His Name is Earl — Part I: California dreamin’ is becoming a reality

Climate Progress is happy to introduce Earl Killian as a guest blogger. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been a regular commenter here — so yes, it can happen, commenters can become posters. You can read his full bio here. Welcome, Earl!

Joe has asked me to contribute to Climate Progress, and specifically to report on what is going on in California to address global warming. As one website puts it, “Everybody is talking about global warming. But California is actually doing something about it.” Quite a few states have programs as well, but I do think it is fair to say California is a leader on this issue; it has been extremely active, and a bewildering number of programs are already in place. In this post (Part I) and a follow-up, I will summarize several of the most important, and then I plan to follow up with more detailed descriptions of individual items over time so as to give an idea of the breadth of attack upon the problem interspersed with current California news. I believe that California’s actions can serve as a guide to other states and the Federal government.

California electricity per capitaWhy should we listen to California? Because they have been a leader on environmental matters for decades. Consider just the remarkable results of their multi-decade energy efficiency efforts (click on this figure).

There is a bit of alphabet soup to get used to. California’s efforts come in many forms, including legislation, executive orders from the Governor’s office, and decisions from regulatory agencies. The primary agencies involved are the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Legislation is often referred to by the Assembly Bill (AB) or Senate Bill (SB) number, e.g. AB32 or SB1368.

Global warming politics in California are different from those nationally. For example, AB32 and SB1368 were both passed and signed into law in an election year (2006), with strong popular support. According to Ralph Cavanagh of the NRDC, California business leaders supported the bills, believing that 1) Federal action was inevitable, and 2) by getting a head start on both action and solutions, California would benefit economically. Business opposition was limited because the bills created a level playing field for technologies based only upon greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. even coal would be allowed with carbon capture). They were developed in a bipartisan interaction between the Republican Governor’s office and the Democratic legislature (though the final legislative vote was nearly party-line).

Some of the most important policies that reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions date from the 1970s, when they were instituted in the wake of the October 1973 OPEC oil embargo to encourage energy efficiency. Eliminating waste in energy usage is the most cost-effective and important step in the war on global warming. In 1974 the legislature passed and Governor Reagan signed the Warren-Alquist Act, which created the California Energy Commission, and eventually led to efficiency standards for new buildings and appliances (Title 24 and Title 20). (Reagan actually vetoed the bill and then reversed himself after the embargo.) Also starting in the 1970s, electric and natural gas rates changed to an inverse tier structure: larger users pay more per unit of energy than smaller users, encouraging efficiency. The CPUC also began to decouple utility profits from revenue in 1978 (Natural Gas) and 1982 (electricity), which has allowed the utilities to use lowest-cost generation to meet new demand, which is often getting their customers to use electricity more efficiently (called negawatts). (Negawatts are often one fourth to one half the cost of new generation.) Decoupling was set aside during California’s experiment in deregulation starting in 1998-2001 (AB1890), but returned in response to the disastrous results from deregulation.

The Federal government likewise responded to the energy crises of the 1970s with concerted action, but unlike California, its efforts were curtailed after Reagan became President in the 1980s and his earlier California practicality was trumped by ideology. A major decline in fossil energy prices also affected Federal decision making. Joe has previously written on the efforts of the Gingrich Congress to curtail Federal efforts.

Imagine for a moment a U.S. in which Reagan and Gingrich had not stymied parallel Federal efforts, and U.S. per capita electricity had remained flat since the 1970s! Hundreds of coal power plants would have never been built. Though that opportunity was lost, consider then that we still have the chance to reduce U.S. energy consumption down to California’s level over the coming decades.

Not all of California’s efforts have been successful. As Joe has explained before, plug-in vehicles are a part of the solution to global warming, whereas hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) are probably a diversion, and yet CARB has allowed the automakers to sidetrack plug-in programs in favor of HFCVs. There is still a chance however that recent legislative and executive initiatives will revive CARB’s interest in plug-in vehicles.

California has in the last few years begun to attack its greenhouse gas emissions with additional programs, including a cap on emissions. I plan to cover those in Part II.

— Earl K.

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13 Responses to His Name is Earl — Part I: California dreamin’ is becoming a reality

  1. I don’t know wether to be cheered or disturbed by Earl Killian’s post. Mr. Killian is obviously a very smart man, but even extremely smart people cannot solve problems is they are unwilling to get to the roots. Yesterday in a comment on another post in this blog I pointed to an analysis of the prospects of California reaching its CO2 emission goals by California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. DeVore argued that by building 8 large reactors, California could meet its 2020 CO2 emission goals. He pointed to flaws in plans to use so called “renewable” energy sources. Killian like other advocates of the California Plan are ignoring the short comings of renewables, wistfully assuming that the problems will go away if they are ignored, or that someone will come up with a technological fix by 2020.

    I find something else disturbing about Mr. Killian’s post. That is the assumption that energy conservation is a major fix to the energy problem. I support energy conservation, don’t get me wrong. But I also support the electrification of much of the surface transportation system. An electrified transportation system will require more rather than less electricity. Where is that electricity going to come from? Mr DeVore argues, I think correctly, that renewable electrical generating sources are not going to provide it. Thus the only workable system for electrifying surface transportation involves nuclear power. Where is it going to come from? Building new nuclear power plants is illegal in California. Is Mr. Killian imagining a Hollywood solution, with everything improbably worked out in the last reel?

    I am not criticizing California for taking steps to control CO2 emissions. Quite the contrary, the intent is laudable. We are in a new world, and there will have to be a great deal of thinking through before we come up with solutions that really work. No one is there yet, and certainly not California, but here is to them for trying.

  2. Earl Killian says:

    Charles, you are in several places jumping to assumptions, and then attacking those assumptions instead of what I said. Please note that I am in the above post primarily trying to report on what California has done. I have expressed opinions in a couple of places, but I think those were clearly such (such as my complaint about CARB and HFCVs).

    Let’s look at one of your assumptions in your post. You should work the numbers instead of just saying that efficiency plus electric transport requires more energy, when it in fact requires less. If US kWh per capita fell from 11,997 to California’s 6,732 (using 2003 data), then you would expect US electricity consumption to fall by the same percentage from 3721 TWh to 2088 TWh per year (2005 data), a savings of 1633 TWh. (Given these numbers, I think considering efficiency to be a major component of the solution is fair. There is no single solution–our response must be multifaceted–but given the size of the numbers above, efficiency should be a big component.)

    Now electrify passenger travel. Using 260 Wh/mi for the 1.7 trillion US passenger vehicle miles traveled in 2004, and 370 Wh/mi for the 1.0 trillion “other 2-axle 4-tire vehicle” miles traveled (add 150 Wh/mi for the trivial number of motorcycle VMT), add in a factor for 8% grid losses, and you get about 900 TWh for the 2.7 trillion vehicle miles traveled. Note that 900 TWh is much less than 1633 TWh. I.e. efficiency savings are sufficient to power all passenger travel in the U.S. (I apologize for mixing 2003, 2004, and 2005 data, but that’s what are available from the government, and I think the conclusion remains valid.) (Of course future population increase will increase the annual TWh and the VMT, but 1633 vs. 900 TWh is still a big gap.)

    As an aside, let me point out that electric vehicles are very well matched to renewable electric generation (so I would disagree with the position you attribute to Mr. DeVore). Most vehicles are in operation 5-10% of each day, and parked 90-95% of each day. They might take 38% of the day to charge at 110V/12A or 8% of the day to charge at 240V/27A (a dryer outlet). The difference between 90-95% and 8-38% provides enormous flexibility to accept charge when it is available (e.g. when the wind blows or the sun shines). Also, EVs can actually provide power back to the grid during periods of peak load (look up V2G) and to make up for renewable energy shortfalls. Kempton and Tomic studied V2G’s effect on the electric grid and concluded that it increased the potential renewable energy percentage from 10-20% without V2G to 50% with V2G. See
    But such techniques are for the distant future. In Part II I will mention that California state law (SB107) requires 20% renewable energy in California by 2011. The utilities do not seem uncomfortable with that, and have moved to comply.

  3. Earl Killian says:

    One other point about renewable energy is that can be often be made into baseload electricity. The combination of wind and hydroelectric power is often cited (water power supplements wind power when the latter is insufficient to power the load). One technique less commonly known applies to concentrated solar thermal (steam turbines powered by concentrated sunlight). Such systems can add (and have added) a natural gas boiler to provide power on days where there is insufficient sunlight. Since such plants are situated in places of reliable insolation (e.g. >2800 kWh/m^2/year), such backup operation is uncommon, and both the cost and the GHG emissions for such a backup is negligible.

  4. hippie with a pistol says:

    Hi Earl, I’m curious how you would propose we deal with the energy needs of the Cal Water Project. Is DWR no longer purchasing power generated from coal? Any thoughts on our outdated urban transportation systems and the need to modify urban planning? Improving autos is great but there still remains a problem with the energy wasted on todays urban transportation systems.
    thanks for the post.

  5. Jay Alt says:

    Thanks Earl,

    The graph is a nice antidote to one mistaken idea. After people learn of California’s low energy use they often attribute it to a mild climate (and ignore Texas waste). But US and Calif. usage and trends were nearly identical from 1960 to 1972. But they clearly diverge after new policies were applied following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and oil embargo.

    Wind and solar have the disadvantage of being intermittant, but loads can be leveled out with energy storage technology. One such system is the NaS fuel cell. They were invented by Ford, used by NASA and then ignored by American industry while the Japanese perfected better ceramics and (of course) a marketable system. The large cells store intermittant power and release it on demand. The rate at which they can be discharged is very flexible, from 250 KW in 15 seconds to 50 KW over 7 hours. (see pg 14)

    They were first installed and proven in Tokyo. Some US utilities are placing them in growth areas to avoid / delay extending expensive high-voltage lines there. Pairing the fuel cells with local wind or solar generation would make the system flexible and less centralized.

  6. Jay Alt says:

    Here is the correct address for the NaS battery system –

    Naturally, the site is located on a California energy link. But interest is not restricted to the
    west coast –

  7. John Mashey says:

    This sequence was confusing: is there a posting missing (Ed?) or Earl “November 29th, 2007 at 9:59 pm” mislabeled? [Doesn’t read like Earl.]

    [JR — It wasn’t Earl. I deleted the comment, making this thread even more confusing. My apologies. My IT folks tell me they are working on this.]

    I’d second Earl’s comments about the CPUC decoupling of utility profits from revenue (i.e., in favor of efficiency): a few weeks ago, I heard the CEO Peter Darbee of PG&E, and he highlighted this as something that simply had to happen in more states to enable serious improvements in efficiency.
    In any case, I just finished a book I’d strongly recommend as an excellent resource relevant to this discussion:

    Benjamin K. Sovacool, Marilyn A. Brown, “Energy and American Society – Thirteen Myths”, 2007.

    This includes a nice set of articles, including:
    Energy Myth Four – The Hydrogen Economy is a Panacea – Joe Romm

    Energy Myth Eight – Worldwide Power Systems are Economically and and Environmentally Optimal – Tom Casten & Robert Ayres

    Energy Myth Nine – Energy Efficiency Improvements have Already Reached their Potential – Amory Lovins

    This last chapter has a good discussion (p.253-262) on nuclear energy versus other options (i.e., it loses on economics, even ignoring issues like disposal and security.) [Note: no knee-jerk anti-nuclear-power here: I was working on a career in nuclear or high-energy physics for most of my undergraduate college days.] If anyone thinks building more nuclear plants is a good *economic* choice compared to negawatts + other alternatives, they really need to read this and explain why Lovins’ analysis is wrong. I’m on a beach in Malaysia, so I haven’t yet checked out his numbers, but on first read they seem pretty good.

  8. Joe says:

    John: I am looking into this comment sequence.
    Thanks for your comments on the book. I agree it is worth reading.

  9. Earl Killian says:

    John, you are correct, I did not write the entry currently attributed to me that begins “Ed,”.

  10. Earl Killian says:

    Jay Alt wrote “After people learn of California’s low energy use they often attribute it to a mild climate”. To amplify on his comments, the ten lowest per capita electricity use states in 2003 were Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, Alaska, New Hampshire, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, and California, I don’t see much weather correlation. These best 10 averaged 7,510 kWh per person in 2003, compared to 13,644 for the other 40 (1.82 times higher). It is not just California that has low per capita emissions; it is just one of the best.

  11. Earl Killian says:

    “hippie with a pistol” asked about DWR’s coal purchases. I don’t know the exact answer off-hand. There may be existing contracts that are still in force for a while, but my Part II will talk about several recent legislative acts such as SB1368 that answer your question about coal for future long-term contracts.

  12. Jay Alt says:

    John Mashey writes: This sequence was confusing: is there a posting missing (Ed?) or Earl “November 29th, 2007 at 9:59 pm” mislabeled? [Doesn’t read like Earl.]

    [Joe R — It wasn’t Earl. I deleted the comment, making this thread even more confusing. My apologies. My IT folks tell me they are working on this.]

    Joe – I’ve noticed that occasionally when I open the comments, the ‘name’ and ‘mail’ slots are already filled. But not with my own information, but that of someone else who just posted. If the deleted post was written by a user who didn’t notice that and asssumed it contained his own info, (as it usually does for me), that could explain the mislabeling.

  13. Joe says:

    Jay — I am sure you are right. I asked the IT folks to fix this months ago, and again more recently. I will try again.