Working Toward “Zero Carbon” Challenges Planners & Industry

by Duane Nichols on February 3, 2019

Can we get to “Zero Carbon”.....???

StateImpact reporters discuss what ‘zero carbon’ might mean

From Kara Holsopple, The Allegheny Front, January 23, 2019

An energy future with zero carbon emissions seems like a reasonable goal in light of the recent dire climate warnings. But is it even a feasible goal for Pennsylvania or anywhere else? And what would it take to get to zero carbon emissions? These are the questions being posed at an upcoming free public event hosted by StateImpact Pennsylvania, The Allegheny Front and 90.5 WESA.

The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple talked with StateImpact reporters Amy Sisk and Reid Frazier, who will moderate the upcoming panel discussion. Their conversation has been lightly edited.

Kara Holsopple: Is zero carbon even a feasible goal?

Amy Sisk: You know I don’t really know the answer to that question, Kara. I think that we’re nowhere close to that right now at this moment. There’s an awful lot of advances in technology that need to take place and probably some changes to policy to try to drive that technology and the adoption of more renewable energy, for example. That’s what we’ll be exploring at this event.

Reid Frazier: We’re having the event to explore these questions. They’re not really answerable questions. We’re definitely going to see people trying to get closer and closer to use the technical term “decarbonize” the economy, to take carbon emissions out of the systems that power our economy.

KH: Does zero carbon mean 100 percent renewables like wind and solar? And what are some of the issues that you’ll be looking at around the challenges to powering a grid that’s mostly comprised of renewable energy.

RF: Some things that we’ll be exploring are storage of energy, because solar and wind are intermittent – when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, no electricity is produced from those sources.

One of the big efforts right now going on in this sector is trying to find ways to store that electricity, maybe in a giant battery somewhere or by pumping water up a hill into a reservoir and then having it come down in the form of hydro-electric.

That’s one of the areas that we’ll be looking at but also improving the grid. That’s one of the major sort of pieces of infrastructure that have to be changed for us to really incorporate more renewable energy into our system.

AS: Nuclear energy has to be a part of this discussion. The nuclear industry right now is struggling to compete with renewable energy and cheap natural gas. But it’s a source of electricity that does not emit any carbon dioxide.

Another part of the discussion too has to be about carbon capture and storage. So you can have coal and natural gas-fired power plants that currently emit carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. But there are a lot of researchers working on ways to try to capture that carbon dioxide and then potentially store that underground. So is that technology feasible? I think it’s worth exploring.

KH: So we’re talking about the future or are we talking about 10 years 20 years 100 years?

RF: Yes. In Governor Wolf’s climate plan that he just announced, there is a chart that shows where all the carbon reductions are going to come in the future to get to that 80 percent reduction level by the year 2050. And just about half of the reductions in the year 2050 – they have no idea really where those reductions are going to come from.

We’re going to have to find some other reductions somewhere else even if we install solar panels, build more wind turbines, and do a lot of energy efficiency projects. So it’s an evolving timeline. Obviously we just had a U.N. climate report say that we have roughly 12 years to get our act together before really bad stuff starts happening with the climate. So probably soon now and in the future.

KH: So who are you going to be talking with on the panel to sort through these issues and what kind of perspectives will they be able to offer?

AS: We’re talking with experts who are currently based here in western Pennsylvania. But each has a different background and experience with these energy issues. Some have worked more locally looking at the local grid here in Pennsylvania and in the Pittsburgh area and working with utilities. Others have done consulting with other nations and looking at their energy and grid issues.

KH: What are some of the questions that you have as reporters who cover this issue that you’re hoping to get a better handle on from this discussion?

RF: I’m really curious about their thoughts about this new concept of a Green New Deal, which a lot of people have been talking about. It’s such a fascinating discussion. Whenever you talk about environmental policy or energy policy, it’s really about the economy, about how we do things in life. So, the Green New Deal is really opening up to me this really fascinating discussion about how is our economy based. We have basically a carbon-based economy. How do we change all of that?

KH: And who benefits from it and social issues around it.

RF: Correct. That’s key. We saw in France when they tried to raise the fuel prices, they had the yellow vest protests and that could certainly happen in America.

AS: I’m curious to hear about solutions and the types of technology that are being developed right now, and maybe that are even being rolled out in parts of our country or even other parts of the world. And do those represent opportunities for other places to adopt?

KH: And the panel is to take place at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood. Tell me a little bit about the venue and why it’s a good place to talk about a zero carbon future.

AS: First, let me talk a little bit about the history of it. Back in 1930, this facility opened as the Connelley Trade School and it offered education to Pittsburghers and people in the area – plumbing and carpentry and things like that.

The facility closed down in 2004, but it was reopened just a couple of years ago. Now, it houses a number of tenants both businesses and research labs and a lot of them have an energy and environment focus. This building is LEED Platinum Certified and so there’s a lot of interesting energy efficiencies within that building. People who come to this event will actually be able to take a tour led by staff at that building to see all of us.

KH: Well, thanks you guys for discussing “Zero Carbon” prior to the event at the Energy Innovation Center, 1435 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA.


“The future of energy: Can we get to zero carbon?” was held January 29th at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh. Panelists were:

>>> Paulina Jaramillo, associate professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and co-director of the Green Design Institute;
>>> Ivonne Peña, an energy analyst who has worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. and the Colombia’s Energy and Gas Regulatory Commission; and
>>> Greg Reed, a professor of electric power engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and director of Pitt’s Center for Energy and the Energy GRID Institute.

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Gov. Northam March 15, 2019 at 10:27 am

Northam vetoes two bills he says would restrict his options on climate change | General-assembly |

From Mel Leonor, Richmond Times Dispatch, March 14, 2019

Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday vetoed two measures that he said would hamstring the state’s plans for curbing carbon emissions from power plants and vehicles.

The proposals, both introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would have barred the state from entering two regional programs aimed at reducing carbon dioxide air pollution.

State environmental officials have already kick-started the process to join the regional programs. New state regulation to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and some industrial facilities that burn fossil fuels is in its final stages.

Once finalized, the rule would enable Virginia to participate in a new emissions trading system with nine nearby states called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, where energy producers can trade emission reductions for cashable credits.

House Bill 2611 would have barred Virginia from entering the regional program without approval by a supermajority of two-thirds of the General Assembly.

Northam said in a statement that climate change, extreme weather and sea level rise are threats to public safety, the economy and the environment. “To address these challenges and protect the people of Virginia, the commonwealth must be able to use all available tools to combat climate change.”

As with similar measures related to climate change, the proposals proved divisive in the General Assembly, nixing the potential for an override of Northam’s veto. Both bills passed along party lines in the legislature, where Republicans hold power by just a handful of seats. Legislators would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override a veto.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised,” Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, said in a statement about Northam’s vetoes. “He is apparently as beholden to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ‘green new deal’ as the rest of the Democratic Party,” Slaybaugh said, referring to the congresswoman from New York.

Dominion Energy has also opposed the RGGI regulation, telling state environmental officials last week that the initial cap of 28 million tons per year is too high. “We remain concerned that the commonwealth’s linkage to the RGGI program through the Virginia carbon proposal with its now significantly lower proposed starting emissions cap would disadvantage Virginia generation … and result in an undue burden on its customer,” the company’s statement reads.

Dominion has also said that should the rule go into effect, it would be forced to halt coal-burning at its Chesterfield Power Station.

Environmental groups celebrated Northam’s veto on the bill related to that regulation. “It just seemed silly that after a year, thousands of public comments, that Republicans would think it’s a good idea to message this as the governor having too much power,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Nate Benforado, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said: “This is a smart veto and keeps Virginia on the forefront of combating climate change — which is critical in the absence of any federal leadership on the issue.”

House Bill 2269, which Northam also vetoed, would have barred the state from curbing carbon emissions from vehicles through a regional program similar to RGGI.

“Like other air pollutants, the emissions that cause climate change do not respect state lines, district lines, or other political boundaries,” Northam said in a written statement. “In the absence of a federal plan, Virginia is obligated to join other states and face this threat to our collective public safety and economic health.”

Virginia moved to enter that program, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative, in September 2018. A policy proposal on exactly how the state would seek to limit carbon emissions from vehicles is expected in late 2019.


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