GHG Emissions


Bay Area Planners Get Greenhouse “Guidelines”

The San Francisco Bay Area is among the first metropolitan areas in the nation to set up local developer guidelines for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Craig Miller

Photo: Craig Miller

The new rules, passed Wednesday by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, mean that developers planning anything that will produce GHG emissions above certain thresholds will face an environmental impact review. For “stationary” sources, projected emissions above 10,000 metric tons (tonnes) per year will now trigger an EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). For other, “non-stationary” projects, the trigger is set at 1,100 tons per year or 4.6 tonnes per person affected, such as residents or workers.

The GHG thresholds are coupled with similar triggers for local pollutants such as particulates and for some emissions that play a role in both local air quality and warming, such as nitrous oxides (NOX). Air District spokesman Aaron Richardson couldn’t confirm that the first-in-the-nation status applied to the GHG guidelines, but that it placed the Bay Area “among the first.”

District chief Jack Broadbent said, in a release, that they “provide a blueprint for local agencies to use in making smart development decisions that protect residents from harmful air emissions and greenhouse gases.” Broadbent said the rules will be “especially protective of communities that already have significant air quality concerns.”

Exactly how they’ll be applied is something that even Air District staffers had a tough time explaining. Abby Young, an environmental planner at the District, who worked on the guidelines, explained that 10,000 tonnes per year is a benchmark that might be associated with a major expansion of an oil refinery. She said 1,100 tonnes per year is more or less the level of GHG emissions associated with a typical 50-home suburban housing development, but that vehicle trips in and out of the neighborhood would also be counted toward the threshold. “It’s a very complex, multi-layered thing,” she said.

The complete guidelines are available as a PDF download from the Air District’s website.

Delegate’s Dispatch No. 2

Louis Blumberg directs the California climate programs for The Nature Conservancy. He’s also been keeping us posted as an official observer to the UN climate conference. And yes, views expressed in his guest posts are his and not necessarily those of KQED or the Climate Watch staff.

Things Heat Up Copenhagen
By Louis Blumberg

Emotions erupted at the Bella Center today during the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Demonstrations, street theater, leaked documents, heated words, threats of walkouts and huge crowds all collided to increase the energy level throughout the massive hall. Frustration was driven in part, according to one of the key treaty negotiators, by the fact that little progress has been made.

At this point in the process, the open meetings have stopped and negotiators are meeting in private to work out their differences. This loss of transparency was exacerbated when demonstrators disrupted one of the last public plenary sessions of the week and the organizers threw out representatives from all non-governmental organizations–including me.*

As discouraging as this emerging gridlock is, my optimism remains because I see that three key pieces, which are falling into place, can produce a real deal:

– First, for the first time ever, key countries, including the U.S., China, India, Brazil and Korea, have all put numerical proposals on the table to reduce emissions.

– Second, as I reported before, the U.S. is providing real leadership, in part by proposing a $10 billion annual fund to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change while continuing to grow their economies.

– Third, President Obama and 110 other heads of state will arrive next week for the final negotiation.

In the meantime, the process of creating a new international treaty amps up…

Yesterday I joined 200 activists in a standing ovation for EPA Director Lisa Jackson as she confirmed U.S. leadership by listing the administration’s actions to fight climate change, including this week’s official finding that greenhouse gas endangers human health. [Ed. Note: This creates authority for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases on its own, with or without enabling legislation].

African countries called for more forest protection. Delegates from one island nation faced with imminent destruction by flooding due to sea-level rise, threatened to walk out on the talks unless the developed countries exhort to cut emissions by 95 percent.

I, alongside a coalition of forest activists, struggled (in what may be a futile attempt) to close a new loophole in emissions reporting rules proposed by some European countries.

And finally, the energy, passion and idealism of demonstrators in costume–walking trees, polluters dressed in red, vegans for climate, and Mr. Green (you can figure that one out on your own)–were both captivating and inspiring.

The frenetic pace is both tiring and energizing and will only increase as we move toward the conference closing on December 18. But there is much more to come before then. Stay tuned.

*Ed. Note: We’re using the term “delegate” somewhat loosely here. Blumberg is a member of The Nature Conservancy “delegation” in Copenhagen but technically he’s an official observer, as are all NGO reps. That’s why he can be tossed out of sessions.

California’s Biggest Carbon Emitters

Carbon addiction is the same as any other in at least one respect: the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. For greenhouse gases, reducing emissions requires knowing what you’re putting out to begin with.

The Conoco Phillips refinery in Rodeo, north of Oakland, is a relatively small player at 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Photo: Craig Miller

The Conoco Phillips refinery in Rodeo is a relatively small player, as refineries go, at 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Photo: Craig Miller

It was toward this end that this week the California Air Resources Board released the first comprehensive data on large-scale industrial carbon emissions in the state. Not surprisingly, the top emitters tend to fall into two categories: power plants and oil refineries, with cement manufacturers not far behind.

Individually, major oil refineries have the largest carbon footprint. Two of Chevron’s refineries–in Richmond and El Segundo, BP’s Carson refinery and the Shell refinery in Martinez, all clocked in at more than three million metric tons (tonnes), CO2-equivalent, for 2008.

Use the interactive map below, prepared by Climate Watch intern David Ferry, to locate the largest industrial emitters and see how they sort out by industry (We’ve been having difficulty with embedded maps vanishing from the blog, so if you don’t see the map below, just click on the link to it).

(Click here for a larger map and a list of all the largest emitters.)

View KQED: California’s Biggest Industrial CO2 Emitters of 2008 in a larger map

Cumulatively, electric power generation is California’s biggest emitter, despite the virtual absence of coal-powered plants in the state. The ARB report lists nearly 20 utility or industrial cogeneration plants in the million-plus club. Several plants put out more than two million tonnes, including Dynegy’s gas-fired plant at Moss Landing, the LaPaloma McKittrick plant, Southern California Edison’s Mountainview plant in Redlands, and the L.A. Department of Water & Power’s Haynes Generating Plant.

The federal EPA considers anything above 25,000 tonnes to be a large emitter. But with carbon emissions, “large” is a relative concept. California imports power from other states and we can get a clue to “large” from the carbon output numbers on some of the mostly coal-fired plants feeding the California grid from states like Utah and Wyoming. Some fossil fuel plants in those states weigh in at a hefty six, ten–even 15 million metric tons. Los Angeles still depends on out-of-state fossil plants for roughly half of its electric power.

A few large cement plants are also in the million-plus column. To find out why, listen to Amy Standen’s report for Quest.

Of course, all this careful accounting leaves aside the elephant in the room: transportation, which has a bigger footprint in California than all electrical generation combined, including imports from other states–and is about equal to total industrial emissions.

The industrial tally released this week is subject to revision and will be used to set caps and allowances for the carbon trading (cap & trade) system mandated by the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, commonly known as AB-32. There’s more on the emissions report and what it means in Paul Rogers’ story for the San Jose Mercury News.

Transportation’s Tricky Carbon Footprint

Kristine Wong is our Climate Watch intern for the current term. She’s a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

interchange_0145_blogStudy comparing environmental impact of transportation modes yields surprising results

By Kristine Wong

You may not believe that during peak commute hours, Boston’s light rail system generates more greenhouse gases (GHGs) per person than a gas-powered, fully occupied SUV–or a commercial airliner filled to capacity, traveling the same distance.

Yet this is what UC Berkeley researchers found in a study released this week. Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath compared the environmental impacts of cars, buses, planes, and rail after adding up all the energy costs and emissions (both GHGs and local air pollutants) over their entire life cycle–not just by what came out of the tailpipe. The authors say no such comprehensive study had been done before.

The researchers developed a method that evaluated each transportation mode based on the energy inputs needed for production and maintenance of the vehicle itself. They also looked at the infrastructure for each mode, such as construction of supporting components like rail station platforms and airport runways, bus and rail station lighting and parking, and the source of  power for each mode (e.g. gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or electric–and the costs of distributing and producing these inputs).

In total, Chester and Horvath compared 79 components across all transportation modes. Within each they also selected a few variations to represent differences, depending on factors such as vehicle make and mileage, passenger occupancy, and size.

The results were both logical and surprising. Most of the energy consumed and GHG emissions from auto, bus and air travel originated from the operational period, not from the materials needed to produce and maintain the vehicles. Rail produced the greatest amount of GHGs compared to all other modes over their life cycle. But Chester and Horvath point out that there is a big difference in GHG emissions from light rail systems in the Bay Area versus, say, Boston due to the portion of fossil fuel-based electricity used. Boston’s fuel mix is 82% fossil, while the Bay Area’s BART system clocks in at just 49% fossil fuel–a major factor in efficiency and GHG emission rates.

Finally, passenger occupancy was a key factor influencing efficiency. Not surprisingly, each mode was most efficient when used to capacity. But the researchers caution that boosting passenger occupancy is not a magic bullet. They say minimizing fossil fuel inputs and adding pollution filters and controls would have a greater effect on efficiency.

Chester and Horvath say that they hope their results will provide a framework for more comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of transportation, and to assess the impact of hybrid or electric vehicles and alternative energy sources such as biofuels, solar power, and wind power, none of which were included in the study.

There are more details of the study posted at the websites for Green Car Congress and Sustainable Transportation.

Head-to-Head: Chevron and The Sierra Club

Two giants of California’s energy debate squared off at a Commonwealth Club forum in San Francisco last night.

Chevron CEO Dave O’Reilly and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope fielded questions from moderator Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal and a sometimes impassioned audience, about renewable energy opportunities, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and predictions for the future of the United States’ energy economy. Several questions also concerned Chevron’s high profile court battle in Ecuador and the oil company’s presence in Richmond, the Bay Area city where a major Chevron refinery dominates the skyline–and some say, local governance

Carl Pope, ED of Sierra Club Alan Murray, Executive Editor of WSJ Online Dave O'Reilly, CEO of Chevron. Photo: Gretchen Weber

From left to right: Sierra Club chief Carl Pope; WSJ Online Executive Editor Alan Murray; Dave O'Reilly, CEO of Chevron. Photo: Gretchen Weber

In what was less of a debate than a discussion, Pope and O’Reilly agreed that the United States needs to make major changes towards greater energy efficiency and that the country must begin to rely more on renewable energy sources.

Their views diverged significantly, however, on the timeline for such changes. While Pope supports a 90% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from today’s levels by 2050 and says he believes this goal possible, O’Reilly projected that by 2050, the United States will have reduced its GHG emissions by no more than 20-25% from today’s levels.

O’Reilly said that even if the U.S. replaced the entire transportation system with a zero-emissions system, the country would reduce GHG emissions by just 34%–and that doing likewise with the nation’s power generation would reduce GHGs by another 40%.

“So we have to ask ourselves, can we replace our entire energy system–transportation and power–in just a few short decades?” said O’Reilly. “I think the transition is going to take some time.”

According to O’Reilly, his company is already the largest provider of geothermal energy in the world and yet only 2% of Chevron’s income currently comes from renewable energy.

“The challenge of scale demands that we acknowledge that conventional energy sources will remain indispensable for decades,” said O’Reilly. “We must be realistic. For the foreseeable future we need to develop it all: conventional as well as non-conventional energy, as well as renewables and alternatives.”

When asked what his prediction was for how much of Chevron’s income would come from renewable energy sources by 2050, O’Reilly said he thought the number would be about 10-15%.

Pope responded, “The world will have room in 2050 for a very small company, 90% of whose energy comes from fossils [fuels]. The world will not have room, or tolerance, in 2050 for a big energy company [that does], so if Chevron wants to be successful, I think Chevron’s going to need to change those numbers.

Pope also called on Chevron to “come to the table” with local communities in which Chevron operates, such as Richmond, CA, and he proposed that all oil companies donate 10% of their profits to a global fund to clean up areas of the world damaged by the petroleum industry.

Not surprisingly, Pope and O’Reilly agreed that the highest priority for reducing GHG emissions is to replace coal with natural gas or another less carbon-intensive energy source, and while on stage, the men shook hands on an agreement to lobby the issue together in Washington.

KQED will broadcast the entire Commonwealth Club event at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 19, with a rebroadcast at 2 a.m. the following morning.