Ever since @JesseJenkins and colleagues work on a zero carbon US and this work by @DrChrisClack and colleagues on incorporating DER, I've been having the following set of thoughts about how to reduce the risk of failure in a US clean energy buildout. Bottom line is much more DER.
Typically, when we see zero-carbon electricity coupled to electrification of transport and buildings, implicitly standing behind that is totally unprecedented buildout of the transmission system. The team from Princeton's modeling work has this in spades for example.
But that, more even than the new generation required, runs straight into a thicket/woodchipper of environmental laws and public objections that currently (and for the last 50y) limit new transmission in the US. We built most transmission prior to the advent of environmental law.
So what these studies are really (implicitly) saying is that NEPA, CEQA, ESA, §404 permitting, eminent domain law, etc, - and the public and democratic objections that drive them - will have to change in order to accommodate the necessary transmission buildout.
I live in a D supermajority state that has, for at least the last 20 years, been in the midst of a housing crisis that creates punishing impacts for people's lives in the here-and-now and is arguably mostly caused by the same issues that create the transmission bottlenecks.
If we aren't willing to really look at big changes to solve that problem, shouldn't we be thinking much more seriously about solutions for climate that do not depend on big changes to these laws in order to site the necessary transmission infrastructure?
Maybe the real reason to prefer DER solutions is that it avoids the need to do that transmission buildout - which probably can't happen at any price unless until fundamental changes occur in law that are extremely unlikely to ever occur.
We should not be staking our climate future on a situation where NIMBYs wake up one morning and become YIMBYs demanding CEQA/NEPA/land use reform. My money (and lived personal experience) is on that never happening. At best, we will get marginal improvements.
If we are going to place our chips on the super grid happening, we should be clear about that - and also about the real environmental and democratic tradeoffs that would occur and that are the reason why these laws exist in the first place.

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More from @MichaelWWara

12 Jan
To me, the key message of our work is that wildfire is rapidly undermining the massive air quality progress that has been made over the past 50 years. We show the progress being reversed (and this study doesn’t include 2020 data).
And because wildfire smoke particles don’t count towards (or rather against) attainment due to the Clean Air Act’s “exceptional events” policy, we aren’t doing enough to develop effective responses to this growing public health crisis.
Wildfire (and wildfire smoke) is not exceptional. It is the predictable result of a century of forest management decisions. We can make different decisions and have different outcomes. If we want to. #goodfire is the key to reducing impacts of catastrophic wildfire.
Read 5 tweets
13 Nov 20
I really enjoyed this OpEd from two great people. Since neither of them is a lawyer, I want to add just one little piece to this discussion: NSPS.
Recall that the big deal climate reg in the power sector under Obama was the Clean Power Plan. This regulation of EXISTING power plants would have forced a coal to gas and renewable transition in the US over the next decade. It was legally risky then. Quite a bit riskier now.
Less noticed or remarked upon was the regulation of NEW coal fired power plants (called NSPS or 111(b) rule) that would have required carbon capture at all new coal plants. This rule was also challenged and also withdrawn and replaced by milquetoast under Trump.
Read 11 tweets
11 Nov 20
I think this is a major problem for anyone with assets that might want to engage in prescribed fire - even though the actual risks are very low. The basic problem is that commercial insurers do not want to write anything having to do with wildfire and do not differentiate.
This is not a public perception issue. It is a perception issue on the part of risk transfer capacity that has been totally burned by the loss experience in California over the past several years. Addressing this problem may require coordinated effort at the state level.
A state effort could offer coverage to burn bosses certified under the new CA program, maybe provide liability relief for those practitioners. Not to lower their risk but to lower risk perceptions for insurers and differentiate between good fire and utilities, home insurers, etc.
Read 4 tweets
4 Nov 20
It seems increasingly likely that Biden will win the presidential election but that democrats will not secure a majority in the senate. That means action on climate and energy will almost certainly have to proceed via regulation using existing authority. A thread...
President Biden won't be able to rely on CRA to quickly revoke problematic rules but will be able to rescind or revise them. He will face a much less friendly Supreme Court when his rules are challenged. What does this all mean, practically speaking?
For oil and gas methane, §111b and d rules that dramatically reduce emissions - especially important now that so many wells have been idled by falling oil prices.
Read 19 tweets
4 Nov 20
This article by @jtemple that came out just prior to the election should be essential reading for all sustainability officers trying to figure out how to achieve their CEO's net zero pledges. Companies need to learn from past experience with offsets.

Avoiding a repeat of past missteps with offsets means having a red team of experienced offset critics; this should be a priority for any firm aiming for net-zero and to actually have that claim stick. It's great to work with nature-based CDR providers. But that's not sufficient.
And the risks are very real. There are risks in terms of what "counts" towards achievement of a net-neutral goal. There are risks in terms of reputation and brand that are incredibly important. And there may be real missed opportunities to find reductions in other sectors.
Read 4 tweets
29 Sep 20
I just got asked for the nth time about what I think about the comparison between CA wildfire CO2 emissions in 2018 and our state's climate goals. I think the comparison is misguided in at least two important respects.
First, fossil fuels are largely carbon from plants that grew and were buried in the Cretaceous. Forest carbon is cycling between plants and the atm on a timescale of decades. There's no putting the Cretaceous CO2 back in the ground. Not true for forests that burn - they regrow.
Second, the way the forest CO2 emissions data is presented implies that emissions could/should be zero. But that's just totally wrong. The reason wildfire emissions are high is that we didn't allow "good" fire for too long. The baseline isn't zero; it should be prescribed fire.
Read 5 tweets

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