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Patrick Knight

On September 15, 2016, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the final results of the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2016. AEO is a critical source of information for public interest stakeholders in the energy sector.

At a webinar last week, New Perspectives on RGGI and the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act,” Synapse’s Dr. Elizabeth A. Stanton hosted Senior Associate Pat Knight and Mass Energy Consumer Alliance’s Larry Chretien for a discussion of Synapse’s RGGI modeling work and the recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.

Data released May 26 by the EIA shows that March 2016 was a historically low month for coal generation in the United States. National coal generation dropped to just 72 TWh, the lowest level of monthly coal generation measured since April 1978 (see Figure 1). While before 2015 it was uncommon for natural gas generation to approach equivalent levels of coal generation, in March 2016 nearly 1.5 times as much electricity was produced from natural gas-fired generators as coal-fired generators.

On May 17, 2016, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) published an early release of its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) for 2016. This early release contains projections for two scenarios: a Reference case, which includes the effects of the Clean Power Plan, and a “No Clean Power Plan” case, which examines a future in which there is no Clean Power Plan. Final versions of each of these cases, along with projections for numerous other scenarios, will be available on July 7, 2016. Until then, here are some of the key highlights in the latest AEO:

Today’s electric system looks remarkably different than it looked 10—or even five—years ago. Coal generation is retiring at an unprecedented rate and being replaced by natural gas and renewables. The United States’ wind, solar, and geothermal electric generating capacity now equals capacities from hydroelectric and from nuclear resources. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are at their lowest levels in 20 years, and both total generation and electric sales have remained essentially unchanged for 10 years.

New England’s growing dependence on natural gas has had some in the region worrying about supply constraints. In fact, concerns about natural gas supply and the impacts of proposed new pipelines prompted no fewer than three separate studies on the issue last year. In 2015, three consulting firms released separate reports for different clients analyzing the need for incremental natural gas pipeline in New England through 2030. The three distinctly different approaches to the studies have the potential to create uncertainty for those trying to compare the results.

On Tuesday, February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a stay on EPA’s Clean Power Plan (click here to learn more about the Clean Power Plan, and click here to learn more about the expected timeline of the stay). This stay calls into question whether some states will continue to implement policies associated with the Clean Power Plan, such as increased renewables and energy efficiency.

Yes, it does. Unfortunately, some confusion persists about how energy efficiency measures can be applied to mass-based compliance within the Clean Power Plan. Fortunately, the answer can be summarized in two sentences: (1) In any situation, energy efficiency is a cost-effective way to reduce demand for electricity, both reducing emissions and helping to avoid or defer other mass-based compliance actions. (2) States can take action to develop customized plans to further encourage energy efficiency as a means for meeting mass-based compliance.

Emissions trading programs are a long-established mechanism used by environmental regulators to reduce air pollution from the electric sector. In this series of posts, we explore how EPA has designed the Clean Power Plan to facilitate the buying and selling of credits representing emissions reductions at fossil-fuel fired power plants. Part 1 focused on rate-based trading. Part 2 explores how states can trade allowances representing tons of CO2 emissions.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan, released this past Monday, offers many more options for compliance than were available in the proposed rule. More on these pathways plus a link to detailed slide deck after the jump.