Carbon taxes don’t cut emissions, nuclear power and natural gas do

By Guy Page

The Canadian province of Alberta this week became the latest North American jurisdiction to vote against carbon taxation. Voters overwhelmingly elected a new premier whose No. 1 campaign promise was “no carbon tax.” There’s a reason that even “green” states and provinces are backing away from carbon taxes — in addition to inflicting financial pain, they actually do little to reduce emissions. Even climate change author Bill McKibben conceded as much in a 2016 Yale University article.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

Which begs the question: what energy strategies do reduce carbon emissions?

First, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent claims notwithstanding, keeping nuclear plants open limits carbon emissions. Vermont had the nation’s smallest electricity-based carbon footprint in the nation before the Vermont Yankee contract expired in 2012. Vermont’s carbon footprint then rose when our utilities became more reliant on fossil-fuel reliant New England “grid” power. (It then shrank some, in part because Vermont utilities bought more out-of-state nuclear power and developed the region’s best energy conservation program.)

Second, natural gas has led to almost 50 percent reductions in New England electricity carbon emissions since 2008. It’s a huge if little-known success story: natural gas replaced coal and oil as primary fuel sources for New England power plants. In a recent Real Vermont News post, former legislator Bob Frenier and I describe how it happened.

Renewable power opponents diminish this reduction as “incremental” and say Vermont must go all-in with renewable energy for electricity, heat and transportation. They also worry that building new natural gas distribution pipelines will “lock in” Vermont to natural gas heat for the rest of the century. That’s why they are trying to ban pipeline extensions.

To these objections, advocates of market-based low-emissions respond:

  • 50 percent is one heckuva incremental change
  • Renewable energy on a grid level is not (yet) affordable and reliable
  • Low-cost natural gas heat and electricity can help cover smart zero-carbon power improvements and additions
  • Pipeline bans could increase carbon emissions. They could drive many Vermonters to burn higher-carbon heating oil, which must be transported to them by carbon-emitting trucks. Pipeline bans, like nuclear power plant closings, reduce competition for the renewable power industry but do not reduce emissions.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Public domain

8 thoughts on “Carbon taxes don’t cut emissions, nuclear power and natural gas do

  1. If you disagree with Vermont carbon tax schemes and want to fight back, join us. #NoCarbonTaxVermont

  2. Carbon taxes likely would merely shift people to electricity for heat pumps and electric vehicles.

    But electric vehicles reduce CO2 a lot less than EV proponents are claiming.

    The CO2 emissions must be looked at on a LIFETIME basis, A TO Z basis. All else is bogus.

    Lifecycle Greenhouse Gases of Vehicles:

    A lifecycle assessment should cover four distinct phases of a vehicle’s life, and be based on driving, say 150,000 km (93,750 miles) during the 15 years of a vehicle’s life, using 10% ethanol/90% gasoline blend (E10), and a grid CO2 intensity of say 500 g CO2/kWh, or 1.10 lb CO2/kWh.

    1) Vehicle production – to assess embedded CO2
    2) In-use phase – to assess CO2 incurred during the driving
    3) Disposal at end-of-life
    4) Fuel production and delivery processes of electricity generation and gasoline production, depending on vehicle type.

    The embedded greenhouse gases of average vehicles, as a percent of the lifecycle emissions, in metric ton, are shown in below table. CO2 estimates of the Toyota Prius, Toyota plug-in Prius and Tesla Model S were inserted for comparison purposes. See URL and click on press release.

    Vehicle; Embedded; Driving, etc; Lifecycle
    Unit; CO2, Mt; CO2, Mt; CO2, Mt
    Average E10 vehicle; 5.6 (23%); 18.4; 24.0
    Average hybrid; 6.5 (31%); 14.5; 21.0
    Hybrid, Prius; 6.5 (31%); 12.0; 18.5
    Average plug-in hybrid; 6.7 (35%); 12.3; 19.0
    Plug-in hybrid, Prius; 6.7 (35%); 10.0; 16.7
    EV, medium-size battery; 8.8 (46%); 10.2; 19.0
    EV, Tesla; 11.5 (60%) ;10.4 ;21.9

    • Addition

      Carbon taxes likely would merely shift people to electricity for heat pumps and electric vehicles.

      Vermont Heat Pump Program a Failure Due a Lack of Energy Cost Savings

      After numerous complaints about a lack of energy savings, the Vermont Department of Public Service surveyed 77 existing heat pump installations at 65 locations and found the average energy savings were $200/heat pump/y, which had an installed cost of $5000/heat pump, and might last up to 15 years. Amortizing the $5000 at 5% over 15 years requires monthly payments totaling $474/y.

      Heat pumps used in typical Vermont houses are money losers, because the annual amortizing costs, maintenance contracts, and service calls of heat pump plus back-up systems would much more than offset the insignificant energy cost savings.

      Vermont Mix House

      “Vermont mix houses” (a mix of older and newer houses) are energy hogs. They would have a high peak heating demand during colder winter days, which makes them unsuitable for heat pumps. In this article a “Vermont mix house” is assumed to be a 2000 sq ft house requiring about 64000 Btu/h at -20F outdoors and 65F indoors.

      At 0F and below, the hourly cost of heating a “Vermont mix house” with heat pumps + fuel oil back-up system is higher than with only a fuel oil back-up system. See table 2A

      Heat pumps used in a “Vermont mix house” would displace only about 32% of the fossil Btus, which would provide inadequate energy cost savings and CO2 emissions reduction. See table 3

      Highly Insulated/Highly Sealed House

      “HI/HS houses” likely would have R20 basements, R40 walls, R60 roofs, R7 triple pane windows, R8 insulated doors, and less than 1.0 ACH @ 50 Pascal. See below Blower Door Test. They would have a low peak heating demand during colder winter days, which makes them suitable for heat pumps. In this article an “HI/HS house” is assumed to be a 2000 sq ft house requiring about 17045 Btu/h at -20F outdoors and 65F indoors.

      At 0F and below, the hourly cost of heating an “HI/HS house” with only heat pumps is higher than with only a fuel oil back-up system.

      Heat pumps used in an “HI/HS house” would displace 100% of the fossil Btus, which would provide adequate energy cost savings and CO2 emissions reduction. See table 3

      Such houses likely would have a propane-fired stove (thermostat-operated/no electricity), but not a much more expensive fuel oil system, in case of a power failure. See table 2B and Appendix

      Blower Door Test

      A blower door test is performed to determine the air in-leakage rate of a house, in air changes per hour, ACH, at a negative pressure of 50 Pascal. A door with an integral blower is mounted in an existing door opening. The blower sucks air from the house until the pressure in the house is 50 Pascal below ambient. The air in-leakage rate is measured in cubic foot per hour. The total volume of the house, including attic and basement, is calculated in cubic foot. Air in-leakage rate/house volume = ACH.

  3. “.Wait, won’t GLOBAL WARMING automatically LOWER our fuel use?”

    Yes but that’s not the objective. This has been going on since even before the booosh years of
    war for oil. It’s always been that “We are running out of oil”, and can’t count on it. Since that revelation
    hasn’t panned out and The US is now leading the world in production and highest ever exports and huge new finds of plentiful pools there’s renewed vigor in the leftarded anti fossil fuel need to shut it down…
    Actually warming would be much more beneficial to the worlds population then cooling which we are headed for..

  4. Vt is pushing solar and wind and down with Yankee. But the pushers have a problem. In order for the state to be totally independent on the two aforementioned systems, they will need a lot of open areas. There are not much open areas in VT, a spot here and there. I’ve seen many windmills stationary. What’s the alternative?

    Windmills look great in TX, IA, NM, WY, KS, SD, CA that I’ve seen. The Fort Stockton Plateau on I-10 in TX, west of San Antonio about 30 miles of them, 3-4 deep in rows. Also the TX Guadalupe Mountains area (highest in TX) near Carlsbad NM. I’ve traveled the country. VT is not in their league.

    In VT, solar panel fields and the mountain tops wind mills are a eye sore. Nearby people complain and forced to move.

    Ah, Flatlander thinking.

    Well, it seems a lot of timber land needs cutting to open. Modify the Mills so they rotate regardless of wind velocity like automatic feathering for continued output otherwise they are a stationary tiddlywinks on a gouged out mountain top, But thankfully they are in a stationary position, they aren’t killing birds and bats. PETA Rejoice!!. Then if forests are reduced, environmentalists file lawsuits.

    Nuclear and natural gas is the problem solver. But Environmentalists think a Nuclear Plant is the Atomic bomb. They haven’t learned about the recent developments in the plants. The spent fuel can be reused and become inert. All they want to do is protest, snowflakes.

    I have 157 acres, but will not donate to the cause. The Flatlander desire is let others produce for their needs. “No Carbon” in my back yard. They shoot themselves in the foot, too bad they don’t elevate the nozzle or use an Italian designed pistol.

    Why isn’t it you don’t see this crap in NH?

  5. These people won’t listen for they know better than everyone. Just listen to them. They are part of the Bernie circus. Full of stupid ideas. We need an electoral system in this State so these urban fools can’t completely control everything we do. Socialism in it’s purist form.

  6. Vermont Yankee, sure it was old and needed repairs to bring it up to standards, but here
    again the astute legislators we had running the state knew they were putting the state into
    a quandary !! But they’d rather do a photo-op.

    Now we have GMP stating they will have 100% renewable no matter the cost, Idiots with an
    agenda. Wind turbines ruining our mountains & solar panels, ruining our fields progressive
    boondoggle agenda

    Wake up Vermont, it’s not too late !!

    • Green Mtn Power and Efficiency Vermont seem to share the $10 to 20+ a month we all “contribute” on our electric bill. Imagine the burden of this 10+% makes on our last struggling and failing businesses and industries left in Vermont. Ask at an Efficiency Vermont booth what they do? We hand out money, and sell light bulbs. I was offered by state officials $6000 of other peoples money to switch to wood pellet heat – after my fuel oil system was “RED TAGGED”. An all encompassing attack on what works, and unceasing demands to purchase something that might work

      .Wait, won’t GLOBAL WARMING automatically LOWER our fuel use??????????????/

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