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Sean Casten's Posts

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Coal: Like a bad date, it's Dirty AND Expensive.

Duke seeks approval for expensive coal

More breaking news from the Coal Isn't Cheap department. Duke Energy reports that the new 620 MW coal plant they are building in Indiana is now expected to cost $2.9 billion, or 23 percent more than they last estimated in November. It's worth always taking the time to do some math whenever these type of numbers get released. No one has invested in new coal assets of any significance in the U.S. in nearly 2 decades, for the simple reason that a coal plant is a lousy investment. Meanwhile, every new coal plant that has been proposed or commenced construction …

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America's declining reserve margin

Without major capital investments, this generation of Americans will short change the next

From 1980 to 2007, total U.S. electricity consumption increased by a factor of 1.8, but total generation capacity increased by only 1.7 times. In other words, demand out-grew supply. For a while, that was fine -- we had more toys than we needed, and real power prices declined for two decades as we made better use of the toys we had. By the year 2000, though, that gig was up, and we suddenly found ourselves having to run our most expensive plants harder, having fully tapped-out our low-cost supply. Electricity prices, not surprisingly, rose -- and continue to do so, …

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Dumb grids

The smart grid conversation is stupid. Policies to encourage smart grids are at best minor distractions, and at worst contrary to the public interest. Smart grids are also the key to cleaning up and modernizing the electric system. These sentences are not in conflict with one another. The smart grid is the cart, not the horse. There is no doubt that better access to real time data could facilitate a much more rational use of our electric infrastructure, shifting usage patterns (both in time and in space) to reduce the costs of grid construction and operation. But we don't need …

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three easy steps

Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 8

U.S. energy and environmental policy sucks. We burn too much fuel, we emit too much pollution and we do so under a set of rules that cause us to spend far too much on energy, even as we use it in volumes that poison our planet, our geopolitics and our economy. We deserve better. That said, while it's fairly easy to identify what ideal energy and environmental policy would look like if we had a clean sheet of paper, it's harder – and ultimately, more important – to figure how to achieve those objectives within existing political constraints.  That's not …

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Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 7

Having noted in part 2 that all barriers to clean energy deployment can be lumped into utility policy, environmental policy, and out-of-date policy -- and having outlined the necessary fixes for the first two in parts 5 and 6 -- we now address out-of-date policies. This is perhaps the hardest to address, because it is such a catch-all. It is also, somewhat uniquely, a case where we don’t even know where all the bodies are. In my experience, it is hard to build any clean energy project without running into some antiquated law that impedes progress. Which by extension means …

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Environmental Policy Reforms

Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 6

Having outlined ideal utility policy in part 5, we move now to ideal environmental policy. As a reminder, this is not the policy that could be accomplished tomorrow given political realities, but rather the long-term goal we ought to shoot for. If the only thing that mattered was good environmental policy guided by responsible principles, this is what we'd do. It is the long-term goal, but not necessarily the politically-possible next step. Ideal environmental policy reforms Immediately convert all emissions regulations to an output basis, per unit of electricity (MWh) and/or thermal (MMBtu) energy produced. Under present regulation, the less …

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Utility Policy Reforms

Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 5

Now we come to the fun part. If you could build a dream spouse, what would he or she look like? Describe their personality, sense of humor, and relative similarity to Kelly LeBrock. It's fun to think about, and utterly unrealistic. So too with the question we now build to. If you were king, had a clean sheet of paper and were completely unconstrained by politics, how would you design our energy and environmental policy to eliminate the existing barriers to clean energy? This type of politically-unconstrained question is too often dismissed as naïve. It isn't. As Yogi Berra said, …

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Principles

Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 4

Thus far, we've reviewed the five questions that ought to be answered before addressing any energy policy, identified the key regulatory barriers to clean energy deployment, and reviewed the political obstacles to good energy policy. Let's now move on to the simplest -- but potentially most controversial -- question. What principles ought to guide good policy? Controversial because reasonable people may disagree about the relative roles of government and private sector, relative usefulness of incentives vs. penalties to drive human behavior and a host of other matters of political judgment. But as Judge Smails says, "the most important decision you …

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Political Barriers to Energy Policy Reform

Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 3

In Part 1, I outlined the five questions that we ought to answer before we can have any informed debate on energy policy reform. In Part 2, I provided my answer to the first of those questions: namely, what are the key existing regulatory barriers to clean energy deployment (Answer: utility regulation, environmental regulation and out-dated regulation). Now let’s move onto the next question: What are the primary political challenges to policy reform? It is critical to separate politics from policy. To be sure, setting policy independent of politics is naïve – but setting policy only based on political constraints …

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What Are the Existing Regulatory Barriers?

Policy fixes to unleash clean energy, part 2

In part 1, I outlined five questions that ought to be answered before we have any conversation about energy policy reform. Here is my answer to the first question: What are the primary existing regulatory barriers to the deployment of cleaner energy? They are legion. But they can be lumped into three broad categories: utility policy, environmental policy, and out-dated policies. A brief discussion of each: Utility policy: Our utility policy is, in a word, outmoded. Established at the beginning of the 20th century to encourage the rapid, mass electrification of the country, it was never appropriate for the efficient …

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