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Sean Casten's Posts

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Me in The New Republic

See here for a guest editorial I just got published in The New Republic. Nothing that I haven't written about before on Grist, but always nice to get the message about the need to consider generation efficiency (in addition to appliance efficiency) in discussions about how to lower the overall fossil-fuel intensivity of our economy. One minor quibble. Down in the comments, note the snarky "you can't mess with Carnot". I can't tell you how many times this has been raised by bad physicists. (It's the thermodynamics version of the arguments raised by those who remember a little of freshman …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Fossil Energy Reduction Standard: A better RPS

Photo: WhiteGoldWielder via Flickr Previously, I described difficulties with RPS policy, whereby layers of patches designed to address political problems create a convoluted overall structure that yields lousy policy. Today, I outline a better approach. Policy first First a caveat: Too much of our energy policy is developed based on politics. There is a point in the political process where political compromise is necessary -- but that shouldn't precede an articulation of what good policy is. With that in mind, this framework sets out first and foremost to get the policy right. As noted in the earlier post, this requires …

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RPS, EERS and energy politics

I think this one's got it! There is a belief that with the Democratic shift in Congress, we finally have the votes to get a national renewable portfolio system (RPS). I don't buy it. As I pointed out here, a "pure" wind-and-solar-only RPS means a wealth transfer from Eastern to Western U.S., and no political party is inclined to vote against their state's economic interests. The basic electoral math of the Senate makes such an RPS impossible. Many in the environmental community still don't get this, but in my experience, Congress does. Perhaps not universally, but as a collective body, …

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Survey says: Americans concerned about global warming, want policy change, like money

An interesting report out today from Public Agenda, entitled "The Energy Learning Curve."  They report on a survey that is both heartening with respect to the public perceptions of global warming (and needs for policy response thereto) and frustrating for what they suggest about the policy conversation in Washington.  The Good The good news is that there is overwhelming support for rather major changes in our energy policy and infrastructure: 86% believe that investing in alternative energy will create jobs 84% support investment in fuel efficient railways Solid majorities support policies that transfer wealth to individuals and businesses who invest …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Shoddy economics at The New York Times

Joe Romm has done a pretty thorough trashing of Matt Wald's recent New York Times piece. Herein, I pile on. This is a shoddy enough piece of journalism to deserve it. Like Joe, I've talked to Matt Wald before, and generally I find him to be a good writer on energy. He's capable of much better reporting than this. That said, my larger beef is not with Wald nor the NYT per se, but rather with the analytical errors that are innate to his analysis, which are far too common in most journalism of this "what is the cost of …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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If it walks like a tax and quacks like a tax … then it’s called cap-and-trade?

In an otherwise solid post, David said something that made me cringe: In a cap-and-trade system where the pollution permits are auctioned, the money goes to gov't, and the gov't decides what to do with it. Poorly paraphrasing James Joyce: no and my heart was beating like mad and no I said no I NO. That's not at all what cap-and-trade does. If you got pissed off when the Bush administration stuck "Clear Skies" labels on their environmental programs, you should be no less fidgety when the phrase "cap-and-trade" is being comparably misused. The phrase has been twisted and muddled …

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Don’t make too much of current energy prices; they are disconnected from fundamentals

There is a fair amount of hand-wringing over the recent collapse in energy prices which -- while academically interesting -- is largely irrelevant to larger macro forces. Here then a quick observation that is critically important and horribly misunderstood throughout our current energy, environmental, and economic conversation: current energy prices have very little to do with energy fundamentals. This is a critical point, lost in the pop-economics that pervades most public discussion -- which always tends to implicitly assume perfect markets where price is a function only of supply and demand. (No less true of those who claim that we …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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AEP wants rate increase to make up for revenue loss

Remember when Mike Morris, CEO of American Electric Power, said this? [he] said "I'm not a decoupler. If my revenues go down, they go down." The West Virginia arm of his utility is now asking for a series of rapid rate increases: 18.5 percent this year, 14.5 percent next year and 13.2 percent in 2011. Why, pray tell? In part, because: The company had predicted it would sell $248.5 million in power to other electric utilities between July 2008 and this June, but those sales have almost disappeared. Revenue generated from those sales -- electricity unused by AEP customers -- …

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Why electric utilities like coupling

Writing from the Eco:nomics conference last week, David noted that at least one utility CEO is pretty down on decoupling: Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power ... said "I'm not a decoupler. If my revenues go down, they go down." David appropriately questioned whether AEP is really so agnostic with respect to falling revenues. But Morris does raise a larger, quite accurate point. Namely, many electric utilities aren't decouplers. Given the prominence that decoupling has come to play in many state and federal policies, it's worth taking the time to understand why. Decoupling is often framed as a way …

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Carbon pricing does not necessarily cause high energy prices

E&E Daily reports ($ub. req'd) today on efforts in the House to try and determine how to minimize the economic pain of CO2 pricing. They note: Government studies conclude that for a new U.S. climate law to work, it must stem the demand for carbon-based energy by increasing prices -- not exactly the most politically popular thing to do during an economic crisis that is being compared to the Great Depression. All the logical failing of our CO2 policy discussion is nested in this paragraph. For climate law to work, it must put a price on CO2 emissions. But there …

Read more: Politics