Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cap and Trade Tales

Cap and Trade is an attractive idea that looks like it might work until one gets into the details.  It certainly was my first choice as a putative solution.  It is just not that simple.

The major problem is that the energy industry does not operate a level playing field when it comes to properly monetizing its costs to society.  If this were changed, the problems would likely begin to go away.

A huge part of the cost of coal based power has been the impact of the stack gas on adjacent communities.  Cleaning them up is possible and costly.  It is far cheaper to politically engineer you way around the problem than to actually fix it.

That is why Chinese cities presently suffer from debilitating air and it derivative health costs.

Far better than cap and trade would be a treaty that progressively begins to charge back those costs to those that fail to remedy the situation.  An outright ban is impractical but leveling the playing field over twenty years allows the better solutions to be quickly implemented.


Severin Borenstein on Cap and Trade

“There is a ticking time bomb under these cap and trade models.”

Dr. Severin Borenstein is an outspoken economist and thought leader in carbon economics and energy matters.  He serves as the Director of the University of California Energy Institute as well as in a number of other distinguished roles 

His talk at the
 CalCEF Angel Fund monthly meeting was a viewpoint on Cap and Trade policy and its impact on Green House Gases (GHGs) and the price of oil, coal, and natural gas.  He summed up his speech last night with these words: "What a downer."   

For a bit of background on cap and trade you can go
 here.  Note that there is already a market for GHG permits - The EU has been trading GHG permits for 4 years, RGGI in Eastern US is a carbon market and California has passed legislation in this regard.

But according to Borenstein, "There is a ticking time bomb under these cap and trade models. Most studies ignore the supply elasticity of fossil fuels."  "Analysis to date hasn't focused on resource price change in response to cap and trade - resource scarcity and price changes are likely to be central."

Here is the argument:

Pricing GHG permits at $30 per ton does not impact coal usage.
"If GHG permits are at $30 to $40 per ton - will that cut down coal production or oil production?  The answer is almost certainly "no"" according to Borenstein.

He adds that, "At $60 per ton, coal usage goes down but the cost of coal actually gets cheaper. It's a pretty disturbing result."  

According to Borenstein, it may take GHG permits priced at $80-$100 per ton to drive coal out of the market.

"You have to drive coal out of the market. You have to drive the price of coal down until it isn't worth mining anymore," adding "Or you drive the price of natural gas so high that it is not competitive with other renewable sources."

Strikingly for an economist, Borenstein essentially punted on the value of Cap and Trade  - he abandoned the value of cap and trade and carbon taxes and suggested that the main instrument in reducing GHGs is going to have to be technological change.  He added that we probably need more money channeled to energy R&D and that we need more technological "hail mary passes."

Here are some choice quotes from his speech:

·                        "The numbers we hear for tradable permits are substantially too low."
·                        "If you don't get China and India on board - none of this works."
·                        "None of the current technologies can compete with fossil fuels."
·                        "It's worse to subsidize Green than to tax Brown."
·                        "Subsidizing green power essentially taxes energy efficiency."
·                        "We're going to have to have higher prices to have any impact on GHGs."
·                        "None of this changes if you are talking taxes instead of cap and trade."

He concluded by saying that $80-$100 per ton GHG prices, whether by cap and trade or taxes, is "so politically unpalatable" that only a technological fix might work to lower GHGs.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Why use coal, natural gas or petroleum at all? We are surrounded by unlimited electro-magnetic energy. All we need is and inductive coil to change the magnetic fields emitted by the stars, sun and moon, even our cell phone towers and the earth itself, and by use of the coil, convert it to electricity for use in our homes, cars and businesses. There would be no need for any UN bank or subset of a carbon offset bank to trade useless CO2 certificates, to businesses that will continue to pollute, while making bankers richer at our expense. This is all oblivious to the inconvenient fact that it is the sun and the hydrological cycles that heat the earth by solar flares, which in turn transmit such heat to the surface of the earth by rain or snow, blocking the rays of the sun. How can we have global warming in the middle of an ice age? Why are the climatologist fudging the climate temps? What hidden socialistic and global agenda to they have to justify such outright lying and profiteering at our expense? I hate liars and thieves and politicians are slaves of the bankers and liars.