and nations have formed a Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Alliance to encourage ZEV infrastructure and adoption.

City action

Action by cities, the magnitude of which is not easily captured by national macroeconomic models, could lead to greater than anticipated emission reductions. Starting with the groundbreaking Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2005, initiatives are evolving to connect cities with each other to exchange knowledge and achieve economies of scale for new technologies.

More cities are exploring ways to generate additional reductions by 2025. These include: more energy-efficient buildings; better tracking of electricity and water use, innovative financing for more efficient generation, appliances and equipment; and improved public transportation and promotion of electric vehicles.

Business action

Last, but not least, steps taken by companies beyond regulatory requirements could produce greater emission reductions than we can foresee. Companies are investing in clean energy projects, reducing emissions throughout the supply chain, establishing internal carbon pricing, and helping customers reduce their carbon footprint. More than 150 companies have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

C2ES and The U.S. Conference of Mayors are teaming up to encourage city and business leaders to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine how effective we can be when we coordinate climate action.

2015 UNEP report suggests that beyond each countries’ individual commitments to the Paris Agreement, actions by sub-national actors across the globe can result in net additional contributions of 0.75 to 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020.  

The United States has significantly reduced its greenhouse gases over the past decade, and has put in place policies ensuring continued reductions in the years ahead. With so many resources and tools at our disposal, it is clear that we can meet or exceed our climate goal. The only uncertainty is how we will do it.

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Event: Innovation to Power the Nation

Technology, policy, and business experts discuss how innovative technology and policy can help us reach our climate goals at Innovation to Power the Nation (and World): Reinventing Our Climate Future at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, June 29. Watch the livestream.

Speakers include Patent and Trademark Office Director Michelle K. Lee; C2ES President Bob Perciasepe; Dr. Kristina Johnson, CEO of Cube Hydro Partners; Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability & Social Impact Officer at HP; and Dr. B. Jayant Baliga, inventor and director of the Power Semiconductor Research Center at North Carolina State University.

 

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