Category Archives: Economics

CEA Research Report: Trends in U.S. Delivered Coal Costs: 2004-2011

Leslie Glustrom, Research Director for Clean Energy Action, and contributors Teresa Foster and William Briggs, have provided a comprehensive review of U.S. Department of Energy data that clearly illustrates the steady increases in delivered coal costs across the continental United States since 2004. This seven year upward trend appears to be attributable to the three key supply and demand forces of increased production costs, increased transportation costs, and increased export pressure. Authors suggest that these may be expected to continue to exert upward pressure on future coal prices.

In many states prices for wind and solar are becoming competitive with these increased coal costs.  This report encourages citizens and policy-makers to consider delivered coal costs on a state-by-state basis, to compare prices of emerging alternative clean, fuel-free energy sources, and to investigate individual states’ future fuel discount pricing practices in order to make the best future energy investment decisions. Well-documented background references on coal supply constraints as well as references for the tremendous health and environmental toll we all pay for the burning of coal to produce energy make this report an excellent and easily-understood resource.

For full report U.S. Delivered Coal Costs 2004-2011

Original data source: Energy Information Association

Carbon Tax – “The Most Sensible Tax of All”?

Last Wednesday, Independence Day, two authors, Yoram Bauman, an environmental economist and fellow at Sightline Institute in Seattle and Shi-Ling Hsu, a law professor at Florida State University who is the author of “The Case for a Carbon Tax” published an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

We question whether it is the most sensible tax because of our familiarity with James Hansen’s fee-and-dividend approach to reduce carbon emissions. While similar to Mr. Hansen’s concept, a carbon tax may be sensible, but it would be up to We the People to ensure that our citizen voices were heard as it was implemented and assessed in a way that achieved clean, renewable energy and carbon neutrality goals. A tax certainly seems to be a more transparent policy when compared and contrasted to a cap-and-trade model. However, is the fee-and-dividend action in the public interest the least opaque?

The authors highlight the following:

  • The carbon tax in British Columbia is a substitute for other taxes.
    • Takes the place of payroll, business, investment and employee taxes.
  • Preliminary data show greenhouse gases have been reduced 4.5% in the four years since the inception of the tax.
    • This despite increases in population and GDP.
  • Gasoline sales down 2% since 2007.
    • 5% increase over same time period across the rest of Canada.
  • Non-partisan policy that has aspects that both Republicans and Democrats favor.
    • Tax breaks for both high and low income populations.
  • Families, businesses and industry could control the amount of carbon tax paid by reducing their carbon footprint.
  • Promotes energy conservation and investment into productive economic activity.
    • Moves economy away from consumption and borrowing toward saving and investment.

The original Op-Ed:

Mr. Hansen’s fee-and-dividend approach:

The British Columbia Ministry of Finance Carbon Tax Review and Overview:

“BLM condemned for coal lease practices after Peabody sale” By Mark Wilcox, WY Business Report

According to the June 28, 2012 Wyoming Business Report, the Bureau of Land Management short-changed U.S. taxpayers and state and federal coffers an estimated $1.2 billion by leasing 721 million tons of Wyoming’s high quality Powder River Basin coal to Peabody Energy at prices significantly below market value.

BLM acceptance of the low-ball offer was anticipated by the recently released Institute of Energy Economics Financial Analysis report, “The Great Giveaway,” which detailed flaws in the Federal coal-leasing program including lack of competitive bidding, erroneous methods of establishing fair market prices, lack of program oversight and accountability, increases in profitable overseas exports of underpriced US coal, and USGS reports of constraints on economically recoverable WY coal reserves.

As further confirmation that BLM coal leasing practices are subsidizing the coal industry at the expense of our economy, environment, and future energy security, the IEEFA report also cited the April, 2012 formal request by Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, for Government Accountability Office review of federal coal leasing.

To read IEEFA report

Washington Post  6/24/2012 IEEFA report review full  article:

Least cost-planning for 21st Century Electricity Supply

Mark Cooper
Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis,
Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School


Energy policy and regulatory decision making in the American electricity sector have always been a challenge because the U. S. is among the most electricity intensive of all nations and it has an extremely wide set of resources with which to meet its electricity needs. Moreover, in the past quarter of a century a fierce debate about the existence and response to climate change, a roller coaster ride in fossil fuel prices and a fizzled “nuclear renaissance” have made things much more difficult by casting doubt on the three primary fuels on which the U.S. relies for almost 90 percent of its electricity. In spite of this uncertainty, because electricity is an essential building block of modern life decision makers are under constant real-time pressures to ensure electricity supply at affordable prices.
This paper argues that the insights and recommendations from the study of financial portfolio and real option analysis, technology risk assessment, reliability and risk mitigation management, and Black Swan Theory all indicate that the 20th century approach to resource acquisition in the electric utility industry is ill-suited to the 21st century economic environment. Indeed, it can be argued that the approaches taken in a wide range of regulatory proceedings such as integrated resource planning, purchase power agreement reviews and general rate cases may have been rendered obsolete by a dramatic change in the terrain of decision making.

Xcel’s 2011 Wind Bid Analysis–Wind Reduces System Costs Even Without CO2 Costs

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom

In 2009 Xcel’s modeling showed that adding renewable energy to their system would lower system costs when a cost for CO2 emissions was added for fossil fuel resources.

Now, in the (attached) modeling results received from Xcel, the three most competitive wind bids received in January 2011 and discussed in the attached Xcel Bid Report, will lower Xcel’s system costs in Colorado–even without including a cost for CO2 emissions. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that this has been shown in Colorado.

The key spreadsheet showing this is LWG 2-1.Al. xls. The question asked can be found in the 10A-377E LWG 2 document. The fact that no cost on CO2 was included is found in footnote 3 on page 15 of the Xcel witness Kurt Haeger’s Rebuttal testimony which is also attached.

Under the assumptions tab in the spreadsheet, note that the cost of coal is assumed to stay essentially flat for the next 30 years, despite the fact that Xcel’s coal costs have been going up about 10% a year for the last several years….A more reasonable assumption about future coal costs would also help improve the modeling results for renewable resources. Similarly, if the actual cost of natural gas is higher than the projections shown, then the wind will save ratepayers more money. The natural gas cost projections are some of the lowest used by Xcel in recent years so it seems unlikely that natural gas costs will drop lower than the projections–but only time will tell.

The wind modeling results (which include the Production Tax Credit for wind), show what we have all been waiting for, which is that renewable energy sources can increasingly be justified on price alone–even without consideration of CO2 and other external costs. This bodes well for efforts to include more renewable energy in the future.

Attachment Size
2011 Wind RFP Bid Evaluation Report   1.8 MB
Attachment LWG2-1.A1   41 KB
10A-377E Haeger Rebuttal   512 KB
10A-377E LWG2   61 KB
Photo courtesy of martinpro