…environmental economics and the implications of environmental policy

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Absolutely counter-productive and utterly pointless

with 19 comments

Minister Prentice went after Quebec here about their climate policy.

Quebec’s new environmental regulations targeting vehicles are an “absolutely counter-productive and utterly pointless” way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions that will ultimately put Canada at a competitive disadvantage in the North American marketplace, the federal Environment Minister said Monday.

When you have the track record that “Canada’s New Democracy” has on climate policy you might want to be careful what you say. Living in Glass Houses and all that. And at least PQ is taking some action. And fining the auto sector is the way to go. I did some feebate work for the NRTEE a few years ago, where fees and subsidies are combined to incent lower emitting vehicles, and all the research said that people would respond and it would work. Trouble was the Big Three got hit the most because they have done the least to improve fuel economy. And then they lobbied and the proposal was dropped by the Federal Department of Finance. But more importantly the automakers would not improve fuel economy unless you put a start motor to their head. Look at all the whining about fuel economy even when they were given billions in bail-outs. So, regulating them and applying penalties is likely required.

But back to the hysterics. In moving forward we need a balanced view on climate action. Some reductions driven with cost-effective policy. What we don’t need is this continual pandering to industrial special interests. That will increase costs and make our long-term job all the harder.

Written by Dave Sawyer

February 2nd, 2010 at 7:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Canada`s New Democracy: Taking Lessons from Enron Accounting

with 24 comments

Ok, so I have held off ranting on this site and kind of just laughed off the clown show that is Canada’s carbon policy.
But now I am mad. With the GoC’s announcement of the -17% target below 2005, which I have no problem with other than it is just another target to be ignored by policy, the GoC has taken down Canada’s GHG inventory tables for 2006 from here.

There was a time not so long ago where we could access the inventory data and do analysis. Like what it means to drop down the target -3% from a new base year. Which is what I would like to do for a pending deliverable, but no, for some reason the data now needs to be hidden.

Coincidence? Nope, just “Canada’s New Democracy”.

Written by Dave Sawyer

January 31st, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Blowing Hot Wind, or too much of a good thing

with 16 comments

The wind industry will hate this from the US Energy Department,

Expanding Use of Wind Power Feasible, but May Be Costly
Adding wind gets progressively more difficult as the amount used rises because of wind’s intermittent nature and the need for back-up power generation, according to the study. Without a better grid, the system would often waste large amounts of wind power because at many times during the year, the power grid would not be able to handle the amount of power that wind turbines were putting out.

In all of the recent Canadian carbon policy modeling, decarboinizing electricity and the electrification of energy are two important reduction pathways. Regardless of the scenario, with varying carbon pricing, electricity always wins with major expansions in the size of the electricity sector at the expense of higher emitting fuels. Decarobinzation follows, but a major point of contention has always been the shares of low emitting technology. Does wind capture all new supply? What about Nukes, and what about large hydro?

Modelling, using relative technology costs, suggests that wind is important but expensive at higher prices. Wind does come one with carbon pricing, but it comes on more in the baseline, meaning it is mostly competitive now with other generation. And with falling costs in time as more wind is installed (learning by doing lowers costs) and innovation occurs, we get more wind absent new carbon policy. Forecasts developed for NRTEE and others suggest that wind absent carbon policy will increase about 17 times between now and 2020. Modelling of carbon prices of about $60 in 2020, about the carbon price under Turning the Corner, then only increases wind deployment about 18% above forecast levels. This is then about 5% of total generation in 2020.

With carbon pricing, other generation types also supply decarbonization and meet new supply with fuel switching away from coal, including more natural gas, more hydro and more biomass. Nukes fill a gap in Ontario, but this is in the baseline given current efforts. But by 2020 it is unlikely that they will fill a role given relative costs and deployment difficulties.

So, wind is part of the solution, but so too is a portfolio of other stuff. And importantly for policy, subsidies to wind may be overcompensating some given current supply costs, and providing limited additionally given deployment regardless of carbon policy. This all may not sit well with the wind industry. But a balanced view in portfolio management pays.

elec bauelect pol

Written by Dave Sawyer

January 21st, 2010 at 11:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Dunce Cap of Inaction — Why Target Trash Talking Hurts Us All

with 25 comments

Mark Jaccard has a nice short article here on why target trash talking is detrimental. I somehow missed it in December, but here are the headline quotes,

Environmentalists do not seem to have learned anything from this experience. Their criticisms of Canada’s emissions target — a 20 per cent reduction from 2006 levels by 2020 — may yet convince the Harper government to follow the Chretien strategy of adopting an unattainable target.

Getting this policy in place is a thousand times more important than setting unattainable targets for 2020.

Deeper targets may eventually be the way to go, but the sticker shock is too much to start. Instead, we need to just get going and ramp up in time. Prodding a government’s current policy, or lack thereof, seems better than pushing them to adopt deeper targets. As we have proven so well in Canada, painting ourselves into deep target corners leaves politicians no choice but to wear the dunce cap of inaction.

Written by Dave Sawyer

January 5th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Hopenhagen or Copenhagen? Either way, Canada is going to suffer the consequence of its past inaction.

with 31 comments

Post from Seton Stiebert in Copenhagen….

I’ve just arrived with a train load of protesters to bear witness to the crazy zoo that will be COP15. My journey comes via Germany where I’ve spent the last week travelling around and thinking about what COP15 means for Canada. Not surprisingly, Canada is already in the lead for the number of fossil awards and I’ve been heckled by Europeans trying to understand why we’ve gone rogue. They just don’t get it, how does a country with all our pristine wilderness, natural beauty, wealth and resources thumb our noses to the international community and completely disregard the threat of climate change?

I was worried that the truth was insidious. That collectively Canadians were climate deniers and we just don’t believe that our activities release large quantities of GHG emissions that will have catastrophic consequences. While, there may be some truth to this reflected by the fact that our emissions have increased by 26% since 1990 rather than decreased by 6%, I don’t think it’s the main reason. Neither do I give more than passing credence to the view that we have special or arduous circumstances as an energy exporter.

I’m wondering if it comes down to the way we do business and our inability in Canada to consider anything but short term investments and paybacks? First our political system seems to have descended into a hopeless divisive politic that is concerned only with short-term interests. There doesn’t seem to be any ability for parties to work constructively together on long-term solutions for climate change, as demonstrated by six failed climate change policies. From my perspective, our federal parties would rather put a hole in our life raft then agree on rowing together to save our skins. Unfortunately the provinces, cities and citizens of Canada aren’t the ones who are best equipped to deal with climate change, so Canadians are going to have to demand that our federal government start to take a long term and multi-party perspective on climate change. But it is not just politics it’s also economics. Comparing Canada to Europe, you realize that Canadian businesses and citizens only accept very short paybacks when we build infrastructure. Perhaps, it is because Europe has many more centuries of experience with development, but you can’t help but get the feeling that they are willing to spend more for something that will pay off in the long-term. So they build houses that last longer, and they put solar panels on the roof and windmills in the fields even though it might take 20 years to make back the investment.

What Canada will discover in Copenhagen is that a lot of nations have tired of our short-term perspective. While Obama brings hope for a new direction and has started to hire the right crew to turn around the giant supertanker America, Harper will have a hard time pretending that we’re also ready for a transformation and an even harder time hanging on to Obama’s coat tails. This is because his feet are stuck in the oil sands, without a workable plan to reduce emission and little support from other political corners. While our government may match American commitments we can be assured that like in the past there is no functional plan to deliver on these promises. Because what they surely know and what Canadians ought to know is that no one is interested in rewarding us for doing nothing and that we are far enough behind in climate action that catching up won’t be easy or cheap.

While thumbing our noses at Kyoto was reprehensible, thumbing our noses at future commitments will have consequences. Other parties to the conference will surely favor penalties, tariffs and taxes to ensure a global level playing field where Canada is already far behind.

Written by Dave Sawyer

December 14th, 2009 at 8:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Mr Harper Goes to Copenhagen

with 22 comments


Written by Dave Sawyer

December 10th, 2009 at 11:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Act Locally, realize local benefits. Municipal Report on Abatement Potentials and Costs

with 27 comments

FCM released a report completed by myself and Seton Stiebert today on opportunities and costs for reductions from municipalities. See the report here and coverage here.

Below are some summary points from the report.

There are important reasons that suggest there are strong rationales to focus our climate policy efforts at the municipal level.

1. Canadian municipalities have a large influence on Canada’s emissions. In the past, and moving to the future, emissions originating from Canadian municipal operations and within their borders are significant, totaling in the order of 40% of Canada’s national inventory. This is about equivalent to the emissions of all of Canada’s large industrial emitters.

2. Municipalities have started down the road of reducing emissions and realizing local benefits. Canadian municipalities, representing 41% of Canada’s population have set emission reduction targets, with local action implemented in municipalities covering 12% of Canada’s population. This has resulted in small and verifiable reductions to date in the order of 1.3 Mt. Small yet positive.

3. But there is significant potential still on the table that is very low cost. Our analysis indicates that municipalities could deliver, in the short-term significant low cost reductions. The stock of potential is significant, in the order of 50Mt, and low cost, with about two thirds of this at prices below $25/tonne. This stock of potential is about half of the required reductions from the large industrial emitters under Canada’s Turning the Corner climate plan, at costs that are much lower than competing technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

These three points lead to the conclusion that there are strong rationales to jump-start emission reductions in municipalities.

1. Significant reductions are ready to go. Canada could demonstrate progress in the short-term with abatement opportunities that can be implemented now, with proven technologies. The stock of this potential is significant and could do much to contribute to Canada’s carbon aspirations.

2. These reductions are low cost, which is key to the carbon solution. Carbon policy requires significant shifts in how we use energy and deploy technology. If we are to achieve our carbon objectives, low cost solutions are necessary. In looking at the costs for reductions from municipalities, it is clear that they are a key to early and low cost reductions.

3. Importantly, benefits are local. With investments in low carbon technology and the associated reduced energy use and emissions, we can expect important economic, social and health benefits. These include lowering our costs making us more competitive, improving living conditions and thereby raising our collective welfare, and finally improving health outcomes through improved air quality. These are not diffuse benefits accruing in remote parts of the globe, but rather real and tangible benefits where we live.

But, there are barriers,

1. First the lack of a unified carbon price across Canada has not signaled that carbon is valuable and should be managed. This missing ingredient then lowers expectations and does not send the signal that action should be taken. We then have lower localized benefits that we should which speaks top a need to get going and set expectations.

2. Second, municipalities lack capital to get going. Most projects require upfront investments that can pay off in the longer term. But that initial capital is scare. Taking a longer term view results in cost savings, which ultimately pay off. Mindsets have to change to take a longer view that balances increased capital costs with long-term energy savings.

Municipal contributions to carbon reductions in Canada seem an essential element of cost-effective climate policy. A sharper focus on the role of municipalities in Canadian climate policy would help by shifting the climate policy debate in Canada to that of thinking about local actions and local benefits.

Written by Dave Sawyer

December 8th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Technology Trickery — there is no free lunch

with 13 comments

McKinsey curves pop-up all the time, as in here today. And I am often asked to produce similar ones (see picture).

But the McKinsey curves have some important flaws, and drive me nuts for a couple of reasons.

Iron and Steel Curve
First, they assume no baseline. In time technologies will be deployed in response to rising energy prices and straight technology innovation, where energy efficiency occurs absent policy. This then lowers the emission intensity of the economy. So, absent policy we get a certain level of this stuff, and with this technology deployment we then have less of the potential to go after later. The McKinsey curves then overstate reductions, because they ignore what we are doing anyway. This then understates costs cause we have already deployed the stuff and moved up the curve regardless of what policy is in place.

And then there are costs. The costs are not what it would take to get folks to move into these technologies. Instead, they are a mix of social costs, and include all kinds of benefits, such as avoided tipping fees for waste management. This is good, but folks think of the curves as marginal abatement curves, which is not really right.

Simpson falls into this trap,

One of the very best attempts at measuring effectiveness and cost comes from McKinsey & Co., an international consulting firm that has produced a cost-abatement curve comparing different technologies used today or likely to be ready in the next two decades.

Mixing cost and effectiveness, and choosing approaches that won’t materially affect consumers’ lifestyles, McKinsey offers a rough guide to how the world might hold the rise in global mean temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius. Obviously, different measures will be more appropriate for some countries than for others.

Finally, the costs don’t reflect behavioural choice. That is they are mostly engineering costs assuming long-paybacks and low discount rates. But this is not how folks make decisions. Take public transit. While it is cheaper than operating your own car, there is a reason many if not most don’t ride the bus. Simply, there are other determinants of costs that affect technology choices. And if you want to move folks out of their warm car pods and get them to exchange germs on transit, you have to whack them hard with prices. This means abatement costs are significantly underrepresented in the McKinsey curves.

The curves have done much to highlight potentials, which is good. But they can’t really be used in policy development because they overstate potentials and understate costs. And if we could really get all those free reductions, would we still be locked in inaction?

Written by Dave Sawyer

December 4th, 2009 at 11:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

BC’s Take on Tax Interaction – Hit em again

with 20 comments

Tax interaction is where taxes add distortions to the economy (economist raises hands to checks, gasps “inefficiency!” and moans “ooooohhhhh”), and either reinforce each other as bads, or can be used to offset existing bads. The double dividend theory instructs that the hit from abatement costs and payments on emissions (tax on remaining emissions or permits auctioned) can be offset by reducing existing distortionary taxes on capital and labour. (see paper here). A strong double dividend means the economy is better off since the inefficiencies introduced by the carbon costs are smaller than the existing tax distortions that have been removed. A weak dividend means the carbon cost inefficiencies are larger than the existing distorions that were offset with carbon revenue. Most of the literature on this falls into the weak double dividend camp.

So what to make of BC (here):

I have just carefully read my Terasen Gas bill and became aware that I am paying GST on the carbon tax that was implemented recently. I contacted the provincial government tax department and was told “that is just the way it has been set up … the only exemption from GST is PST.” So when the harmonized sales tax (HST) is implemented, will we pay both on the carbon tax if part of the HST is PST? Just one of those questions one asks when considering the next government.

BC has been under fiscal pressure given the economic downturn, no question, which has been exacerbated by offsetting existing taxes with carbon tax revenue. But, has the incentive function of the tax given way to a fiscal function? Not sure, but certainly a tax on a tax on a tax can’t be good.

Written by Dave Sawyer

December 3rd, 2009 at 9:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Canada, trampled by a band of Neanderthals

with 17 comments

This is a must read leading up to Copenhagen. Not a lot to disagree with. Essentially, economic obesity and Mr Harper have turned Canada into the North Korea of the climate world.

Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling

The tar barons have held the nation to ransom. This thuggish petro-state is today the greatest obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

Shame on us.

Written by Dave Sawyer

December 1st, 2009 at 11:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized