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Needed: Local Advocacy and Action on Climate Change

Sat ,08/07/2017

There were three great letters in the Wichita Eagle recently. The first describes how renewable energy is growing and may soon meet much of our energy needs; the second describes the advantage of using a Carbon Fee and Dividend system to reduce pollution; and the third describes how cities may use electric vehicles in their transit system to cut air pollution.  The letters are printed below with the authors’ permission.

Green energy (Wichita Eagle, June 28, 2017)

I read with interest the column by Ed Cross about energy and the need for American energy independence. I’m afraid I need some help defining his  “extreme environmental activist.” Is it a person who favors any type of energy besides fossil fuels? Is it a person who wishes to return the United States to using coal entirely to produce our electric power?

I would guess that Cross did not enjoy the latest statistics from the alternative energy sector: In the first three months of 2017 the entire United States derived 10 percent of its electric power from solar and wind energy.

If you look at the mathematical curve describing the growth of solar and wind power in the past 10 years, it is exponential. Naysayers regarding green energy have said for years it is a mere Boy Scout experiment, it will never produce significant power.

The power that was produced last year by green energy sources in the United States exceeds the total electric power consumed by the entire nation in the year 1950. The United States at that time was a highly developed industrial nation that was producing vast quantities of steel, and other high-value, energy-intensive products.

There is no question that if we stay on course with where we have begun, green energy sources will clearly surpass fossil fuels for every purpose within the next few years.

If Cross is so interested in American energy independence I am puzzled as to how he can be opposed to American green energy. By definition green energy must be produced here in our country and nowhere else.

PATRICK J PIROTTE, WICHITA

 

Coming together on an energy policy (Wichita Eagle, June 30, 2017)

The op-ed (June 25) by Edward Cross calls for energy policy discussions without the divisiveness of the past. I agree.

As a volunteer with non-partisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, we bring Republicans and Democrats together to talk about energy and climate solutions. We have identified a market-based solution called Carbon Fee and Dividend that grows the economy, levels the field for foreign trade, and puts more money in the pockets of consumers. Four of the six largest oil companies signaled their support for this type of plan just last week.

I appreciated Mr. Cross reporting an improvement we can take comfort in, that from 2005 to 2016, 60 percent of carbon reductions in electric power production were due to fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Kansas wind helped reduce CO2 as well. Switching from coal to gas cuts emissions about 50 percent, but wind or solar cuts it to zero.

Americans want a common-sense energy policy like Carbon Fee and Dividend that sparks innovation that appeals to liberals and conservatives. No yelling needed, just respectful discussions.

DARREL HART, WICHITA

 

City’s emissions ( Wichita Eagle, July 2, 2017)

It is hard to believe that Wichita has a smog problem, but it does. Wichita’s Department of Public Works should be commended for its work in reducing ozone emissions, but more needs done.

Wichita could further reduce emissions by buying electric vehicles when its buses and vans need replacing. Park City, Utah, replaced its diesel buses and found that, though they cost more to purchase, they saved money over time. They reported an equivalent 21 mpg compared with 4 mpg for a standard diesel bus.

Large power plants produce about twice as much work for a given amount of fuel as an internal combustion engine. That means that using electric vehicles cuts fuel use and emissions by about 50 percent. By using electric vehicles, Wichita could save money on fuel and maintenance, cut ozone emissions within the city, and reduce carbon emissions overall by about 75 percent. That sounds like a good investment.

J.C. MOORE, KECHI

Note : This letter was shortened for printing so a bit more explanation is needed. Because of the efficiencies involved, using electrical vehicles cuts the emissions by about 50%, even if charged from a coal-fired power plant. Since Wichita uses Westar Energy which gets 51% of its electricity from non carbon sources, the emissions are cut in half again, giving an overall reduction of 75%.  And, the emissions are at the power plant rather than within Wichita.

The authors are members of the Citizens’ Climate Education and the  Citizens’ Climate Lobby  groups in Wichita. They are both strong advocates for a carbon fee and dividend system to ensure clean air, pure water, and a healthy future for our children.

Environmental Security and Renewable Energy

Thu ,18/05/2017

Below are two letters published in the Wichita Eagle recently. They remind us that there are many reasons for taking action on climate change. They are reprinted  with the authors’ permissions.

 

Grow economy with wind energy

 As a 30-year-old living in the middle of Wichita, I am constantly thinking about job growth and how to keep my friends from moving away to states with job opportunities more in line with their needs. I am in love with this state because of its natural beauty – prairie grasses, limestone and sunsets that I can enjoy nearly every day.
The more I learn about renewable energy, the more excited I become for what it could do for our state. At a legislative roundtable in 2013 discussing the benefits of Kansas wind energy, they said that more than 13,000 jobs could be created from construction and operation of wind turbines. The American Wind Energy Association reports as of late 2016 that Kansas has 4.4 gigawatts of wind capacity.
What if we utilized our energy capabilities right here instead of purchasing coal from other states? Let’s grow our economy and start thinking of alternatives that would withstand our extreme realities of droughts and floods, employ citizens, and allow Kansas to become more energy independent.
Alisha Gridley, Wichita

Environmental security matters

Let’s talk about security – the state of being absent of danger or fear. The types of security are many: home, health, food, financial, cyber, national, etc.What may not come so readily to mind is environmental security — which is to live in an environment that provides clean air and water and a predictable and livable climate.
Inaction on climate change poses a threat to our environmental security. Climate scientists are convinced, based upon a vast body of evidence, that human-caused climate change is happening. Unabated, climate change will result in an increase of extreme weather-related disasters and coastal flooding that will consume an escalating percentage of our gross domestic product, putting our economic and national security at risk.
The U.S. House’s Bipartisan Climate Caucus recognizes this risk. This group, split evenly with Democrats and Republicans, promotes legislation that would collect a fee on fossil fuel production and distribute all the collections equally among the American citizenry as a dividend. This offers a market-based approach to deal with climate change and achieve environmental security.
RICHARD COWLISHAW, WINFIELD
 
Note: Both authors are members of the Citizens’ Climate Education and the  Citizens’ Climate Lobby  groups in Wichita. They are both strong advocates for a carbon fee and dividend system to ensure clean air, pure water, and a healthy future for our children.

Westar Energy’s Proposal to Increase Rates on Solar Customers

Tue ,16/05/2017

Westar Energy is proposing a rate increase for customers who install solar panels or other distributive energy sources. Those Net Energy Metering (NEM) customers would have to choose between an additional $50 a month energy charge, or a $15 fixed fee plus a per-kilowatt rate demand charge based on the previous month’s maximum usage. If approved, Westar’s rate proposal will increase the payback time for installing solar panels from 12 years to more than 20 years, greatly discouraging solar installations.

As a Westar stockholder, I am opposed to additional fees or higher charges on Net Energy Metering customers. The NEM customers should be seen as a resource rather than a liability and should be encouraged. They should be treated just as any other customer when they draw energy from the grid, and just as any other supplier for the net energy they produce. Does it really matter if Westar buys energy from NEM customers or from the Southwest power pool?

Westar’s website  says it will “support public policies and initiatives to accelerate the development and use of environmentally beneficial and cost effective strategies for energy efficiency programs for both customers and Westar’s own operations, zero – or low – emissions generation technologies, and renewable energy resources.”  That is a good policy, but this proposal is inconsistent with it.

One of the biggest future costs to Westar would be to build additional power plants, so Westar encourages energy conservation.  If I cut my electricity usage by 50% by installing more insulation and storm windows, I am applauded for following Westar’s conservation guidelines. If I cut my electricity usage by 50% by installing solar panels, I would be charged a higher electric rate. That is irrational, as NEM customers would help reduce the need for new power plants just as energy conservation does.

Westar should not be concerned about losing revenue from solar customers. Residential customers pay a customer fee, an electricity fee, a fuel charge, a distribution fee, an environmental fee, an energy efficiency charge, and even Westar’s property taxes. Last June, our bill was $24.95 for electricity, but our total bill came out to be $53.27 after the fees were added. NEM customers will pay less for energy charges, but will still pay the other fees. If Westar makes it too expensive, then potential NEM customers may install extra battery  capacity such as a Powerwall, and withdraw from the grid entirely.

Distributive generation should be seen as a resource. Westar has been proactive in developing wind and solar energy and now gets 51% of its energy from noncarbon sources. In the future, Westar will need to replace some of its coal power plants and may need to reduce its use of natural gas to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. Distributed generation would help replace the energy they produce without requiring capital investment from Westar.

NEM customers will help reduce pollution and environmental degradation. Westar has three coal-fired power plants which operate without scrubbers. Those plants should be phased out immediately and Westar should begin phasing out its other coal-fired power plants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Though natural gas is cheap now, that may not be true in the future. There is a link between fracking and earthquakes, and fracking activities are being curtailed. This will lead to higher gas prices. Though natural gas produces 2 ½ times as much energy per mole of carbon dioxide produced, it has a global warming potential 82 times that of carbon dioxide. If even 4% of the natural gas used for energy is leaked during production and transportation, then any advantage of using it for fuel will be lost

Coal-fired power plants release mercury, chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide,  particulates, and radioactive isotopes. Burning  coal releases millions of tons of pollutants into the air and leaves several hundred million tons behind in the coal ash. Some pollutants stay in the air and others eventually find their way into the water, the food chain, and into us. The heavy metals are carcinogenic and accumulate in tissue. Even exposure below the allowed levels increases the chance of cancer over time. The sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide released by coal combustion harm plants, produce acid rain, and increase the greenhouse gas concentrations. Switching to renewable energy would greatly reduce these pollutants and help preserve the environment for future generations.

Encouraging NEM will benefit Westar and its customers.  A study by Crossborder Energy in 2014 found NEM allows utilities to avoid costs of generation and fuel, maintenance and upgrade of transmission and distribution infrastructure, transmission losses (which account for 7% of losses), capacity purchases, and compliance with renewable energy standards. The study concluded,” The cost which utilities avoid when they accept NEM power exported to their grid shows that NEM does not produce a cost to nonparticipating ratepayers; instead it creates a small net benefit on average across the residential markets.” While it does cause power companies to have to adjust their loads accordingly, NEM reduces peak loads, transmission losses, and the need for new power plants.  In California, the study found NEM “delivers more than $92 million in annual benefits to non-solar customers”.

Similar research studies in Vermont, New York, California, Texas, and Nevada also concluded that net metering provided a net positive benefit for utility companies and their customers. A 2015 study done in Missouri is relevant to Kansas. A cost-benefit study of net metering in Missouri arrived at the same conclusion as the other studies, “ Net metering provides a net benefit. “ Missouri has 6000 net metering customers while Westar now has approximately 300. Westar certainly should encourage more.

This proposal to impose a fee or higher rates on NEM customers is the result of short-term thinking. It will harm Westar and its stakeholders in the long run. Investing in clean energy protects the environment, reduces deaths and disease from air pollution, and creates good, local jobs. Westar  must develop policies to encourage the development of renewable energy investments and energy conservation. Our energy needs will best be served by a mixture of traditional and alternate energy sources, but we must be proactive in developing our renewable energy resources as quickly as possible.

 

(c) 2017 – J.C Moore

We Should Not Weaken the EPA

Sat ,06/05/2017

 

Opponents of the EPA are now seeking comments on regulations that need to be eliminated by the EPA. They are, of course, focusing on the regulations that save businesses money by allowing them to pollute the environment. Please submit a comment at the link above asking that  no steps be taken to weaken the EPA.

It is our birthright that we and future Americans have clean air, pure water, and a livable Earth. The EPA has done a great job in limiting pollution to our environment and to remove the regulations that protect us would be a grave mistake.
Though many would like to see the EPA stop limiting carbon emissions, there is well-documented scientific evidence, supported by 97+ percent of climate scientists who are members of the American Geophysical Union, that carbon emissions are making undesirable changes in the Earth and its eco systems. The U.S. is second only to China in emissions but emits six times as much CO2 on a per capita basis. If the U.S. is not willing to reduce its emissions, why should other countries?

If anything, the EPA should strengthen the Clean Power Plan and reduce the amount of coal burned. Coal contains small amounts of mercury, chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfur, particulates, and radioactive isotopes. Man burns 6 billion tons of coal each year, releasing millions of tons of pollutants into the air and leaving several hundred million tons behind in the coal ash. Some pollutants eventually find their way into the water, the food chain, and into us. For comparison, mercury is 100 times as toxic as cyanide, arsenic is 20 times as toxic, and chromium(VI) is 4 times as toxic. These three are also are carcinogenic and accumulate in tissue. Even exposure below the allowed levels increases the chance of cancer over time. The sulfur and nitrogen oxides released by coal combustion harm plants and produce acid rain.

Polls show that the public does not support weakening the Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s plan may lead to increased electricity costs in the short term, but will lead to lower electric rates in the future. Coal and transportation prices are certain to increase in the future while the cost of renewable energy is falling. It costs upfront to build wind turbines and solar installations but, once they are in place, they are expected to function for 30 years or longer without any need for fuel.The EPA projects the Clean Power Plan’s proposed guidelines for particulates alone could prevent up to 3,600 deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days per year. As a result, for every dollar Americans spend on the Clean Power Plan, we will gain up to $4 worth of health benefits. So in terms of future energy costs, environmental benefits, and health benefits, the EPA Clean Power Plan is good policy for our citizens.

You may submit a comment up until May 15 at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190-0042.

(C)  2017 J.C. Moore

Wichita: Doubling Down on Air Pollution

Sun ,05/03/2017

The Malheur Refuge and Standing Rock: A Tale of Two Standoffs

Wed ,07/12/2016

In 2016, two protests were held over the use of public land. It would seem reasonable that the law enforcement authorities would respond the same to each situation, but that was not the case.

The Malheur Refuge Standoff: In January, armed militants seized the headquarters of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in Oregon to protest the conviction of Dwight and Steven Hammond for arson on federal BLM land. The charges were brought because the fires had endangered the lives of firefighters.  Ammon Bundy, the son of the anti-government protester Cliven D. Bundy,  led the protest. The militants declared the federal government had no authority to manage the federal lands and demanded that the federal government cede ownership of BLM federal lands and the refuge to the state.

The group was heavily armed and expressed a willingness to engage in armed conflict to keep from being removed from the refuge The authorities did not try to  forcibly remove the protesters from the refuge. The standoff ended when cold weather and a lack of provisions caused the leaders of the militia to abandon the headquarters. They were stopped on US Route 395 by federal authorities and arrested.  Bundy was slightly wounded during the arrest  and  Robert “LaVoy” Finicum,  who had declared he would not be taken alive, was shot and killed by law enforcement officers while drawing his gun. Eventually 26 protesters were arrested and charged with felony conspiracy, but they were not convicted by a jury of their peers.

The Dakota Access Pipeline Standoff: The production of oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota has increased dramatically in the last few years. To move the oil to market, the Dakota Access pipeline was proposed to carry 500,000 barrels of tarsands-like crude oil per day through North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois. The pipeline was originally scheduled to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, but Bismarck residents were concerned that pipeline leaks would contaminate the city’s water supply. The Dakota Access Partners claimed that the pipeline would not leak, but that was not a credible claim. There have been several dozen leaks in pipelines in 2016 alone, with two recent ones in northern North Dakota  and near Bismarck.

To placate the Bismarck residents, the pipeline was rerouted South where it would pass under Lake Oahe, just one half mile above the Standing Rock Sioux tribal land. (See map.)0siouxThe Sioux were concerned that leaks  would contaminate their water supply, that the construction would disturb their cultural sites, and and that the Bismarck resident’s concerns were given greater weight than theirs.  The approval of the second route had been fast tracked by the US Corps of Engineers without a proper environmental or archaeological study, and without consultation with the Sioux nation. By law, any federal agency overseeing a construction project has to consult with native nations or tribes if there are places with “religious and cultural significance” nearby.

The Sioux also had a claim to the land under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, and they sued in federal court to block the construction of the pipeline. They asked for an injunction to halt the construction until the case was settled, but the injunction was denied and construction of the pipeline continued. In October, the Standing Rock Sioux organized a protest just north of the reservation to block the bulldozers from clearing a path for the pipeline. When the protesters were set upon by dogs used by the private security for the pipeline, the the protest made national news. Protesters from across the country began arriving to support the Sioux until as many as 3000 protesters were camped in the area. The authorities called in help from other agencies and about 100 officers and private security officers arrived to police the protesters.

On November 20, in subfreezing temperatures, some of the protesters tried to clear the road of debris so medical assistance and supplies could reach their encampment. An altercation ensued with the security forces, who unleashed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades in a military-style assault on the unarmed protesters. According to sources at the scene, a dozen protesters were critically wounded or sustained head injuries and were rushed to the hospital, while 168 were treated for hypothermia and pepper spray exposure on-site. One woman may lose her arm after it was injured by a concussion grenade. The UN has denounced the governor of North Dakota, the Morton County sheriff, and the Dakota Access mercenaries for rights violations and inhumane treatment over the incident.

The Corps issued notice that on December 5th they would close public access to the Standing Rock encampment, and threatened “prosecution under federal, state, or local laws” of those who remained, declaring that the decision “is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials.” There were no public citizens in the area except the protesters, and the threat of violence came mostly from a heavily militarized law enforcement response, which had called in help from over 76 different law enforcement agencies. In response, over 2000 veterans pledged to protect the Sioux from law enforcement actions and they began arriving at Standing Rock.

 On December 4, the Corps decided they would not issue the final permit for construction of the pipeline. Perhaps they were concerned about the legality of the permitting process, but more likely they were persuaded by the public outcry and the possibility of provoking an altercation involving an attack on veterans. The construction is halted for the time being, but the corporations involved have declared that the pipeline will be built. Further altercations are likely.

Questions: There is a sharp contrast in the way the two protests were handled. The main questions center around the timing: “Do armed protesters have a right to seize and hold public property until they decide to relinquish it? “, and,  “Does the state have a right to use physical violence on unarmed people protecting their land and water, to expedite a billion-dollar corporate project?”

 

(c) 2016 J.C. Moore

Carbon Fee and Dividend: Legislative Action Needed

Mon ,10/10/2016

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was certainly right when he told a group of energy executives that cheap energy was necessary for our economy to be competitive and that legislation is needed to keep energy costs low (Wichita Eagle, Oct. 1 Business).

Fossil fuels provide cheap energy because they do not pay their external costs, which include cost to people’s health, the environment, and to the economy. Renewable energy is becoming less expensive and does not have the external costs that fossil fuels do.windmill4

The best solution is legislation that would favor a shift to renewable energy.

The effect of rising energy costs on the economy could be offset by a carbon fee and dividend system, in which a fee would be added to fossil fuels at the source to cover their external costs. All the money collected would be distributed equally to every household as an energy dividend. Those who switch to renewable energy or who save energy would have more to spend, which would stimulate the economy.

We should all hope that the legislation that Senator Moran is considering would be a carbon fee and dividend system, as it uses market principles to reduce air and water pollution while protecting the economy from rising energy costs.

 

(c) 2016  – J.C. Moore

We Must Switch to Renewable Energy

Mon ,25/07/2016

We must switch to renewable energy for health reasons, economic reasons, and environmental Temp pathsreasons.

Health reasons: The American Lung Association estimates that there are 26,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma caused by small particulates, much of it emitted from coal-fired power plants and from coal ash disposal. They estimate the economic benefits of reduced exposure to particulates alone could reach as much as $281 billion annually. Recently, fine particles have been implicated as a cause of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and new research has revealed a troubling link between mental illness and air pollution that seems to particularly effect children.

Economic reasons: Besides reducing health care costs, a switch to renewable energy will help keep our future electric rates low. Wind and solar are falling in cost and are now competitive with energy from coal-fired power plants. Recently AEP/PSO in Oklahoma purchased 800 MW of wind energy saying the cost was now less than building new coal fired plants, and that the purchase will save an estimated $53 million in the first year and even more thereafter. Kansas currently has 27,000 jobs in the clean energy sector. Of those jobs 75% are in wind energy, and are growing at a rate of 2.3% per year.  By the end of 2016, 32% of Westar’s retail electricity will come from the wind.

Environmental reasons: Coal is 65 to 95 % carbon. What about the rest? Burning coal releases mercury, chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide,  particulates, and radioactive isotopes. Burning  coal releases millions of tons of pollutants into the air and leaves several hundred million tons behind in the coal ash. Some pollutants stay in the air and others eventually find their way into the water, the food chain, and into us. For comparison, mercury is 100 times as toxic as cyanide, arsenic is 20 times as toxic, and chromium(VI) is 4 times as toxic. These three are also are carcinogenic and accumulate in tissue. Even exposure below the allowed levels increases the chance of cancer over time. The sulfur, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide released by coal combustion harm plants, produce acid rain, and increase the greenhouse gas concentrations. Switching to renewable energy would greatly reduce these  pollutants and help preserve the environment for future generations.

Summary: Investing in clean energy protects the environment, reduces death and disease from air pollution, and creates good, local jobs. We must develop policies to encourage the development of renewable energy investments and energy conservation. Our energy needs will best be served by a mixture of traditional and alternate energy sources, and we must be proactive in developing our renewable energy resources.

(c) 2016 J.C. Moore

Fossil Fuel Subsidies: The True Cost of Energy

Tue ,03/05/2016

The Wichita Eagle recently published an interesting  letter from Darrel Hart, president of the Wichita chapter the Citizens Climate Lobby. He pointed out that the House energy and water development bill , as it stands, provides subsidies of $95 million for wind, $632 million for fossil fuel and $1 billion for nuclear.

The letter goes on, “Clearly when it comes to winning subsidies, wind falls short. Legislators favoring carbon-based fuel spin the idea that if wind were economical, it could compete without government help. Well, what does that say about fossil fuel? It has been receiving billions in subsidies for decades.

Lopsided subsidies and favored treatment reveal the intent to pick winners and losers. A better solution is carbon fee and dividend legislation that cuts greenhouse gas emissions and corrects the artificially low price of fossil fuel created by tax dollars rigging the system against clean energy. Let markets reveal the true price of energy, and it will be the consumer who chooses the winner.”

Mr. Hart certainly has a good point, as carbon fuels are not paying their true cost.  windmill4Besides the $632 million subsidies to fossil fuels, we are also providing an even greater subsidy by allowing them to release their waste products into the air without paying the external costs, i.e., the costs indirectly borne by society.

The external costs for fossil fuels include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including external costs would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by 30% for natural gas to 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included.

The carbon fee and dividend system Mr. Hart is recommending would put a fee on carbon at the source, which would require the fossil fuels to include their external costs.This would allow renewable energy sources to compete with fossil fuels on an even basis, and would greatly favor a switch to renewable energy.

(c) 2016 J.C. Moore

Carbon Fee and Dividend: How Much Fuel Makes a Ton of Carbon Dioxide?

Mon ,11/01/2016

In Paris, 196 countries agreed to develop plans to reduce their carbon emissions in such a way as to keep global warming below 1.5°C.  Although each country will develop its own plan,  the best plan for the US, and many other countries, would be a carbon fee and dividend system such as that developed by the  Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), which has broad bipartisan support.  CCL’s proposal would place a fee on carbon at the source, and market forces would then encourage reduced emissions, energy conservation and investments in renewable energy.  The fee collected is not a tax as it would be distributed equally to every household as a monthly energy dividend.

CO2 equivalent emissions: CCL’s legislative proposal would set an initial fee on carbon at $15 per ton of CO2 emission or CO2 equivalent emissions with the fee increasing by $10 each year until the US emissions drop to 1990 levels. The main contributors to CO2 are combustion of coal, natural gas, and gasoline, with minor equivalent emissions coming from other industrial chemicals.  A little chemistry allows us to calculate the tons of CO2 that a ton of each fuel produces.

Coal: It is hard to calculate coal’s contribution exactly as it has from 65% to 95% carbon and the rest is impurities. Those include mercury, cadmium, lead, manganese, selenium, sulfur, nitrogen, and some radioactive elements. Much of the environmental damage and many cases of lung disease can be traced to the impurities and to the mining of coal. For calculation purposes we will assume that coal is all carbon as graphite, but keep in mind that each source of coal is different.

The chemically equation for the reaction of carbon with oxygen is:

co22

 

 

 

 

Carbon       +     Oxygen    =>        Carbon Dioxide

The mass of each atom or molecule in atomic mass units (MU) is written on the atom. The equation says that 12 mass units of carbon react with 32 mass units of oxygen to produce 44 mass units of carbon dioxide. The equation is like a recipe and once you establish the basic relationship, it can be scaled up to tons quite easily, i.e. :

C            +          O2               =>                 CO2

12 MU Carbon + 32 MU Oxygen  =>   44 MU Carbon Dioxide    – or –

12 Tons Carbon + 32 Tons Oxygen    =>  44 Tons Carbon Dioxide

Thus, each ton of carbon produces 3.6 tons of carbon dioxide.

Natural gas: Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, CH4 , with small impurities of other hydrocarbon gases. Following the method above:

Rx

 

 

 

 

 

CH4            +         2O2                =>                 CO2                  +          2H2O

16 MU Methane + 64 MU Oxygen   =>  44 MU Carbon Dioxide  +36 MU of Water

16 Tons Methane + 64 Tons Oxygen    =>   44 tons Carbon Dioxide  +36 tons of Water

Each ton of methane produces 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide.

Gasoline: Gasoline is composed of many volatile liquid compounds, but it can best be represented as octane, which has eight carbon atoms and 18 hydrogen atoms, C8H18. (The model for Octane is large so here we will just work from the equation. )

C8H18     +         25/2 O2   =>        8CO2        +         9 H2O

114 AMU  Octane +   Oxygen  =>  352 AMU  Carbon Dioxide  +   Water

114 Tons Octane +   Oxygen  =>  44 tons Carbon Dioxide  +  Water

Each ton of octane produces 3.1 tons of carbon dioxide.

Note: This means that the initial carbon fee on fossil fuels would be around $40-$50 per ton of fuel. This would pay part of the external costs of using the fuel as well as encourage conservation and a shift to renewable energy. One gallon of gasoline is about 7 pounds and it produces about 21 pounds of CO2. That means that 95 gallons of gasoline will produce 1 ton of carbon dioxide. The $15 per ton carbon fee would increase the cost of 95 gallons of gas from about $200 to about $215, or about 7%.

Heat of Combustion: Each fuel releases a different amount of energy when burned, measured in kilojoules  of energy per  mole of fuel burned. Those are listed below along with another important quantity, the amount of heat released per mole of carbon dioxide released.

Fuel

 

 

 

 

Note that Methane releases more than twice as much energy as coal for each mole of carbon dioxide produced. This was the impetus to convert coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired plants. That would help in the short term as natural gas has fewer impurities and produces more energy per mole of CO2 released.  However, there is another factor to be considered which is the Global Warming Potential of each greenhouse gas.

Global Warming Potential (GWP):   The amount that each greenhouse gas contributes to global warming depends upon its concentration in the atmosphere, it’s effectiveness at trapping heat, and its lifetime in the atmosphere. The focus is on carbon dioxide as it is the greenhouse gas whose concentration has increased the most by burning fossil fuels. Methane is very efficient at trapping heat and has a GWP 28 times that of CO2. Though methane’s concentration is low, it has more than doubled since pre-industrial times. There are other greenhouse gases which are more effective at trapping heat and have longer lifetimes, such as N2O, but their contributions are small because they have such low concentrations. Below is a table comparing those. Source.

co2 table

 

 

 

 

Although converting coal-fired power plants to natural gas might be advantageous in the short term, we should be concerned about methane’s volatile prices, the link between fracking and earthquakes, and its GWP. Large amounts of methane are lost from fracking operations, leaking gas wells, and pipeline leaks.  If even 4% of the methane produced is lost to leaks, then any advantage of converting to methane will be lost.  The EPA has taken steps to reduce methane loss to the air, but is a very difficult thing to measure. One study found that infrastructure leaks in the Boston area accounted for about 2.6% of the methane transmitted. And methane, when burned, still ends up as CO2 in the atmosphere. You can see from the table that the amount of methane in the air is growing, and rather than count on it for the future, we should focus on converting to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible.

(C) 2016  –  J.C. Moore

Note: Here is a model of octane for the curious:

octane