Governor’s new climate proposals are more than 90% waste

Dec 20, 2019

The Governor unveiled his latest climate proposals today. Despite claiming we face a climate crisis, the proposals are centered around the least effective approaches to reduce CO2.

A metric of success

To understand how wasteful these policies are, it is useful to compare them to other CO2-reduction efforts. There are three clear standards we can use to compare. As we will see, the state is spending much more and receiving less CO2 reduction than is available on the market.

First, the current market price to reduce one metric ton (MT) of CO2 in California is $17.66. This is not a true “market” because California has a number of requirements beyond simply reducing CO2, but it is a useful high-water mark we can use for what is a reasonable CO2-reduction price.

Second, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation offers CO2-reduction projects for $10/MT. This is the retail price and lower prices are available for those who buy in bulk.

Finally, Seattle City Light pays about $7/MT to offset the CO2 emissions from natural gas.

The range of acceptable prices to reduce CO2 is between $7 and $17.60. Anything higher than that wastes money that could be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS)

The Governor’s proposal for a LCFS standard is designed to link to existing requirements in Oregon and California. The current price to reduce one MT of CO2 in Oregon using the LCFS is $157.45, and in California the price is $195/MT. The stated goal of the LCFS is to reduce CO2-emissions per gallon by 20 percent. These numbers would amount to between 28 cents per gallon and 35 cents per gallon.

Measuring climate effectiveness, the LCFS wastes between 89 and 94 percent of the cost. Rather than spending 7 dollars to reduce one MT of CO2, an LCFS (using the California price) spends $195 – nearly 28 times as much.

Community solar

The plan also calls for $20 million in support for community solar projects that install solar panels on roofs. There are two key things to know about rooftop solar in Washington state:

Subsidizing rooftop solar in Washington state combines the worst technology with the worst location.

To show just how bad it is, I used Google’s Project Sunroof, which calculates the optimal size of a solar panel for your roof, the costs, and how much will be generated using photos from Google Earth. It is amazing technology that demonstrates how wasteful solar subsidies are in Washington state.

In the Seattle area, for example, the typical size of an installation is about 7 kilowatts, producing an average of 7,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. For a 7.25 kWh installation, Project Sunroof estimates installation cost at about $28,000. This would produce 7,250 kWh annually, which would reduce CO2 emissions by about 17.1875 MT over a 25-year lifespan.

Using these estimates, the cost per MT of CO2 for rooftop solar is $1,629. Outrageous.

Some might argue this cost estimate is high because solar costs are coming down. Fair enough. The cost might also be low because as our electrical grid moves toward 100 percent renewable, the amount of CO2 reduction for rooftop solar goes down compared to alternatives.

Even if this estimate is double (which it is not) the actual number, it is still almost pure waste. For every MT of CO2 reduced by rooftop solar subsidies, Seattle City Light can reduce 233 MT. Measuring climate effectiveness, this wastes more than 99.5 percent of the funding.

To demonstrate how absurd this approach is, the Governor budgeted $293,000 to administer the community solar tax incentives. For that amount, they could reduce nearly 42,000 MT of CO2 simply by investing the money in the same projects supported by Seattle City Light. By way of comparison, the $20 million will only reduce 12,300 MT of CO2 over 25 years. Canceling the program and spending the money on carbon-reduction projects would triple the amount of CO2 reduced!

Anyone who supports this level of waste cannot claim to believe we are facing a climate crisis.

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