Tag: "state government"

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

California’s 2002 Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), Senate Bill No. 1078 mandated that electric providers procure renewable power from eligible sources at 17% of customer sales by 2017. The bill also required the Public Utility Commission (PUC), being the regulatory agency for electricity providers, establish a certification and monitoring program through the state Energy Commission. Subsequently, Senate Bill No. 107, along with executive orders, accelerated the program to require a 20% renewable procurement by the end of 2010 and 33% by the end of 2020. Recently, Governor Jerry Brown announced his proposal to further increase the portfolio standard to 50% by 2030. According to the RPS Program Overview page, California’s goal is to be, “One of the most ambitious renewable energy standards in the country”. It appears the state may have succeeded in that effort.

Currently, federal funds nurse CA’s renewables mandate in the form of subsidies like the Production Tax Credits (PTC) and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). However, revenue from these federal programs are not expected to continue, and pressure is mounting for the renewable fuel industry to stand on its own. In fact, several states are reconsidering their programs’ viability.

So, how will proponents peddle the program to consumers when the federal subsidies end? The full cost associated with RPS programs are difficult to evaluate. A 2015 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), estimates an expected 10% increase in electrical energy costs to consumers as a result of the state’s RPS. This, to a state with consistently the highest electricity cost in the nation. Still, the consumer impact aspect of continuing, even expanding the mandate, does not appear to be the primary consideration. The report suggests the methodologies used to discover the true costs are demonstrably inappropriate. As well, outlays for integration, transmission, and administrative expenditures are not included in the cost analysis.

NREL suggests to policymakers that going forward, they should look beyond “simply a narrow consideration” of the costs of the program to ratepayers. Instead, the report promotes the development of a means to recognize program value based on “broader societal impacts”.


Strictest Frac Regulations Implemented in California

The first restrictions on hydraulic fracturing are about to be implemented in California. This follows the passage of Senate Bill 4, authored by Fran Pavley (D- Agoura Hills). Approved in 2013, the regulations will force oil companies to expand monitoring and reporting of water use and water quality, conduct rigorous analysis of potential seismic impacts of operations and disclose chemicals used in all operations. Abiding by these new laws will discourage future investments by oil and gas companies in the state.

Recently, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) ― California’s agency charged with enforcing such laws — has been coming under attack by lawmakers over its inadequate oversight over oil and gas operations. In the past, DOGGR has admitted to falling behind on monitoring oil field wastewater injections into federally protected aquifers, as well as missing deadlines imposed by legislators for providing data. Many doubt the agency’s ability to correctly implement and abide by these new regulations.

More importantly, the California Monterrey Shale formation could potentially hold the largest “tight oil” shale deposits in the United States. While oil and gas activity in the region could have boosted the California economy, new regulations will hurt potential economic growth in the state. Currently, it has been estimated that oil and gas contribute about $21.55 billion to the public coffers every year. Without such revenue, California will have to make some tough financial decisions and fire many state employees.


Oklahoma Fracking Companies Could Face Earthquake Lawsuits

Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that earthquake injury lawsuits against oil and gas companies could now be heard in district courts. Previously, the oil industry had been trying to avoid such court cases and asked for them to be heard only through the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

The State’s highest court rejected the request, stating:

The Commission, although possessing many of the powers of a court of record, is without the authority to entertain a suit for damages.

The court was in no way ruling that earthquakes are caused by companies using hydraulic fracturing technology to extract oil and natural gas.

Instead, the opinion spoke only of which court was best suited to hear such claims in Oklahoma. This opinion upheld the longstanding tradition of allowing district courts exclusive jurisdiction over private tort actions.

A recent flurry of earthquakes in Oklahoma have placed the state at the center of the fracking debate. A recent study by the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University, and the U.S. Geological Survey reported potential links between wastewater injection, a practice often used for the disposal of water waste in fracking, and earthquakes. The study has been heavily disputed and many conclude the earthquakes are simply a manifestation of natural causes.


Study’s Conclusion Does Not Make New York Hydraulic Fracturing Ban Permanent

A conclusion of a seven year long review of hydraulic fracturing in the state of New York does not mean that a state wide hydraulic fracturing ban is permanent. The findings of the study might be the only thing that is official from Department of Environmental Conservation other than a speech made by the governor.

Joe Martens, head of the Department of Environmental Conservation:

After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative. High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.

New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on December 17, 2014 that he would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State by executive proclamation because of concerns over health risks, ending years of debate over a method of extracting natural gas. He was formally declaring a “ban” after his predecessor, Patterson, implemented a “moratorium” on hydraulic fracturing. The question of whether to allow hydraulic fracturing is occurring in many states and has been one of the most divisive public policy debates in New York in years. Environmental advocates, alarmed by the growth of the practice, pointed to New York’s decision as the first ban by a state with significant natural-gas resources.

There is no actual law in place that bans hydraulic fracturing in New York. Whereas there are laws in Texas and Oklahoma that ban local hydraulic fracturing bans in those two states. So, for now, hydraulic fracturing could be on hold in New York, but only temporarily.


States vs Local Hydraulic Fracturing Bans

In the past few years, hydraulic fracturing/frac bans have become increasingly common in communities opposed to the drilling practice that extracts oil and natural gas from shale rock by injecting sand, water and chemicals into the ground. Such bans focus on either the actual drilling methods or the transportation of waste from the hydraulic fracturing process.

State legislatures are now finding themselves in a fight against local authorities for control of hydraulic fracturing regulations in their own states. While Vermont and New York have already implemented state wide bans on hydraulic fracturing, Texas has banned local bans and Oklahoma is considering banning local bans on the practice as well.

Current hydraulic fracturing ban legislation:

  • Over 470 local measures have passed in towns, cities, and counties.
  • 24 states and Washington D.C. have seen at least one such local measure passed.
  • Oklahoma introduced legislation imposing a ban on local frac bans.

The debate has sparked questions over who has the right to regulate oil and gas activity in the state, state agencies or individual communities. For New York, the state-wide ban followed a court decision that town zoning laws allowed the banning of hydraulic fracturing. In an attempt to achieve a compromise between state and local control, state legislation banning cities and counties from outlawing hydraulic fracturing opens the door for local oil and gas regulations, specifically where it concerns health and safety. Texas House Bill 40, signed into law this week by Governor Greg Abbott, includes a four-part test for determining city drilling regulations while prohibiting hydraulic fracturing bans throughout the state.

Lauren Aragon is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Wrongly Justifying Electric Car Tax Breaks

Math errors. Exaggerations. Phony metrics. Trickle-down economics. The recent e-mail from JJ McCoy of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association to the legislature has it all.

Electric car advocates in Washington State are again asking for a sales tax break on top of the existing federal tax credit they receive of $7,500. Their sales tax break costs the state about $10 million a year. To put that in context, that is about one-quarter of the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board’s annual funding.

Put simply, when McCoy’s math is corrected, the environmental value of the $39 million tax break is only $2.6 million — a waste of $36.4 million — not the $18 million benefit he wrongly claimed.

As we’ve pointed out, these tax breaks go predominantly to the wealthiest 10 percent — people who are not price sensitive and would have likely purchased an electric car anyway.

Even worse, much of the argument in favor of extending the sales tax breaks is not only wrong, it contradicts other claims electric car lobbyists make.

Case in point is the e-mail sent by JJ McCoy, lobbyist for the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association and Northwest Energy Coalition. It demonstrates how far those lobbying for these wasteful and ineffective subsidies have to go to assemble an argument.

Here are the claims made by McCoy and the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, and the reality.

Claim: If the sales tax exemption is allowed to expire, Washington’s market share for plug-in vehicles will drop 63% — that, according to a study by the Keybridge Economic Group, led by former Clinton Council of Economic Advisors Robert Westcott, PhD.

Reality: Actually, the Westcott study does not prove sales would fall this much — it simply assumes it. They write “sales in Washington are assumed to drop from 1.2 percent of total vehicle sales to just 0.5 percent of sales” [emphasis mine]. They get the 0.5 percent figure by using the Oregon level of 0.8 percent and then adjusting downward. Why? The study authors don’t explain. They simply say, “several state-specific factors have created a particularly conducive environment” in Oregon, but don’t explain what the factors are.

McCoy uses this phony math to claim the tax breaks increase sales by 2,100 cars a year. If we use the actual Oregon level as a baseline, the number is 1,111. Even this number is exaggerated. Washington’s median income is about 15 percent higher than Oregon’s, offering a much better environment for buyers with disposable income to buy expensive, luxury cars.

Even with McCoy’s completely unsupported assumption, however, his math does not add up.

Claim: Each of those 2,100 extra cars, powered by Washington’s very clean grid, will avoid nearly 5 tons of carbon emissions annually compared to the average 25 mpg gas car.

Reality: This math is completely inaccurate. Who says so? The Seattle Electric Vehicle Association itself. Its own “EVangelism” flier says electric vehicles would avoid 4.2 tons of CO2 emissions compared to a 23.6 MPG car, or 3.8 tons compared to a 25 MPG car — about 25 percent lower than what McCoy told legislators.

Claim: That’s nearly 75 tons over the 15-year life of the car, and may even be more…

Reality: The Westcott study, the one McCoy cites just two paragraphs earlier, says the average lifespan of an electric vehicle is 12 years, not 15 years. Again, McCoy contradicts his own source studies to exaggerate the benefits of an EV by another 20 percent.

Using McCoy’s own calculations of 3.8 tons per year and a 12-year lifespan, the actual amount of CO2 avoided would be 45.6 tons per year (assuming the grid is 100 percent clean, which it is not). That is 40 percent less than McCoy’s exaggerated e-mail claimed.

Claim: Those avoided emissions are worth $57 million using OFM/Commerce standard methodology for valuing the Social Cost of Carbon (currently about $65 per ton).

Reality: McCoy makes numerous mistakes here.

First, the Social Cost of Carbon is not $65 per ton, it is $65 per metric ton — which reduces the cost by about ten percent (even that number is about five times higher than the EPA calculates). The cost of carbon is universally calculated in metric tons. He doesn’t seem to know the basics of carbon economics.

Second, his own math doesn’t add up to $57 million. He claims, wrongly, that the benefit would increase EV sales by 2,100 cars per year for four years — 8,400 cars. He claims, wrongly, that each car would reduce CO2 emissions by 75 tons over its lifetime. And he claims, wrongly, that each ton is valued at $65. So, the four year total should be 8,400 x 75 x $65, which equals $40,950,000, not $57 million. He’s off by another 22 percent.

But, as we’ve seen, even $40,950,000 is a significant exaggeration. Using the accurate numbers, the total is 4,444 x 45.6 x $59, which equals about $12 million — about one-fifth the amount McCoy claimed.

Again, that calculation uses McCoy’s own numbers cited elsewhere. Using his numbers, he is off by 79 percent.

But it gets much worse.

The key is not the social cost of carbon, but the amount it costs to reduce a metric ton of carbon using other approaches. For example, investing in efforts to reduce methane emissions from landfills costs about $13 per metric ton on the open market and can go down as low as $3. McCoy wants the state of Washington to spend $65 to get what it can receive for $13. If climate change is really as threatening as he and others claim, why would he be willing to waste 80 percent of the money spent to reduce carbon emissions?

Using the market price of carbon reduction, the actual carbon-reduction value of the EV sales tax break is a paltry $2.6 million over four years.

Claim: This is a surplus value of $18 million over the $39 million that HB 2087 will reduce state and local revenue by over its 4-year duration.

Reality: Using the correct calculation, it is actually a loss of $36.4 million to subsidize wealthy electric car buyers. Put another way, for every dollar the state provides subsidizing electric cars to reduce carbon, more than 93 cents is wasted. Nobody who is serious about cutting carbon emissions would advocate such a wasteful environmental policy.

A similar version of this blog post appeared at the Washington Policy Center.

NCPA Hydaulic Fracturing Current and Proposed Restriction/Ban Map


The National Center for Policy Analysis created a national hydraulic fracturing ban and restriction map that shows all of the recent local and state bans, proposed bans and restrictions.

By enacting this these bans, states are forgoing much needed revenue from the production of critical energy resources. The following are some of the states that are forgoing revenue due to current hydraulic fracturing bans:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware

Hundreds of Frac Restrictions Quietly Sweep Across America

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a well completion technique that is the key to America’s shale boom. Because of hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. has become the world’s top natural gas producer and has gained the capability to become the world’s top oil producer. The shale boom has generated a great majority of jobs created since the recession, and created great wealth for the states where shale deposits are found.

Despite the benefits of energy production, hydraulic fracturing bans and draconian regulations have become more and more common at both the state and local level. To date, greater than 400 municipalities around the country have passed frac restrictions according to Food and Water Watch, an environmental group that tracks anti-fracturing activism. The trend appears to be increasing nationally.

The significance of local bans is little discussed in the energy sector, and underreported, at least from a macro perspective. While the press widely reported that the state of New York passed a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, few noted that the State was already home to greater than 200 municipal bans on fracking before the state imposed a statewide restriction. Restated, greater than 200 New York communities debated the question of whether to permit hydraulic fracturing and concluded that restricting production and wealth generation was the best policy.

Some industry observer dismiss frac bans as inconsequential because they often pass in areas that have little or no frac activity anyway, such as in the case of the statewide ban in Vermont. “The market will adjust,” is the common mantra among producers. One should note, however, that frac restrictions are concentrated on the West and East coasts, where many of the nation’s rich shale deposits lie, such as the Marcellus (NY) and Monterey (CA). Likewise, the public opinion that is formed in the cities and towns will likely factor into future action at the state level, as we have seen in New York and as we are likely to see in California and Colorado.

Can energy producers rely on the states to override local bans to protect their activity? In Texas, probably yes. In California and Colorado, it is much less certain. If public opinion can be our guide, the outlook is not so good. Countrywide, in November of 2014, only 41% of Americans polled favored the increased use of fracking while 47% were opposed. By contrast less, just one year before, there was more support (48%) than opposition (38%) to the drilling technique. Some surmise that the unpopularity of fracking is limited to the coasts, but the Pew poll of 2014 shows that the most dramatic shift in opinion is seen in the Midwest where support for hydraulic fracturing dropped a breathtaking 16 points from 55% to 39% from 2013 to 2014.

San Benito County, California — one of over twenty localities which have banned fracking activity in the state — is currently locked in a legal battle with Citadel Exploration, an energy  company which claims that only the state of California itself (as opposed to municipalities) has the ability to ban fracking. Even if Citadel Exploration prevails, should proponents of fracking feel that California production investments are safe? Barely a year ago, the Californian state Senate nearly enacted a moratorium to ban fracking temporarily.  With a final count of 18-16 against the ban, the state only lacked two votes for a majority pass. The same trend has been seen in other states, like New York and New Jersey where the temporary period of inactivity in the gas sector is followed by more outcries from environmentalist groups, and the subsequent drafting of more final, permanent restrictions on hydraulic fracturing.

The cost of these bans is high, especially given the sheer quantity of untapped or undiscovered natural resources. California, Pennsylvania and Colorado are three possible battlegrounds to watch in the future, all of which contain high concentrations of gas resources and formidable past opposition either in their local communities or their state legislatures. The cost of completely eliminating the production of these resources is outlined by the sheer quantity they withdraw for sale on a monthly basis.  Based on the graph below, at an average cost of $2.69 per million cubic feet (mcf), the states of CA, PA, and CO would lose almost $1,611,300 in monthly production revenue for natural gas alone, without even considering oil.

Natural Gas Withdrawals

The list of counties which have banned fracking is growing on a monthly basis. In addition to state regulations, local government hydraulic fracturing restrictions now number in the hundreds, and are concentrated in CA and along the Eastern Seaboard. Policymakers must adopt an emphasis on balancing socially responsible results with protecting the rights and revenue generating capacities of the industry to insure continued job creation and economic growth.


Governor Walker to Eliminate Unnecessary Renewable Energy Funding

The governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is planning to eliminate the funding to the University of Wisconsin-Madison renewable energy research center.

Cutting state government funding of renewable energy is generally a good idea for several reasons. First, government involvement and interference in a market, in this case the energy market, leads to unnecessary problems and inefficiencies within that market. Second, if now is the right time to push renewable energy, then the private sector would be the one that is already funding these projects, not the state government. Finally, this is the taxpayer’s money that we are talking about here. Did a majority of Wisconsinites vote in favor of millions on renewable energy research?

In the future, when the private sector indicates which and when renewable energies are needed, we can then take another look at the university’s research center:

The research program, founded in 2009, is charged with developing technologies to convert wood chips, corn stalks and native grasses to homegrown sources of power. Along with wind, solar and hydroelectric power, bioenergy is seen as a long-term option to reduce the state’s reliance on coal, oil and natural gas.

Until that time, we will have little need to reduce our need on coal, oil and natural gas. There is an abundance of those resources out there and new technologies and findings are ever increasing that abundance.

California High Speed Rail Advocates Want to Ignore Law

The California high-speed rail project is an out-of-control train careening down the tracks. Everybody knows the project is a disaster in the making. But Governor Jerry Brown and California’s political elite are so enamored with being remembered, they are less concerned with whether it is in a good or a bad way. Earlier this month, the authority broke ground on the first planned section between Madera and Fresno.

For those keeping track, the proposed high speed rail line has no realistic funding plan and uses wildly optimistic and unrealistic ridership forecasts. It has violated the language of its 2008 bonds by providing far slower service than initially proposed. It plans to use gas tax funding from an environmental protection plan to help build the train even though the California Air Resources Board found that high speed rail will increase greenhouse gas emissions for the near term.

The past few months have brought one more twist. Since its inception, the rail authority has promised that the project would comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But after plaintiffs filed seven different lawsuits, the California High Speed Rail Authority asked the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to invalidate these lawsuits arguing that the project only has to comply with federal guidelines that they say have been cleared because of regulatory approvals of the 114-mile Fresno to Bakersfield segment. In late December, the STB agreed with this dubious logic. However, the plaintiffs have promised to appeal and most experts doubt the Supreme Court will side with the STB.

A previous attempt by state lawyers to argue that CEQA was negated by federal approvals was rejected by a Sacramento appeals court. Further, the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a bullet train case in a similar case.

The authority’s spokesman says this isn’t an attempt to get around CEQA just an attempt to “clarify” matters. But it is clear the only reason the authority does not want to go through CEQA is because it will slow down of potentially cancel construction of the rail line.

The federal Surface Transportation Board consists of three appointees of President Obama who has strongly supported rail with earmarked high-speed rail funding and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. So the authority is making an end-run around the law which they ideologically support to get the train built. And they are turning to their political friends in the federal bureaucracy to ensure they can get away with ignoring the law. How many laws and rules will California politicians ignore to get this train built?