29. Taming our power plants with RGGI

This show aired at noon on Friday November 8, 2019 (and again on Saturday at 8:30am) on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 LP FM in Philadelphia. Hear the audio anytime. The script is below.


Hello

Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. This week’s episode was produced with assistance from Angela Vogel.

Last Week 

Last week’s episode asked that we Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is, and move our money out of fossil fuel investments. Because these investments are killing our planet. 

News you can use 

This week’s News You Can Use was about Governor Wolf stepping up to join RGGI. We’d heard this in early October, and went to a hearing last week to learn more. 

What is RGGI? 

First, I’m sure you’ll ask… What is RGGI? 

Spelled R.G.G.I., RGGI is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative with several northeast states participating in taming our fossil fuel fired power plants. Once a state participates in RGGI, it requires fossil fuel fired power plants to pay for their pollution. We’re talking about plants that generate electricity by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas. 

For each ton of greenhouse gases emitted, the plant operator pays one allowance to the state. The more emissions, the higher the allowance. 

Each state defines a gradually decreasing cap on their power plant emissions, which means the existing plants have to get more efficient, or close down.  

Currently, the participating states are NY, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT, RI, MD, DE, and most recently — VA and NJ. 

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (the NRDC),

the climate story of Pennsylvania’s gas build-out is that carbon pollution from the state’s power sector has decreased 30 percent over the last decade, as gas plants have replaced higher-emitting coal plants. These decreases have indeed occurred. If Pennsylvania continues on its current path, however, carbon emissions from the power sector will rise because while more coal plants will retire, [carbon-free] nuclear plants will also shut down and even more gas will come online”.

It’s time we tamed our power plants, no? 

Why is PA joining RGGI 

We wondered why Governor Wolf, who has supported and encouraged the growth of the gas industry in our state, would be considering capping emissions from gas power plants. 

Well, it seemed that this past May, the Clean Air Council submitted a petition asking for stricter-than-RGGI controls that could be implemented immediately. This request, which was accepted and recommended to the Governor, would target not just fossil fuel fired power plants. It would also target operators of 14 categories of industrial processes that emit greenhouse gases. Processes such as…

cement production; cogeneration; glass production; hydrogen production; iron and steel production; lead production; lime manufacturing; nitric acid production; petroleum and natural gas systems; petroleum refining; pulp and paper manufacturing; self-generation of electricity; stationary combustion; and coal mining.

Instead of targeting all these industries, it seemed easier for our Governor to work with nearby states and join RGGI — focusing on just one industry. None the less, RGGI seems to be a great approach, as you’ll soon see. 

What does each state do with the revenue? 

“A key to RGGI’s success is the cap and invest model, where the allowances created to implement the emissions cap are distributed by the states thru a quarterly auction.” 

While it’s completely up to each state, most states use RGGI as a “fundraiser for energy efficiency, renewable energy and ratepayer assistance”, said Chris Hoagland of the Maryland Department of Environment at last week’s hearing. So, a good thing. 

Mr Hoagland also stated that “So far, the RGGI states have raised more than $3.2 billion for their programs, including $673 million for Maryland.” 

“In 2017, the RGGI states investments of allowance proceeds [were split with] 51% going to energy efficiency, 28% to clean & renewable energy greenhouse gas abatement, and 16% to direct bill assistance for consumers.” said Mark Szybist of the NRDC. 

We like hearing that the fossil fuel industry might be subsidizing the clean energy transition. 

How will RGGI affect the people of PA? 

The head of the PA-DEP has quoted Yale studies, which “show that nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians think global warming will harm future generations and 78% of Pennsylvanians support regulating CO2 as a pollutant.” Yeah! That’s all of us! 

“And a recent analysis by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found that electricity rates could decrease under RGGI.” 

What will it cost? 

It seems we’re having the polluter pay, so this program that doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. Instead, we learned at the hearing, Andrew Williams of the EDF estimates that an electric bill could be 35% lower by 2031. 

Williams estimates a cost saving of $200M for Pennsylvania, not a cost increase, and suggests we “design for a firm and declining limit with a goal of 100% clean energy economy by mid-century”. 

How will RGGI reduce emissions? 

The states currently participating in RGGI reported that they had reduced power-sector carbon dioxide pollution by 45% between 2005 and 2015

PJM is cool with RGGI

Our grid operator, PJM Interconnection, or simply PJM, administers the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market. They tell us that “other PJM states participating in RGGI are Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey” and reassure us that “any legislative program can be implemented reliably, effectively and at least cost to consumers.” 

At the hearing, Mark Szybist of the NRDC reminded us that electricity deregulation came to Pennsylvania with the “Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act of 1996” or the Competition Act. The Competition Act split the electric industry in Pennsylvania to those that generate and those that distribute electricity. The environment was not part of the Competition Act.  

Affordability has been addressed by electric distribution companies (like PECO), and reliability has been addressed by grid operators (like PJM). And now, climate needs to be addressed with RGGI

Despite what the gas industry tells us, a business-as-usual scenario means our state’s emissions will increase. There’s a limit to how much emissions we can reduce with gas. Now that we see gas replacing nuclear energy, and preventing entry of renewable energy, we need to step in with RGGI. 

The projected emissions reduction for our state?  Our understanding is that If PA joins RGGI in 2021 with a 3% per year declining cap thru 2030, that’s about a 24% reduction over 8 years. 

RGGI & AEPS — Better Together 

Though RGGI will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we need to simultaneously increase our AEPS — the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. We need to require 30% of electricity be generated from renewables by 2030. That’s 30% by 2030

Our current statewide renewable energy requirements are 8% by 2021

Why ask for increased renewables? As Mr Szybist explains, “Increasing the renewables goals in the AEPS has other benefits besides reducing carbon pollution. A strong AEPS achieves greater cuts of in-state sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions — pollutants that contribute to local smog issues and worsen respiratory issues like asthma — than RGGI alone.” So, RGGI and AEPS — better together. 

Timeline 

“Governor Wolf’s Executive Order directs the PA-DEP to develop and present a resolution to the Environmental Quality Board by July 31, 2020.” said Patrick McDonnell, also at last week’s hearing. We expect there will be opportunities for public review and comment. 

Engage

“In June 2019, New Jersey finalized two rules to rejoin RGGI after withdrawing from the compact in 2012….The second rule, the Global Warming Solutions Fund rule, establishes how the revenue from the RGGI allowance auctions will be spent, a majority of which be allocated towards environmental justice communities.”

Please ask your state representative to support both Governor Wolf’s RGGI program and increasing our AEPS to 30% by 2030, as outlined in Senate Bill 600 and House Bill 1195

Details on the Engage page at Philly Talks Climate

Connect 

And now, let’s connect with others concerned about the climate crisis. 

There’s a group inviting us all to connect over a “climate beer”. Join them on Saturday at Triple Bottom Brewing in Spring Garden. 

Details for each of these can be found on the Connect page of Philly Talks Climate

Quote 

Today’s quote is by Kim Stanley Robinson, in Forty Signs of Rain, as found in Sun Magazine. 

“Easier to destroy the world than to change capitalism even one little bit.”

This has been Meenal, at Philly Talks Climate. Thanks for listening…

If you enjoy this show, please consider donating to PhillyCAM, the station that offered us the encouragement, training and equipment, and continues to air this show and many others on our local airwaves. You’ll find more at PhillyCAM.org

Again, thanks for listening… 

Closing Music 

The EPA Song by Ants on a Log


References 

May 10 2019 — NRDC — Mark Szybist — Pennsylvania’s Gas Power Problem, Part 1: The Build-Out

May 10 2019 — NRDC — Mark Szybist — Pennsylvania’s Gas Power Problem, Part II: Cost and Risk

  • “As told by the American Petroleum Institute and Marcellus Shale Coalition, the climate story of Pennsylvania’s gas build-out is that carbon pollution from the state’s power sector has decreased 30 percent over the last decade, as gas plants have replaced higher-emitting coal plants. These decreases have indeed occurred. But the story doesn’t end there.
  • “Even with these reductions, 2018 emissions from Pennsylvania’s power sector were still a staggering 81 million tons
  • “if Pennsylvania continues on its current path, carbon emissions from the power sector will rise to more than 88 million tons per year in 2040, because while more coal plants will retire, nuclear plants will also shut down and even more gas will come online due to the market dynamics 

Oct 3 2019 — Governor Tom Wolf — Governor Wolf Takes Executive Action to Combat Climate Change, Carbon Emissions

  • “Pennsylvania produces 0.5% of all global carbon emissions, and the largest share of the state’s emissions come from the energy sector.
  • “The RGGI states reported in 2015 that they had reduced power-sector carbon dioxide pollution by 45% since 2005. 

Oct 3 2019 — The Philadelphia Inquirer — Pennsylvania joins Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, taking landmark – and controversial – climate step

Oct 3 2019 — Inside Climate News — A Major Fossil Fuel State Is Joining RGGI, the Northeast’s Carbon Market — Pennsylvania is the nation’s No. 2 natural gas producer, and No. 3 in coal. Its governor says ‘we need to get serious’ about the climate crisis.

Oct 4 2019 — PennLive — What is a RGGI? 

Oct 11 2019 — NRDC — Mark Szybist — Governor Wolf Says PA Will Join RGGI. Now What?

Oct 25, 2019 — PA Rep Greg Vitali — Climate Change/RGGI Public Hearing is Nov. 1 in Havertown

Nov 1, 2019 — PA Rep Greg Vitali — Vitali holds public hearing on climate change and joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

  • “Representatives from the natural gas industry and the coal industry were invited. They declined and did not submit testimony.”

Nov 1, 2019 — Testimony of panelists at public hearing


 

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