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Completing the Energy Innovation Cycle: The View from the Public Utility Commission

Achieving a widespread adoption of innovative electricity generation technologies involves a complex system of research, development, demonstration, and deployment, with each phase then informing future developments. Despite a number of non-regulatory programs at the federal level to support this process, the innovation premium—the increased cost and technology risk often associated with innovative generation technologies—creates hurdles in the state public utility commission (PUC) process. This article in the Hastings Law Journal examines how and why innovative energy technologies face challenges in the PUC process, focusing on case studies where PUCs have approved or denied utility proposals to deploy high cost, first-generation energy technologies. It concludes with an outline of possible strategies to address PUC concerns by allocating the innovation premium beyond a single utility's ratepayers.

Author(s): Jonas Monast and Sarah Adair 

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New Source Review and Coal Plant Efficiency Gains: How New and Forthcoming Air Regulations Affect Outcomes

Forthcoming carbon dioxide regulations for existing power plants in the United States have heightened interest in thermal efficiency gains for coal-fired power plants. Plant modifications to improve thermal efficiency can trigger New Source Review (NSR), a Clean Air Act requirement to adopt state-of-the-art pollution controls. This article in the journal Energy Policy explores whether existing coal plants would likely face additional pollution control requirements if they undertake modifications that trigger NSR. Despite emissions controls that are or will be installed under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and Clean Air Interstate Rule or its replacement, 80% of coal units (76% of capacity) that are expected to remain in operation are not projected to meet the minimum NSR requirements for at least one pollutant: nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide. This is an important consideration for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state policymakers as they determine the extent to which carbon dioxide regulation will rely on unit-by-unit thermal efficiency gains versus potential flexible compliance strategies such as averaging, trading, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. NSR would likely delay and add cost to thermal efficiency projects at a majority of coal units, including projects undertaken to comply with forthcoming carbon dioxide regulation.

Author(s): Sarah Adair, David Hoppock, and Jonas Monast

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Carbon Market Lessons and Global Policy Outlook

Although markets for trading carbon emission credits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have stalled in United States federal policy-making, carbon markets are emerging at the state level within the U.S. and around the world, teaching us more about what does and doesn't work. Authors discuss in a Policy Forum piece in Science key lessons from a decade of experience with carbon markets.

Author(s): Richard Newell, William Pizer, Daniel Raimi

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Outlook for California Agriculture to 2030

California agriculture is diverse and complex, producing several dozen major crop and livestock commodities using the state’s great spatial variation of natural and climate resources and well-developed infrastructure of input delivery systems, processing systems, and marketing services. What, where, and how these commodities are produced reflect biophysical, economic, and policy drivers, all of which have and will continue to change. This report examines the statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and emissions mitigation potential of alternative futures for California agriculture through 2030. It finds that the dairy industry in California has by far the largest GHG emissions of all the state’s agricultural production systems but that the industry’s growth trajectory is uncertain. Three potential growth scenarios suggest that baseline dairy emissions could decrease by as much as 20% or increase by as much as 40% (almost one-quarter of the entire agricultural sector’s current emissions). This variation in baseline emissions projections may be as large as or larger than the industry’s emissions mitigation potential.

Author(s): Daniel A. Sumner 

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Review of California Cropland Emissions and Mitigation Potential

Agriculture contributes approximately 7% of California’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; less than 3% of the state total comes from croplands. Efforts to reduce California’s agricultural GHG emissions from croplands will require sound information regarding how specific agricultural management practices impact those emissions over the landscape. A review of agricultural literature was conducted on studies that quantified GHG emissions in California annual and perennial croplands. This report reviews the available scientific literature relevant to GHG emissions from California croplands and quantitatively assesses the biophysical potential of various agricultural mitigation strategies relevant to California cropping systems. A total of 20 studies were identified, relating to 10 specific management practices in California croplands. Where possible, data from these studies were used to estimate the biophysical mitigation potential of various agricultural management practices. This work revealed that 3 of the 10 management practices—farmland preservation, expansion of perennial crops, and manipulation of nitrogen fertilizer rates—have high to medium relative mitigation potential. However, reliably estimating the biophysical mitigation potential of these practices is not possible at this time due to many uncertainties and lack of information. Relatively few field studies conducted in California rigorously examine GHG emissions from changes in agricultural management activities and practices. Thus, more research is needed to inform future management and policy alternatives.

Author(s): Steven W. Culman, Van R. Haden, Toby Maxwell, Hannah Waterhouse, and William Horwath

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Review of California Rangeland Emissions and Mitigation Potential

Rangelands cover approximately 50% of California and have considerable potential to mitigate climate change. Several management strategies offer opportunities to build soil carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Grazing management can increase soil carbon, but significant uncertainties remain and best management practices are unknown. Long-term, well-replicated studies are urgently needed to explore the potential of grazing management for climate change mitigation. Organic amendments, particularly compost, can enhance biomass and sequester carbon on grasslands while reducing emissions from the waste sector. This strategy shows significant potential but requires additional research, particularly in arid rangelands. High-efficiency synthetic fertilizer use, plant community management, fire management, and irrigation can also influence soil carbon; however, these strategies could be challenging to scale up over large areas, and their net greenhouse gas impacts are uncertain. Remote sensing, biogeochemical modeling, and life-cycle assessments should be leveraged to identify and implement mitigation strategies.

Author(s): Marcia S. DeLonge, Justine J. Owen, and Whendee L. Silver

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Minimizing Diet Costs and Enteric Methane Emissions from Dairy Cows

The study aimed to determine baseline methane emissions from California dairies and assess mitigation strategies. Two optimization models based on linear programming were developed to formulate minimum cost and minimum methane diets without compromising production. A third model uses weighted goal programming for joint minimization of dietary costs and emissions. The economic and environmental impact of using a specific agent (monensin) was also assessed. Enteric emissions ranged from 18.8 to 25.1 MJ/d. Dairies that used corn/alfalfa-based forages and cows with higher intakes and production were low emitters. The cost per unit emissions reduction ranged from $5.02 to $20.1/kg methane ($239–  $956/tonne CO2 equivalent) for a 1% to 25% reduction of total emissions. Various levels of trade-offs between cost and emissions reduction are possible. Up to a 9.4% reduction in CH4 emissions was possible with monensin (costs ranged from $3 to $26/kg CH4). Mitigation options need to be tested in a commercial setting before recommendation for use. 

Author(s): Luis Moraes, James Fadel, A. Castillo, and Ermias Kebreab 

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Review of Emissions and Mitigation Potential of Animal Manure Management and Land Application of Manure

Manure management, primarily in anaerobic lagoons on dairies, is estimated to be the largest source of greenhouse gases from California agriculture. However, no field measurements from dairies in California have been published. A review of the broader literature revealed that emissions from anaerobic lagoons had more than 10 times the global warming potential of emissions from solid manure piles. Capping anaerobic lagoons and flaring the emitted methane, or fully converting to anaerobic digesters, could reduce total methane emissions by 92% (~7.7 Tg CO2e). Manure from farms is eventually applied to agricultural fields as fertilizer, where nitrous oxide is the primary greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted. Limited data are available on GHG emissions from manure-amended fields, and only two studies were conducted in California. This research suggested that fertilizing agricultural fields with manure rather than synthetic fertilizers results in lower GHG emissions as well as increased soil carbon storage. Despite the significance of dairy manure in GHG budgets at the state, regional, and global scale, this review reveals a surprising lack of field-scale research necessary to inform the development of best practices in California. Key areas of research for California include measurements of GHG emissions from dairy manure management systems and comparisons of GHG emissions from agricultural fields under different management practices. 

Author(s): Justine J. Owen, Ermias Kebreab, and Whendee Silver 

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Review of the Economics

Although about three-quarters of California farm revenue derives from crop production, crops—mainly tree, vine, and vegetable crops—account for only about one-quarter of GHG emissions. Some studies indicate minimal yield loss from reducing nitrogen fertilizer use, and simulation results show significant percentage reductions in GHG emissions for payments of $20/MTCO2e. The economics of reducing emissions from enteric fermentation has been little studied. Manure management to reduce GHG emissions (mainly methane) can be as simple as covering manure lagoons and flaring methane. The more complex option of using manure-generated methane gas to replace fossil fuels has been investigated often. Most case studies and simulations suggest this option is costly. Its economic feasibility depends on specific local conditions, but there is no evidence of large-scale feasibility in California without large subsidies. 

Author(s): Hyunok Lee and Daniel Sumner

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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities in California Agriculture: Science and Economics Summary

California Assembly Bill 32 requires effective statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategies. This report summarizes the results of six studies--developed to inform California policy--that review the latest science and economics of GHG mitigation opportunities in California's agricultural sector. Specifically, the report examines the potential for annual GHG reductions in cropland, rangeland, and manure management systems and through emissions-targeted optimization of feed for dairy animals. Among the examined practices, dairy manure management appears to provide the largest emissions reduction opportunity at the lowest cost per ton, but economic and other hurdles must be overcome to realize it. Other mitigation activities could yield relatively large per-acre reductions but on relatively small acreage. Yet other activities could be widely implemented, but their potential effectiveness is uncertain. More data on the GHG reduction potential and costs of management practices in California agriculture and a better understanding of adoption barriers are needed.

Author(s): Tibor Vegh, Lydia Olander, Brian Murray

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