Sean Casten

Sean Casten is president & CEO of Recycled Energy Development, LLC, a company devoted to profitably reducing greenhouse emissions.

So how much would a $20/ton carbon price really cost?

First I said that we shouldn’t confuse wealth transfers with economic pain. Then I said that a $20/ton carbon price works out to a 1.4 cent/kWh rate increase. Astute readers may have noticed a disconnect. (Isn’t 1.4 cents/kWh economic pain?) Which brings me to the third and final part of this little series. Carbon prices v. use of carbon proceeds Let’s review the electric sector math. In 2006, the sector was responsible for some 2,784,805,000 tons of fossil fuel-derived CO2 emissions. If we had a carbon policy in place at that time charging $20/ton of emissions, electricity generators would have …

Do the math

Economic impacts of carbon pricing

Yesterday, I explained why we shouldn’t confuse wealth transfers with taxes. Today, I fulfill my promise to follow up with math. (Contain your excitement!) On the theory that you should (a) stick with what you know and (b) avoid speculating on shoddy data, I’m limiting this math to the electric sector, but the conclusions are generalizable. How much does carbon pricing cost us on our electric bills? The surprising answer? Not much. In 2006, there was a total of 4,058,285,000 MWh of power generated in the US. 49% came from coal, 20% from natural gas, 19% from nuclear, 7% from …

Moving money from A to B does not cause it to disappear

Cap & trade: Carbon tax or wealth transfer?

It’s an article of faith that cap-and-trade will raise our energy costs, but it’s not necessarily true. The ubiquity of this faith makes clear that the Smart People who write, talk, and vote about CO2 policy don’t really understand the issues. A quick discussion, and then some math to clarify. There are two core problems with the theory that carbon pricing schemes will raise energy costs: We habitually confuse sector-specific wealth transfers with economy-wide pain; the two are not necessarily the same. Rather than admit our failure to imagine how the world would adapt to carbon pricing, we tend to …

Lowered expectations

Coal + CCS: not as expensive as other things!

If I told you that my cross-over dribble was better than Stephen Hawking’s, would you build an NBA franchise around me? If I told you I was better looking than Ernest Borgnine, would you pick me as the leading man for your movie? If I told you that my lifestyle makes Iggy Pop look like a heroin junkie, would you let me babysit your kids? Peabody Coal is hoping that all those arguments play in their new ad, trying to make the case that the public should support coal with CCS: Clean Green Coal (PDF), touted as “less expensive than …

Dream harder

Massive economic and policy reform: Easier than you think

It seems to me that we suffer from a failure of imagination. We dream of a low-carbon world, but can’t quite fathom how to get around the massive lobbying clout (and inertia) of the coal lobby. We dream of a world with no more utility obstacles to energy efficiency, but can’t imagine how to undo laws in fifty states (plus the feds) to undo utility disincentives. And we dream of a renewable future, but find it implausible that the tiny amount of solar currently on the grid can be scaled up to a level that matters in any reasonable time …

Bring out your nerds

CHP primer: Fun with thermodynamics

Those of us who believe (as I do) that there are massive opportunities to reduce US energy costs while simultaneously lowering our greenhouse gas footprint spend a lot of time getting into arguments with bad economists.  These folks remember just enough of freshman theory (supply, demand, price, blah blah blah) to assert confidently that if profitable opportunities existed of any consequence, they already would have been snatched up by our efficient markets.  Therefore, any change from our perfectly-balanced status quo must be economically detrimental.  If you believe this, there may be a job for you at the Cato Institute. There …

Chill, con Carnot

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 …

The psychedelic FERS

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 …

Patches for our patches

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, …