The Vogtle nuclear power plant cost is projected to balloon to more than $12,000 per megawatt. In a study we did for the California Energy Commission in 2009, even at $4,000 per megawatt, nuclear power was uneconomic. This explains why nuclear power is not taken seriously as a solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist who has pushed for focusing spending on other pressing world needs over reducing climate change risk, has criticized the extension of California’s cap and trade program in the LA Times. I found two serious flaws in Lomborg’s analysis that undermine his conclusions.
The study that Lomberg cites about the electricity market impacts has not been reproduced since such extensive “contract reshuffling” can’t occur in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) region or in the CAISO market. That’s just a simplistic modeling exercise not tied to reality. The fact is that thousands of megawatts of coal plants are retiring across the WECC at least in part in response to the cap & trade and renewables portfolio standards (RPS) adopted by California.
And then Lomberg writes “A smarter approach to climate policy — and one befitting California’s role as one of the most innovative states in the country — would be to focus on making green energy cheaper. ” Has Lomberg noticed that new solar and wind installations are now cheaper than new fossil-fueled plants? Contracts are being signed for less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour–PG&E’s average cost for existing generation is close to 9 cents.
It’s as though Lomberg hasn’t updated his understanding of the energy industry since 2009 when the Copenhagen climate accord was signed.
I believe that California’s passage of the extended cap and trade program was a generally good compromise. Most importantly, it decoupled the cap and trade market from separate legislation to regulate local emission impacts. As I wrote earlier, earlier proposals failed on this aspect.
I follow Matthew Kahn, now at USC, post on June 30 about the how the “Lucas Critique” undermines a recent study forecasting how counties across the U.S. might be affected differentially by climate change. Quoting the New Palgrave Economic Dictionary, “The ‘Lucas critique’ is a criticism of econometric policy evaluation procedures that fail to recognize that optimal decision rules of economic agents vary systematically with changes in policy.” In other words, individuals within the economy are able to anticipate changing events, including government decisions, and can mitigate the impacts of those events when compared to continuing with the status quo. Kahn puts great faith in the Chicago School premise that individuals can readily adapt to all conditions without government or collective decisions.
However, Kahn ignores two important points. First, he misses the distributional focus of the study, and instead focuses on the overall efficiency gains from the net changes. That’s not the point of the study. We can see on example that land can’t be moved from one county to another, so landowners can’t adapt in anticipation of climate change without significant investment to protect their land. Homeowners will lose value in their homes, and others will find their asset value stranded. Sure, the overall economy will adapt and certain counties may gain enough to offset those losses, but residents within the net loss counties will be worse off. Economics for too long has focused solely on net gains without parsing the impacts and considering how to manage better outcomes for the losers. (I see this failure as one aspect of dissatisfaction driving Trump voters–which brings me to my second point.)
And second, if the Lucas Critique was truly valid, coal miners in Appalachia would have long abandoned their towns as they saw the decline of coal, and the need to satisfy West Virginia coal miners would not be driving national policy today. Instead, we see that people are myopic and these changes are likely to have significant consequences.
The California State Supreme Court refused to rehear a state appellate court decision that upheld the validity of the cap and trade program (CATP) established in Assembly Bill 32 (2006). Those challenging the program claimed that (1) the program required firms to acquire allowances to operate and (2) that the auction receipts were budgeted into state programs like other tax revenues. However, the Court’s decision was a victory for those who believe that stronger property rights can lead to an improved environment.
The AB 32 CATP defined the property rights for individual firms and for the public in allowed GHG emissions into the atmosphere. CARB also allocated allowances for free to these firms and set rates of declining annual emission totals (with some upward adjustments to accommodate interstate and international competitiveness). This is akin to delineating the acreage that a property owner has, and then setting out a rate at which the property owner must dedicate a portion to public use, while still allowing the owner to continue to use that land. The U.S. Supreme Court just upheld the ability of state governments to regulate land use in this manner. The CATP essentially allows an owner to continue to use the land in same manner by acquiring usage rates from other owners who may find it more lucrative to sell their allowances rather than use them. Under AB 32, the state auctions some of those allowances to make for a liquid market, while other allowances are traded bilaterally amongst firms. The bottom line is that CATP established property rights in GHG emissions, just as California established water property rights in 1914.
If the CATP had been declared to be another tax, then any disbursement of government property that generated revenues, e.g., sale of excess office space or forest land, could also be considered a “tax” subject to a two-thirds vote approval by the State Legislature under the state constitution. I doubt that the plaintiffs in this case (led by the Chamber of Commerce) intended that sale of state property would require a two-thirds supermajority vote.
GTM compiles the studies done over the last month in anticipation of the release of the study ordered by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to examine how increased renewable energy threatens grid reliability.
Severin Borenstein’s post raises an important issue that economists have ignore for too long. I posted the following comment there:
We gave politicians the tool of benefit-cost analysis which they have used to justify their policy objectives, but we completely failed to drive home the requirement that those parties who are on the losing end need to be compensated as well. I looked in my edition of Ned Gramlich’s book on Benefit-Cost Analysis (who taught my course), and the word “compensation” is not even in the index! Working on environmental regulations, I regularly see agency staff derive large positive ratios for the “general public” and then completely dismiss the concerns of particular groups that will be carrying all the burdens of delivering those benefits. If we’re going to teach benefit-cost analysis, we need to emphasize the “cost” side as much as the “benefit” that politicians love to extol.