A Survey of Greenhouse Gas Inventories

Colorado Senate Committee Kills Bill that Would Strengthen Climate Plan

A bill to require Colorado’s Climate Plans to include specific, measureable goals, deadlines, and annual reports on the state’s progress in reducing emissions was killed in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee last month.

While state law requires Governor Hickenlooper to publish a “Climate Action Plan” annually, his 2015 Climate Plan took “action” out of both the plan’s title and its contents. Proposing no new initiatives, the plan is a step backward for emissions goals, climate initiatives, and renewable energy in Colorado.

With Colorado’s leaders dodging responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Clean Energy Action decided to take a closer look at these emissions and exactly how they’re generated.

Where do GHGs come from?

It is widely known that activities like burning coal to produce energy and burning gasoline to power cars release carbon emissions into the atmosphere. But to be effective at fighting climate change, both the relative and total impacts of all industries must be considered. For example, natural gas was once touted as a “bridge fuel” which could help the United Statestransition to a renewable energy future, but now many question whether this would generate less harmful emissions.

While the focus of most environmental groups is on reducing combustion of fossil fuels (for good reason—it makes up almost 85% of emissions), industries like agriculture and manufacturing also have significant impacts. In order to uphold the climate agreement adopted at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), plans to mitigate climate change must prioritize the most impactful GHG sources but also make inroads into limiting carbon emissions from diverse sources.

GHG inventories, which estimate the amount of emissions generated by various GHG sources in a region, have been performed at the national level as well as in some states and cities to inform climate initiatives and set a baseline for measuring changes in emissions levels.

Although every region has unique emissions which reflect the prevalence of different GHG sources, here we look at inventories done in the City of Boulder and the State of Colorado in addition to the entire United States. The Boulder and Colorado emissions generally reflect national trends but vary slightly based on local economic activity. For example, Boulder has no contributions from industrial complexes because they are simply not present in the city. Natural gas mining and distribution systems contribute a large fraction of Colorado’s emissions because Colorado is one of the major natural gas-producing states in the country.

At the national level, the primary GHG sources are:

  • The combustion of fossil fuels for the generation of power and heat and combustion of fuel for transportation. Together these make up almost 85% of U.S. GHG emissions and additional GHG emissions occur during the extraction, production, and transportation of fossil fuels. Currently, inventories predict that these contribute somewhere between 3%-10% of total emissions but the scientific community has raised concerns that actual emission rates from these activities are much higher.
  • The agricultural industry. Agriculture produces about 7.5% of national GHG emissions, mostly through the release of nitrous oxide from fertilizers and methane generated by enteric fermentation in cattle.
  • Industrial complexes. Non-energy-related industrial activities like processing raw materials to make iron, steel, and cement generate over 6% of U.S. pollutants.
  • Waste management. A small percent of GHGs are released during transportation, combustion, and decay of waste materials.

Greenhouse gas inventories.How can surveys be improved?

  • Better reporting: The system of reporting responsibility for GHG emissions by adding up the emissions of the sources in a region has been criticized because it does not account for the impact of outsourced industrial activities. Many argue that consumption-based inventories which follow the purchases made by consumers to calculate the total carbon footprint of a population are more accurate tools for determining the effectiveness of climate mitigation policies and responsibility for GHG emissions than production-based accounting. For example, if you buy a product that was manufactured in China in a factory powered by burning coal and then shipped to the United States, current GHG inventories would show that China, not the United States, was responsible for the emissions associated with the manufacturing of your product. However, a consumption-based inventory would attribute all of the emissions associated with the production and transportation of the item to the region of the consumer that purchased it.
  • More frequent inventories: The data used in the most recent U.S. GHG survey was collected in 2013 and inventories at the state and local levels were performed even less recently. Energy markets have shifted drastically in the last few years, so these inventories are already obsolete. For example, natural gas production has gone up significantly compared to coal production since the data was collected and thus emissions due to natural gas are almost certainly underrepresented in this report.
  • Better measurements: Currently, the quantities of raw materials consumed in a region are reported by local companies and multiplied by combustion efficiencies published by the EPA to determine the total emissions of the region. This top-down method of calculating emissions from numbers reported by individual companies has several significant sources of error including reporting errors and deficits, inaccurate combustion efficiencies, and inability to calculate emissions generated during the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels. The most accurate means of quantifying emissions is to directly measure the pollutants at a site. This ground-up approach is currently too expensive to implement on a large scale but may soon be feasible.

Moving forward

While the UNFCCC requires that countries report their GHG emissions annually, it allows them to report data that is two years old which can lead to outdated emissions data at the national level. In the United States, there is no federal legislation requiring states to perform GHG inventories so little or no information is available on the emissions in many states. For example, Colorado’s most recent GHG inventory was performed to fulfill an executive order by Governor Ritter in 2013 but it used data from 2010 which is now decidedly outdated. Legislation requiring GHG inventories to be performed regularly at both state and national levels would help environmental advocates understand the importance of various GHG sources.

While ground-up measurements and consumption-based reporting are currently expensive and infeasible, they remain the gold standard for assessing emissions. We should continue to work toward developing the technology and global cooperation required to implement them.

Although current GHG inventories aren’t perfect, they provide valuable insights into the relative importance of various GHG emitters at the local, state and national level. They provide information that should guide environmental initiatives to maximize their impact.

2016 Community Energy Fair: June 25 at Central Park in Downtown Boulder!

Join Us!

Clean Energy Action is excited to invite you to participate in the second annual Community Energy Fair, Saturday, June 25th from 8 am to 3 pm at Central Park in downtown Boulder. This year’s Fair promises to be bigger and better than last year’s as we’ll be set up right next to the Boulder County Farmers’ Market.

There will be something for everyone:

  • A slate of nationally-known speakers,
  • Electric vehicles on display,
  • Opportunities to take action for a wide range of causes,
  • Art activities for kids,
  • Capture the Coal Plant field game,
  • Cookies baked in a solar oven, and more!

Interested in volunteering at the Energy Fair? Email info@cleanenergyaction.org for more details.

Sponsorship

Participating businesses and nonprofits will have a great opportunity to:

  • Share products, services, and their mission with the clean energy-loving public,
  • Connect with other organizations and businesses in the Metro area clean energy, efficiency, and climate action scene, and
  • Learn from interesting, inspiring, and influential speakers.

Space is limited, so be sure to register now and reserve your sponsorship and booth by May 15th, the early bird rates deadline.

Go to this link to see sponsorship levels and to sign up to become a sponsor today!

Renewable Spring Sweeps Across Western U.S.

Quick Take: In a dramatic reversal of fortune for clean energy, utilities and state utility regulatory bodies have decided to remove barriers for wind and solar development while phasing out coal power.

PRESS RELEASE

April 1, 2016 – For Immediate Release

Contact:

Steven Winter, Clean Energy Action, 720-449-6763

Coal Swept Away in Winds of Change

In a dramatic reversal of fortune for clean energy, utilities and state utility regulatory bodies have decided to remove barriers for wind and solar development while phasing out coal power.

Across the West, major utilities are joining together in a pledge to phase out coal power plants by 2020. At a special meeting of the board of Colorado’s largest utility, resolutions were adopted to sign onto the pledge and invest in gigawatts of new wind and solar, with explicit commitments to share the solar market with independent installers.

“We’re not going to put good money after bad. Coal mines are playing out as company after company files for bankruptcy – the days of coal that can be mined at a profit are over,” said the president of the board of directors. “We’re proud of the great success we’ve had with investments in wind and solar – lowering emissions, saving ratepayers on their bills, and creating jobs.”

“Colorado has tremendous potential for new renewable energy so why be involved with dirty energy?” he continued. “Everyone’s got to do their part if we’re going to meet the Paris commitments. For us that means many gigawatts of new wind and solar – one gigawatt is certainly not enough. Besides, we can’t remain stuck behind Oklahoma in wind energy development and New Jersey in solar!”

Solar Spring Takes the West

While utilities pledged to take action, regulatory commissions in Western states moved to strike down net metering challenges as unfair, signaling their long-term support of the independent rooftop solar industry. Here in Colorado, caps on solar gardens will be removed as regulators reversed course, doing away with negative renewable energy credit pricing.

Southwestern states have retracted costly demand charges that have hindered solar installations in recognition of the benefits of deferred infrastructure investments and free fuel from the sun.

“When you take a hard look at the numbers, it’s clear that solar provides net benefits to both our climate and our ratepayers,” said one regulator. “With batteries and electric vehicles, a completely renewable electric grid is well within our reach.”

We are sorry to do this, but we must remind readers of the date stamp on this press release. Please stay tuned as we expect life to soon begin mimicking “art”!

Defend Rural Colorado’s Freedom to Access Clean Energy

Act Now: Help Protect Access to Local Clean Energy

Colorado is home to some of the nation’s best wind, solar and small hydro resources. Local communities should be free to access these renewable energy resources. When communities invest in local resources, they keep energy dollars close to home, create jobs, and reduce harmful carbon emissions.

Access to local clean energy is under threat: Tri-State Generation and Transmission  has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve a rate penalty that would essentially stop rural communities from buying clean, local electricity.

Let your voice be heard before March 11: Tell FERC to reaffirm communities’ right to access clean energy. For more details, see below the petition.

Defend Freedom to Access Local Clean Energy

The Honorable Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426

Dear Ms. Bose,

We, the undersigned, urge the Commission to find that Tri-State’s proposed lost revenue penalty proposal contained in Tri-State’s revised Board Policy 101 is inconsistent with the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”) and the Commission’s implementing regulations.

Rate penalties placed on purchases of power from local qualifying facilities appear to run counter to the spirit and the letter of PURPA. PURPA Section 210 states an intention to “encourage cogeneration and small power production” through rate setting that is “just and reasonable to the electric consumers of the electric utility and in the public interest.”

As we consider the public interest in mitigating climate change and in promoting local economic development, we ask that the Commission deny approval of Tri-State's lost revenue penalty. Tri-State's proposal penalizes utilities like Delta-Montrose for buying local renewable energy that the Commission has said Delta Montrose is obligated to purchase. Approving the rate penalty would essentially undo the Commission's previous decision and hinder, rather than promote, local renewable energy development.

For these reasons, we urge you to reject Tri-State's proposed lost revenue penalty.

Sincerely,

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86 signatures

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Proposed Penalty for Local Clean Power

In June of 2015, FERC affirmed the right of Delta-Montrose Electric Association (Delta-Montrose), a Western slope rural electric cooperative, to access local renewable energy from a small dam on an irrigation canal.

Federal  regulators ruled that local access to clean power superseded contractual restrictions imposed by Tri-State that would have otherwise barred Delta-Montrose and other communities from generating their own clean energy.

But access to local clean energy remains threatened: on February 17th, Delta-Montrose’s wholesale supplier, Tri-State asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve a rate penalty on utilities like Delta-Montrose when they buy energy from local renewable energy projects.

This rate penalty would effectively make local renewable energy projects uneconomical, denying communities vital economic development opportunities and derailing efforts to move away from fossil fuels. It appears to violate both the letter and the spirit of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), which seeks to encourage local small-scale renewable energy generation.

Sign this petition and join us as we reaffirm the right of communities to access local sources of clean energy.

Resources

FERC’s 2015 Decision affirming Delta-Montrose’s ability to access clean energy under PURPA: Docket No. EL15-43-000

Clean Energy Action’s Letter of Support for Delta-Montrose in Tri-State’s February 17, 2016 Petition for Declaratory Order of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., Docket No. EL16-39-000

Expand Coal Mining in Colorado? No Way!

Please join Clean Energy Action and others by signing this petition urging rejection of the ColoWyo Mine Expansion.

Let the Obama Administration’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the Bureau of Land Management know that you oppose approval of the ColoWyo Mine expansion permit!

Today is the last day to act! Public comments must be submitted before February 19th.

Reject the Expansion of the ColoWyo Mine

Reject the Expansion of the ColoWyo Mine

I strongly urge you to reject the ColoWyo South Taylor Permit Expansion Area Project and support you standing firm with your January, 2016 commitment to a moratorium on new coal leases.

Expanding mining at the ColoWyo Mine threatens to not only destroy the habitat of sage grouse and other wildlife in the area, but would send millions of tons of toxic emissions into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change and threatening air, water, and human health. Continued expansion of coal mining when major US coal companies are faltering financially puts adequate reclamation into serious question and could leave taxpayers on the hook for millions in clean-up.

Our country needs to encourage broad development of clean, renewable energy from wind and sun that are free and abundant here in the west. The future is here! Please show courage and leadership and take action to promote the transition to sustainable, stable economies in our coal mining communities.

We want to leave a healthy planet for our children and future generations. Keep the coal in the ground! Reject the ColoWyo South Taylor Permit Expansion Area Project.

Thank you for your consideration,

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81 signatures

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Together, we can:

1)            Protect the soil, water and endangered wild life of northwest Colorado. Do not expand the ColoWyo Mine into over 2000 acres of previously undisturbed land that drains into the Yampa River. This land, only 30 miles from Dinosaur National Monument, is largely prime sage grouse habitat.

2)            Keep the coal in the ground. Do not permit an additional 240 million metric tons of carbon and other toxic emissions to be released into the atmosphere. When this coal is burned over the next twenty years, it will threaten our health, air, water and climate.

3)         Transition Colorado into a sustainable, clean energy future fueled by wind and sun. Let’s move forward with 21st century sources of energy that don’t pollute and save ratepayers on their bills. It is time to push for a just transition away from coal, one that supports communities as they face the inevitable loss of jobs and regional economic instability that will follow when last century’s ColoWyo mine is depleted.

Additional Resources

ColoWyo Coal Mine Expansion Environmental Assessment

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement: ColoWyo Legal Notices and Outreach Letters

Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy