Tag Archives: economic incentives

CPUC proposes radical restructuring of PG&E

104778251-gettyimages-861000956In PG&E’s safety order institution investigation (OII), outgoing CPUC President Michael Picker (along with senior administrative law judge Peter Allen) has put on the table four dramatic proposals to address governance and incentive issues at the utility. These proposals are:

  1. Separating PG&E into separate gas and electric utilities or selling the gas assets;
  2. Establishing periodic review of PG&E’s Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CPCN);
  3. Modification or elimination of PG&E Corp.’s holding company structure; and
  4. Linking PG&E’s rate of return or return on equity to safety performance metrics.

The OII originally was opened to investigate PG&E’s management of its natural gas infrastructure, but the series of electricity-sparked wildfires reinfused the OII with a new direction. The proceeding has been a forum for various dramatic proposals on how to handle wildfire-related issues and PG&E’s subsequent bankruptcy filing.

 

Moving beyond the easy stuff: Mandates or pricing carbon?

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Meredith Fowlie at the Energy Institute at Haas posted a thought provoking (for economists) blog on whether economists should continue promoting pricing carbon emissions.

I see, however, that this question should be answered in the context of an evolving regulatory and technological process.

Originally, I argued for a broader role for cap & trade in the 2008 CARB AB32 Scoping Plan on behalf of EDF. Since then, I’ve come to believe that a carbon tax is probably preferable over cap & trade when we turn to economy wide strategies for administrative reasons. (California’s CATP is burdensome and loophole ridden.) That said, one of my prime objections at the time to the Scoping Plan was the high expense of mandated measures, and that it left the most expensive tasks to be solved by “the market” without giving the market the opportunity to gain the more efficient reductions.

Fast forward to today, and we face an interesting situation because the cost of renewables and supporting technologies have plummeted. It is possible that within the next five years solar, wind and storage will be less expensive than new fossil generation. (The rest of the nation is benefiting from California initial, if mismanaged, investment.) That makes the effective carbon price negative in the electricity sector. In this situation, I view RPS mandates as correcting a market failure where short term and long term prices do not and cannot converge due to a combination of capital investment requirements and regulatory interventions. The mandates will accelerate the retirement of fossil generation that is not being retired currently due to mispricing in the market. As it is, many areas of the country are on their way to nearly 100% renewable (or GHG-free) by 2040 or earlier.

But this and other mandates to date have not been consumer-facing. Renewables are filtered through the electric utility. Building and vehicle efficiency standards are imposed only on new products and the price changes get lost in all of the other features. Other measures are focused on industry-specific technologies and practices. The direct costs are all well hidden and consumers generally haven’t yet been asked to change their behavior or substantially change what they buy.

But that all would seem to change if we are to take the next step of gaining the much deeper GHG reductions that are required to achieve the more ambitious goals. Consumers will be asked to get out of their gas-fueled cars and choose either EVs or other transportation alternatives. And even more importantly, the heating, cooling, water heating and cooking in the existing building stock will have to be changed out and electrified. (Even the most optimistic forecasts for biogas supplies are only 40% of current fossil gas use.) Consumers will be presented more directly with the costs for those measures. Will they prefer to be told to take specific actions, to receive subsidies in return for higher taxes, or to be given more choice in return for higher direct energy use prices?

Will Amazon’s HQ2 pay off for New York?

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Even though I have conducted regional economic impact studies, I’m always a bit skeptical when a project is touted as a huge payoff for taxpayer investment. Amazon’s HQ2 is a case in point. New York is claiming a $24 billion net return over 25 years from the $3.6 billion in tax breaks, based on impact analysis done with the REMI economic model. I would be interested in a retrospective analysis on the impact of Amazon’s HQ1 in Seattle. The campus is fairly self contained and it should be fairly straightforward to track the growth of Amazon employment in Seattle since the last 1990s. Clearly, there would be uncertainty about how to attribute regional economic activity to Amazon activity, but we could see bounds on various factors such as jobs and tax revenues. We could then see a comparison against the estimates for New York City.

Reaganomics for fuel economy?

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I chuckled when I saw this article extolling how CAFE fuel economy standards should be replaced with “clean tax cuts.” One proponent said, “If you want more of something, tax it less.”

But apparently, these incentives work only one direction. “It’s very common, historically, for companies to not meet the targets and just pay the fines,” said Josiah Neeley, a senior fellow for the R Street Institute. However, the auto companies were not happy with a proposal to increase the penalty 155%.  Does that mean that the penalty got large enough to incent greater compliance?

Where Should All the Coal Miners Go? – Pacific Standard

An interesting discussion about the failures and lessons for broad scale retraining programs.

My own thought is that we need to buy out the homes of displaced workers at the higher of either their purchase cost or the assessed value to facilitate moving to a new job location.

Source: Where Should All the Coal Miners Go? – Pacific Standard

How to misconstrue statistics in your favor: an example arguing against SB 32

 

statebystatechangeinco2emissionrateThis blog post on Fox & Hounds is an example of how to take statistics of one cause-and-effect relationship and misapply them to another situation. In this case, this graphic above shows how GHG emissions have dropped dramatically in states that used to burn coal to generate electricity, but now rely much more on natural gas. The decline in coal emissions has occurred over the last half-decade due to the fall in gas prices and the increased stringency in air quality regulations. But more importantly, those states had higher emissions that California to start with because they have been laggards in protecting their environments. The chart shows that these states are finally starting to catch up! If anything, this supports adopting SB 32 as a follow on to AB 32!

Yet the blog post misconstrues this situation to argue that it’s the “free market” that somehow is generating these greater reductions, implying that California and Mississippi had started from the same place–which of course if far from the truth. Yes, the market push from natural gas fracking explains some of this, but California was already so far ahead due to its own efforts that it has less room to improve.

Watch for these types of misrepresentations. Understand the initial premises by the authors. Ask hard questions before you accept their conclusions.

Source: There’s a Better Way :: Fox&Hounds

Let’s end being NIGO’d in California

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I was struck by the juxtapose of these two items:

  • AquaMetal is building a new environmentally-friendly battery recycling plant near Sparks, NV. They considered California, but “In California, you put in your permit application, and six months later, someone tells you you filled out line 26 wrong.”
  • “(T)he Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) today awarded 23 state officials across various agencies and departments certificates of completion for the Lean 6-Sigma training program administered by GO-Biz which helps streamline permitting and make state government more business friendly.”

California has many progressive and necessary regulations, but the state does an awful job of administering them. Too often, the bureaucrats are too wrapped up in believing the process is actually important. Instead, they should be thinking about how they can ease the permitting and compliance process so that businesses can focus on achieving everyone’s goals.

A bureaucrat should be filling in the missing blanks rather than waiting for months to kick back an application. A friend noted the all too common “NIGO” response–“not in good order.” Being NIGO’d is not conducive to good business.