I spent Monday of this week in Spokane getting educated on clean fuels. I listened in on a public hearing that the DOE was holding, and met with business leaders who are at the forefront of clean fuels development.
The topic of a clean fuels standard (CFS) can get pretty wonky, but the basic premise is that providers and importers in Washington State need to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels by 10% over a period of ten years.
Having worked for a company that regularly set stretch targets on carbon reduction this target seems remarkably unambitious, but then I suppose it all depends on your perspective. If your main product is oil, then the CFS represents a threat, albeit small, to business as usual because it catalyzes and supports investment in and production of a diverse range of clean, home grown fuels, That's good for the economy of the state, which currently spends $14bn on imported oil and it also helps us bring down greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector which accounts for 47% of our footprint.
So what types of clean fuels are we talking about? This is the side that fascinates me because it's all about innovation. Pacific Coast Canola, located in Warden, Washington, operates the largest expeller pressed canola processing plant in North America. They provide raw material to Imperium Renewables, based in Grey's Harbor that has the nation's largest biodiesel plant. Both companies are committed to sourcing locally and helping to build an entirely new industry, with good jobs.
Tim Foster, CEO of Patriotic Motors is converting gas powered vehicles to electric. Somewhere in La Jolla, CA there is a Porsche Boxster he converted that can do 0-60 in 2.3 seconds. Personally I'm happy to stick with my electric Smart, but even that has great acceleration.
As Mr McGuire says to Ben in my favorite movie The Graduate, "I've got one word for you," only it's not plastics, it's algae. This technology has massive potential because it's very cost competitive and uses much less land than other crop based bio fuels, and it sequesters CO2. Algenol’s patented technology enables the production of ethanol, gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for around $1.30 per gallon each using proprietary algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide (often from utilities) and saltwater. It can reduce fuel intensity by 68%.
Alex Levy of Imperium Renewables stated at the public hearing that they are operating reduced production capacity because there is no CFS in place in Washington. The CFS will help all these companies get the long term certainty that they need for their significant investments, it will give consumers choices they have never had before, and it will help clean our air. It's working in California, and it can work here.
I had just begun writing this post , around 7.45pm, when my husband called me out onto the deck with one word, "whales". We have one rule in our household, and that is no matter what you are doing, the pause button gets hit when the Orcas come by. In February it's rare to see or hear our Southern Residents, but they are unmistakeable, and tonight there were plenty, breaking the stillness with their breath. Even our 5 month old rowdy puppy was spellbound.
This took my thoughts in a different direction. The whales' appearance made me ponder on the connection between clean fuels, salmon, the health of the Salish Sea, and the lives of this iconic endangered species.
Earlier today Washington Business for Climate Action hosted a webinar on clean fuels, which I had helped organize. With speakers from The Union of Concerned Scientists, NextGen Climate America and E2 we were given a clear view of the future for Washington State, as well as the potential for the Pacific Coast. An economy running on half the oil we currently use, with an abundant and diverse source of clean fuels that can easily meet our needs. UCS has an excellent fact sheet and blog on the potential for Washington. With around 45% of our carbon emissions coming from transportation the development of a diverse supply of new clean fuels is a key component of reducing our carbon footprint.
So what does this have to do with the Orcas? One of the largest potential threats to their continued existence and to the ecosystem of the Salish Sea, is the growing quantity of oil transportation, post notably from the Tar Sands. A major oil spill would be completely devastating to a species already severely compromised by a shortage of salmon, toxic loads from persistent organic pollutants, boat traffic and noise. For a more in-depth analysis of this read this article from SeattleMag .
UCS and other studies show that we have plenty of production capacity for clean fuels here in Washington state, now we just need the political will to move forward with a clean fuels standard. For those interested find more information here.
On January 27th a group of businesses headed to Olympia to the house committee hearing on HB1314, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act. They were members of Washington Business for Climate Action, a group founded with the signing of the Washington Business Climate Declaration and co-chaired by Brenna Davis of Virginia Mason, and Kevin Wilhelm of Sustainable Business Consulting. More than 150 major employers in Washington, including Vulcan, Microsoft and REI are signatories to the declaration and a lively subset of the group was there to provide testimony and support for a price on carbon.
They were also there to participate in the launch of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a diverse coalition of business, labor, environmental groups and community organizations that is dedicated to reducing global warming pollution and strengthening the state economy.
The Governor's proposal is offering a market based solution to limit carbon emissions contributing to climate change, and invest revenues in the foundations of our economy: education and transportation. It would also provide tax relief for manufacturers and working families who may be exposed to higher energy costs. A price on carbon is actually a progressive tax, rather than a regressive one, such as a sales tax or a direct gas tax. It eliminates the things we don't want - carbon emissions - rather than penalizing the things we do - consumer spending and jobs. Most businesses should embrace it and indeed the forward looking ones do.
Most, but not all of the businesses that would be immediately regulated under the scheme are predictably resisting efforts to put a price on carbon, and I would have some sympathy if this scenario had not been solidly tested in the North Eastern States and California and a surprising number of other jurisdictions around the world. Even China will be introducing a Cap and Trade scheme. For those with a vision to the future the economic costs of inaction are clearly in their sights. NWave Seattle, a company that would be regulated under the bill, is one such company. They view this as an opportunity to level the playing field for other forms of renewable energy in which they are investing.
Some businesses are sitting on the fence, maintaining that they prefer the certainty of a carbon tax (which fixes the price per ton for carbon, but gives less certainty on reductions achieved) rather than cap and trade (which sets the emissions limit, while allowing the market to determine the price). To some extent this is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the boat is sinking. The real issue is that we need a price on carbon, we need it today, and this bill is currently the best option. We can put the state on course to meet its statutory obligations, as well as going a long way to solving the state's budget woes.