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California’s CO2 Opportunity

September 26, 2010

This past Friday, I wrote about the threat originating in Congress concerning proposed Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

Now, proposition 23 in California provides voters with an opportunity to deal a blow to government backed CO2 regulations.

California has seen itself as a bellwether for all types of causes, not the least of which has been to establish legislation to cut CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

California Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), the Global Warming Act of 2006, requires that CO2 emissions in California be cut 25% to 1990 levels by 2020.

Proposition 23 would suspend AB 32 until unemployment in the state drops to 5.5% or below, for four consecutive quarters.

At issue is the effect that AB32 could have on the California economy – and jobs.

California has a unique problem in that only 1% of its CO2 emissions come from coal fired power plants located in California. Within California, a majority of its electricity is generated using natural gas, which people tend to call a clean fuel, and which provides only a very small opportunity for cutting CO2 emissions.

California imports around twenty percent of its electricity from other states, and much of that is generated using coal.

So how will California cut its CO2 emissions by around 25 percent, to 1990 levels?

Shutting down all coal fired power plants in California would only reduce CO2 emissions by about 1%. Some of those power plants are supplying electricity to industrial plants, so that could cause a loss of jobs.

Shutting down all the cement plants in California would reduce emissions by about 2%, but, of course, that would cost jobs. Mexico has a vibrant cement industry, so cement could be made in Mexico rather than in California.

Around 7% of industrial emissions are from refineries, so shutting down the refineries could make a dent in cutting CO2 emissions, but that will definitely cause a loss of jobs.

Industry, other than refineries, accounts for about 11% of California’s emissions, but cutting those emissions is a direct threat to jobs.

Automobile emissions account for around 40% of all CO2 emissions, so automobiles represent the only large opportunity to dramatically cut CO2 emissions.

I suppose, if half of Californians drove a Leaf, or any car that ran exclusively on batteries (EVs), California could meet AB 32’s requirements, assuming all the electricity for recharging batteries came from solar, wind or nuclear.

According to a report prepared for the California Energy Commission (CEC), California is going to need a large increase in its supply of electricity. The report estimated that 60,000 MW of new generating capacity would have to be built by 2030, not including additions needed for recharging batteries for a massive number of new EVs.

But, California doesn’t want to use coal and is also trying to force neighboring states to stop generating electricity from coal.

A California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff report on AB 32, estimated that 60% of CO2 emissions from generating electricity are the result of importing electricity from other states.

California could refuse to buy electricity from other states if it’s generated from coal, but that would essentially shut down the state.

Someone will say, “Why not solar?”

Let’s look at that question. Right now there are proposals for 4,300 MW of concentrating solar power plants being reviewed by the California Energy Commission which might be built by 2014 – a fraction of the 60,000 MW needed. But concentrating solar requires large areas that often impinge on the habitat of endangered species. They also require building controversial transmission lines to bring the power from remote desert areas.

It’s not likely that concentrating solar can solve California’s electricity problem.

The easiest way to understand why it’s unrealistic to cut some CO2 emissions from every category and achieve a 25% overall reduction in CO2 emissions is to read the staff report mentioned above. It lists CO2 emissions from categories including Manure Management, Enteric Fermentation, Hotels, Household Use, Education, Rice Cultivation etc., as well as the large emitters, such as Electricity Generation, Transportation, Refineries, etc., from where the bulk of the cuts must come.

The staff report is available at:

It’s clear from the facts recited above, that AB 32 will cause a loss of jobs and hurt the California economy.

California is a microcosm of what would happen to the United States if laws similar to AB 32 were passed for the entire country.

Californians have an opportunity to save jobs with proposition 23, which could send a welcome signal to the other 49 states.

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