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Washington's 2013 Climate Report Card

So you think you're sustainable, Washington? Just wait until parent-teacher conferences.
Traffic on Seattle's 520 Bridge between I-5 and Montlake Blvd.

Traffic on Seattle's 520 Bridge between I-5 and Montlake Blvd. Flickr: viriyincy

Keystone Pipeline pumping station in rural Nebraska

Keystone Pipeline pumping station in rural Nebraska Flickr: shannonpatrick17

Sound Transit's Link Light Rail

Sound Transit's Link Light Rail Wikipedia

Wind turbines in Washington's Columbia Valley

Wind turbines in Washington's Columbia Valley Flickr: schmeeve

Kicking the state’s carbon habit may seem as likely as visiting a distant galaxy for the weekend if your vantage point is I-5, coal trains rolling through town, or ships transiting coastal waters laden with tar sands oil. But duck into a commercial building powered by renewables or wind farms like Wild Horse and Kittatas in Eastern Washington, and you’ll realize a clean energy future is already on its way.   

In the aftermath of another UN Climate Summit and Typhoon Haiyan’s climate savagery, it seemed time to assess the state’s own carbon output in three key areas: energy, transportation and fossil fuel exports.

Energy: B+

Energy, hands down, gets the highest marks, particularly when it comes to grid power for buildings and housing. The most significant carbon slayer here is energy efficiency: insulation, retrofits and thermal wraps of windows, doors and roofs. It may not sound sexy, but it’s a conservation measure that’s been gaining ground for thirty years.

The Northwest (WA, OR, ID and MT West of the Rockies) has saved enough energy through efficiency measures to power nearly five cities the size of Seattle, according to KC Golden, a policy analyst with Climate Solutions. Energy is best understood in megawatts rather than time, he says, and an estimated 5,000 average megawatts have been saved over the course of a year. (A megawatt hour is a million watts for one hour). Seattle likely uses 1100 megawatts a year. Efficiency measures also count as savings. A building might last a century. A window maybe 25 years. A fridge maybe 10.

Since 2006, each of Washington’s 17 largest electric utilities have met or exceeded energy efficiency targets mandated by I-937. The initiative, known as the Energy Independence Act, ramped up renewable energy production and required state utilities serving 25,000 or more customers a year to obtain 15 percent of their energy from new renewable sources by 2020. The Northwest Energy Coalition estimates that I-937 allowed the state to avoid 14 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2010 alone.

Not all agree that the initiative is a success. Todd Myers, environmental director with the Washington Policy Center, disputes claims that investments in renewables such as wind and solar will result in cheaper energy for Washington state. Both wind and solar, he says, are more expensive per kilowatt hour than hydro or natural gas.

His argument: Legislation should be cost effective. “How much CO2 reduction do you get for every dollar that you spend this way?” Myers asks. It’s a question a coalition of lawmakers and business groups aligned with the Policy Center have asked the State Auditor to answer.

Rachel Shimshak with the Renewable NW Project says Myers misses the point. Policies like I-937, she says, provide not only enormous environmental benefits, but long term economic benefits as well. “It’s like a home mortgage. You have certainty and predictability,” says Shimshak. “But it’s a long term comparison. If you had a way of valuing all the benefits and shoe horning that into costs, renewables would win hands down.”

According to Shimshak, investors have already sunk $8 billion into wind, solar and other renewables in Washington state. That number jumps to $20 billion when you look at the entire region, including Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Policy drivers like the sales tax exemptions for capital invested in the state, she says, tap local carbon-free resources and generate income and incentive across the state’s red/blue divide. Market barriers make it difficult to credit all the benefits they generate: local resources instead of imports, a lower risk of climate regulation and a stable price over 30 years.

Still, a look at the state’s overall “energy” picture proves Washington has a long way to go before it can call itself carbon free — or even environmentally sustainable. Hydro, long the region’s “clean energy” powerhouse, comes with a price: Thirteen wild salmon species are endangered; 11 are near extinction. Coal still accounts for 30 percent of Puget Sound Energy's power supply. Natural gas, often touted by officials and utilities as a clean energy alternative to coal, was responsible for nearly a million metric tons of CO2 emissions in the state in 2010, according to the most recent findings by the Department of Ecology.  


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Dec 24, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

A committed "green", are you Martha? Well then you must despise Inslee for calling that special session last month to give Boeing tax breaks, and also all those state legislators who played ball with him and handed that filthy company incentives to remain here. Boeing pollutes more than any other entity in the state, both directly and indirectly (via supply truck trips and commuter vehicle trips). Nothing could make this state greener than Boeing leaving. That would be a huge win for the environmental community.

Here's something for you Martha:

"The best measure the state legislators could take to reduce the carbon footprint of the Puget Sound region is to tax Boeing's aircraft production activities much more heavily (encouraging it to conduct those dirty activities in far away locales), and also curtail Sound Transit's activities. The latter step would eliminate all the heavy truck trips in urban areas removing tunneling spoils and decrease the heavy CO2 production from the cement plants now working double shifts to supply the needs of those megaprojects."

Care to discuss that?

crossrip

Posted Tue, Dec 24, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Yep, typical "progressive" bullshit. Let's do even more to drive the state's largest employer, paying the highest wages, out of the area. And let's extend the war on cars in favor of mass transit whose actual impact is to raise carbon emissions.

These people are such lying, hypocritical phonies.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 24, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Are-you-just-pissing-and-moaning-or-can-you-verify-what-you-re-saying-w-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8575207_.htm

louploup

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Baskin explains megawatt-hours (MWh) but then refers to megawatts when citing figures. I presume she means 5000MWh have been saved over the course of a year, and Seattle likely uses 1100 MWh a year.

pragmatic

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Speaking of the energy production side of the equation, one of the best things we can do is build more solar and wind plants to replace coal and nuclear and, later, others such as natural gas and hydro.

Take a look at the costs of the various types of plants.
http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/capitalcost/xls/table1.xls

Comparing solar to nuclear, the cost/kWh to construct solar is around $4k and nuclear around $5.5k Operating cost for solar is about $27/kW-yr and no cost for fuel; nuclear $93/kW-yr + fuel.

For on-land wind, construction is about $2k vs $5.5K for nuclear. Operations $40/kw-yr vs $93/kW-yr.

The big flaw with wind and solar, of course, is that fickle nature of wind and cloud cover. On a large scale it probably averages out well. But mitigation is needed.

One way to mitigate the wind and solar generation fluctuations is to use pumped storage of water; pump uphill when generation exceeds demand and use that water to supplement generation during the opposite periods.

Naturally, that changes the costs cited above. This particular report doesn't cover pumped-storage for wind and solar, but you can extrapolate a bit from the line items for hydroelectric.

My analysis is that the construction of pumped storage would increase the cost by about $2k/kW. Operation would go up by about $4/kW-yr. Still beat nuclear quite handily.

In conclusion, it makes absolutely no sense to build new nuclear plants and, since our existing nukes are old, it makes sense to start replacing them now rather than keep maintaining them at high cost.

pragmatic

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

I thought it would be helpful to show this in table form. Click here:
http://imgur.com/l92VDeU

pragmatic

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 3:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey "progressive," do you even bother to read the reference materials that you post? A plain old natural gas plant is by far the cheapest to build and to operate. Even the fancier natural gas plants with carbon sequestration are cheap.

Nukes are far cheaper than any kind of solar, and much cheaper than offshore wind. Even the cheapest windmills -- the ones on land -- are more expensive than plain natural gas, and barely cheaper than gas with carbon sequestration.

Page 4 of the report you cite shows the total costs per megawatt. I really have to wonder whether you people just get off on posting citations and lying about them, figuring that none of your fellow "progressives" are diligent enough to follow up, and that anyone else can be simply defined out of those you deem eligible to comment.

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation.pdf

Moreover, for solar, which Washington State stupidly subsidizes at 8 times the retail rate, the numbers are even worse than the summary numbers from the EIA indicate. The reason? Our area gets one-third to 40% of the photons that the Southwest gets, which dramatically affects capital costs and output.

But hey, when you're a "progressive" who's spewing utter bullshit and knows it, for the benefit of other "progressives" who don't care whether what you're saying has any factual basis whatsoever, who needs to pay attention to pesky little details?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 4:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Now let's take a closer look at the storage idea, using the EIA data you presented, and the EIA cost/megawatt numbers from the same study that we both used, but which only I presented.

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT: Adding storage to wind and solar is much more expensive than the "progressive" who so ironically calls himself "pragmatic," but isn't practical enough to use a calculator.

WIND. Storage would raise the capital cost by 91%, and fixed operating cost by 10%. That raises wind's base case for land turbines from $87 per megawatt to $149 per megawatt. Natural gas remains at $67 to $93, depending on the degree of advanced technology and carbon sequestration. I didn't include gas turbines (at $105 to $130), because those are limited use, high cost fill-ins for peak loads and don't belong in any comparison of the kind we're doing here. To put it differently: You can't fire up another nuke or windmill or panel at peak times, and even if you could do it the economics would be radically different -- so I'm compsaring use of the various technologies to provide "base load," even though wind and solar have issues in that regard, at least without storage.

SOLAR. Storage would raise solar's capital cost by 50%, and its fixed operating costs by 16%. Applied to the base case, that puts solar at $207 per megawatt. Note that I applied that to solar photovoltaic, not solar-thermal, which a technology that focuses mirrors on a tower and uses concentrated heat to run a turbine. It's even more expensive, and in this country I've only heard of it being used in the desert southwest. I don't even know if it's possible up here.

MORE ABOUT SOLAR & WIND. On page 5 of the link I gave, they discussed regional variations. You can see a 100% geographical swing for solar, and a 35% swing for wind. We'd lose on solar because of our latitude and cloud cover, and we'd win on wind, at least to the extent that we stick even more windmills on the Columbia Plateau, one of the windiest places in the country.

Assume storage, and give wind the maximum benefit here and solar the maximum cost. Storage + land wind would cost $125/megawatt. Storage + solar would cost $322 per megawatt. Natural gas costs $67 to $93 (using the base case for cost, which actually might penalize gas here given the proximity of the Bakken fields). Nuclear costs $108. Coal costs $100. Maybe less, given that Western coal is more desirable, and ours is burned close to the mines. But I'll use the base case anyway.

CONCLUSION: "Progressives" don't much care for math or science, but others do pay attention.

- Natural gas $67 to $93
- Wind w/o storage $74 (which significantly reduces its base load use and overall efficiency)
- Coal $100
- Nukes $108
- Wind w/storage $125
- Solar w/o storage $224
- Solar w/storage $322

I don't expect the "progressives" to accept mere arithmetic or science. Cousin Sarah (Palin) doesn't -- not only are math and science just too gosh darn hard, but they're stubborn. So why should the faith-based morons of Seattle accept arithmetic and science either? But maybe some others will. At the very least, those in the reality-based sphere can hoot at the "progressives" when they spin their complete fantasy bullshit about how cheap wind and solar with storage is. Or how cheap solar is at all.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Dec 27, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

For what it is worth, despite the obvious regional disadvantages of photovoltaic solar, that option does have the advantage of being able to generate power at essentially the same location where it is being used. So while it may be true that solar is two to three times the cost of other options, you don't have the transmission lossess that is inherent with the distant power generation. And arguably because solar production is localized, you don't need to account for the cost of building and maintaing the extensive grid unpon which all the other options depend.

The difference between localized vs distant power generation can be quite significant. The EPA measures the difference by calculating the local power consumption as well as the source energy produced at the generation plant. Typical source vs site EUI for most Western Washington cities is quite significant. Per EPA Energy Star, a building with a site energy footprint of about 66 kBtu in Seattle may have a source footprint of close to 210 kBtu. (From actual building data)

http://www.energystar.gov/buildings/facility-owners-and-managers/existing-buildings/use-portfolio-manager/understand-metrics/difference

It is true that wind and solar power are inconsistent sources, it is also true that nuclear, gas and other systems tend to be designed to meet peak loads. During off peak hours, those systems are unable to ramp down. Consequently most of the energy produced during off hours goes to waste.

So if we typically only utilize 1/3 of the power being produced at a distant plant, then local solar starts to look much more attractive.

ntx

Posted Tue, Dec 31, 4:01 p.m. Inappropriate

"Local" solar! You people are on drugs, I swear it!

The loss from transmission and distribution of electricity is not 67%. It is 6.3%. You could have looked it up, but the results would have been so much less pleasing than just making shit up, so you didn't actually do any research before spouting that particular piece of "progressive" bullshit.

See table 10, line 28 divided by line 29 = transmission/distribution loss. How utterly stupid and/or drugged out are you people? What really scares me is that the powers that be around here are just as whacked out as you are.

http://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/unitedstates/

NotFan

Posted Thu, Dec 26, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

For anyone who is following this:
1) the document notfan references has no figures on the cost of "storage". The 91% is irrelevant wrt that doc. I encourage the reader to look at the source documents.

2) My comparison is mostly with nuclear, which is more expensive than wind and, realistically, more expensive than solar when you include "storage" with nuclear (it needs something since it take hours (maybe days) to change the generation level.

3) At the moment, natural gas is cheaper than solar and wind. But at what cost to the environment? It's a good short term solution but eventually we'll need to either pay more to clean up the waste from fracking (which I doubt is included in the EIA figures) or stop fracking.

4) It is absolutely correct that some regions are better for solar and some regions are better for wind and some (like Seattle) isn't particularly good for either. I would hope and assume energy companies would realize that when they are investing in new plants.

We have a choice: continue status quo and deplete our resources, create more nuclear waste, create more pollution. Or try to find new solutions. I encourage everyone to critique my figures. They are very rough based on very generalized data from the EIA. If I'm completely wrong, so be it. If there's truth in my numbers, let's move forward!

pragmatic

Posted Thu, Dec 26, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey "progressive," I used YOUR LINK for the "storage" costs! Not only does your kind not much like science or arithmetic, but you're not real strong on reading either.

You don't use pumped storage with nukes, gas, coal, or hydro. The reason to even consider storage is to even out the generation. It's only potentially appropriate with wind and solar because, by their nature, those are part-time generators. But then a "progressive" isn't real high on logic either.

It would really help if you had a ghost of a clue when it comes to knowing what you're talking about. But hey, you're a "progressive," so why care about that, either? All you think you need to do is puke out some blather about how we "need to find new solutions," and then ignore the facts because they conflict with your "progressive" faith.

Hey, why don't you stop on the energy front and lend your expert help to the design of "affordable" health care? Once you're finished screwing the middle class on that one, I'm sure they'll welcome your efforts on energy.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 4:34 p.m. Inappropriate

NEW autos are far more energy-efficient than any transit in our area. And new cars will continue to get more and more energy-efficient every year for the next decade, by federal law. So, increasing transit use does not reduce the amount of energy used for transportation.

As for current transit systems -- they are very Inefficient, in large part because they insist on operating buses and trains at times when they are mostly empty, which is obviously extremely wasteful of both energy and money.

http://www.commtrans.org/newsrelease/1517

When Community Transit reduced service hours by 37%, weekday ridership fell by only 6%, which meant more passengers per bus, which greatly increased energy-efficiency:

"Local bus service within Snohomish County has seen a 31 percent increase in boardings per hour.
• Swiftbus rapid transit service along Highway 99 between Everett and Shoreline has seen a 59 percent increase in boardings per hour.
• Commuter service to Seattle and UW has seen a 70 percent increase in boardings per hour."

These are really, really good statistics for reducing carbon output -- move more people with the same amount of fuel. And this happened because of CUTS TO TRANSIT SERVICE HOURS --

"Community Transit maintained most of its ridership by strategically cutting unproductive service – early and late-night buses, mid-day trips and low-ridership routes. As a result, productivity on the service that remains has skyrocketed."

CUT UNPRODUCTIVE SERVICE! Reduce carbon emissions. duh.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Dec 26, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

The "progressives" actually don't care about climate change, energy conservation, saving money, or transit efficiency. From them it's entirely about fighting a war on the private automobile, at all costs.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Dec 29, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I am glad you pointed that out. The author just assumes transit saves carbon emissions. This is not true at the moment and may never be true.

kieth

Posted Mon, Dec 30, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Seems that perhaps you are being a bit of an O'Toole on this topic. http://www.cnu.org/sites/www.cnu.org/files/DebunkingCato.pdf

ntx

Posted Thu, Dec 26, 7:30 p.m. Inappropriate

For a moment there I thought the world was going to end after reading this bullshit article, then I realized it was just another one of Them.

Djinn

Posted Sun, Dec 29, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Hydro, long the region’s “clean energy” powerhouse, comes with a price: Thirteen wild salmon species are endangered; 11 are near extinction.


There are ways to mitigate against this, such as with fish ladders. But how do you mitigate against the thousands of birds and bats killed by wind farms? The federal government has now decided that it is going to issue bald and golden eagle "death licenses" to the operators of wind farms, exempting them from the harsh penalties associated with eagle deaths (even possessing an eagle feather can get you a nasty fine). Imagine the uproar if, say, Exxon asked for permission to kill, oh, 20 bald eagles a year while drilling for oil!


Hydro power is one of the "greenest" power sources in the world. Other nations envy Washington's source of clean, renewable hydro power. The fact that hydro is considered a "non-green" power source that must be mitigated against with wind and solar installations shows that "green" is a political, not a scientific, designation. Maybe if hydro dams lost money to the extent that wind and solar installations do, hydro might have a chance at being designated "green."

dbreneman

Posted Sun, Dec 29, 9:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Everything comes with a price. Everything.

Is there any evidence that anything mentioned in this article has impacted the climate in any measurable way? (Estimating calculations are not evidence, of course.) Does it matter whether there is evidence?

simorgh

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