On February 4, 2013, Ontario gas-fired power generation plants emitted 63,667 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main man-made greenhouse gas, into Earth’s atmosphere. Table 2 in the left-hand sidebar gives a running total by generating fuel since midnight on today’s date.
I watched the documentary Chasing Ice yesterday. It is stunning and powerful. It brought back fond memories of my time in the Canadian arctic, when as an employee of First Air I regularly saw spectacular sheets of ancient ice flowing into Davis Strait. Chasing Ice documents, with amazing photographs and live footage, the currently occurring rapid demise of what used to be viewed as permanent ice. The photographer, James Balog, is certain that the rapid recession of glaciers is due to the increased CO2 from human activities.
Since beginning this blog, I have followed the carbon dioxide emission pricing schemes in the European Union and the U.S. northeast. These schemes, the European Emission Trading System (ETS) and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), are mostly about the CO2 emissions related to electric power generation. The idea is ostensibly to make fossil fuel use expensive, and thereby compel electric utilities to invest in non-emitting generation technology. In reality, the aim of those who developed and implemented the ETS and RGGI was simply to expand the market for natural gas, a CO2-emitting fossil fuel.
Gas-fired power generation emits somewhat less CO2 than coal-fired. Evidently, the ETS and RGGI designers prefer “somewhat less CO2” to “no CO2 at all.” That is because the only power generation technology that can replace coal in mature power markets is nuclear. The ETS and RGGI designers are anti-nuclear.
This should be no surprise, considering that the main impetus for the ETS came from Germany and the main impetus for RGGI came from the state governments of the U.S. northeast. Two of the latter—Vermont and New York—are overtly anti-nuclear; their governors have chosen that position as a matter of electoral political advantage. It is similar with Germany: the ETS came into being during the chancellorship of Gerhard Schroeder, who was forced, when forming his initial coalition government in the late 1990s, to adopt an anti-nuclear policy.
This is why the ETS and RGGI carbon prices are so low as to be meaningless to anybody except carbon market profiteers. The ETS and RGGI are little more than public relations schemes, designed to give the public the impression that something is being done.
But as you can see in Chasing Ice, and hear in Jeff Beck’s lament from 1989, nothing is being done.
It has been 24 years since Beck’s observation. How much CO2 has been dumped into Earth’s atmosphere in those 24 years? And how much should it have cost?
Some have called for a $30 per ton tax on CO2 emissions. If such a tax were in place today, gas-fired generators in Ontario would have paid $1.91 million for their emissions on February 4 2013.
That cost would have been ultimately borne by electricity ratepayers, of course. Which would lead some at least to wonder why, with such expensive emissions, Ontario’s nuclear plants, which emit zero CO2, were ordered to run only at 83 percent capacity, when running at upwards of 95 percent would have spared Earth’s atmosphere from tens of thousands of metric tons of CO2 and Ontario ratepahers from nearly $2 million in taxes over that day.
[Note: my claim in the last paragraph, that the nuclear plants “were ordered to run only at 83 percent… ” is incorrect. This sentence should have read “Which would lead some at least to wonder why, with such expensive emissions, Ontario’s nuclear plants, which emit zero CO2, are not being expanded beyond the current capacity.”]