Everyday we are bombarded with stories of rising gas and energy prices. The USA Today recently had a front page article on the increases in electricity rates due to the rise in fuel costs. The article said utilities are raising rates up to 29% due to soaring fuel cots. Its not just oil that has skyrocketing prices, natural gas and coal have experienced dramatic increases as well. Since the beginning of the year coal prices have gone from around $60 per ton to well over $100 per ton (depending on the type of coal purchased).
Ohio businesses have yet to experience the impacts from what is happening in the energy markets. Until recent passage of Senate Bill 265, Ohio had frozen its electric rates so recent fuel cost spikes have not been taken into account in rates. As reported by John Funk in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the utilities have begun meeting with the State to discuss price increases.
Ohio better brace itself for even a larger jolt in prices attributable to CO2 regulation. Federal legislation such as S. 2191 (the Lieberman-Warner Bill), which would regulate carbon emissions, had a quick death a few weeks ago in the Senate. However, it is inevitable that federal legislation that establishes a carbon cap and trade program will pass soon after we have a new President (both McCain and Obama support the cap and trade approach).
With 87% of Ohio’s power coming from coal, what impact would such a cap and trade program have on Ohio? Most understand there will be an impact, but I’m not sure most understand the magnitude. To illustrate the impact, I attached a chart from U.S. EPA’s modeling of the impact of the Lieberman-Warner bill on electricity generation. The two charts project the amount of electricity generation from various sources (blue = coal, yellow = nuclear, green = other sources).
The chart to the left (click to enlarge image) is the status quo- no greenhouse gas regulation. It projects coal-fired power would continue to dominate generation in the US. The chart on the right shows what will happen if something close to Warner-Lieberman passes.
Not only does the amount of coal power shrink relative to nuclear and other sources like renewables, the composition of generation from coal dramatically shifts. The change from blue to red in the chart project the conversion of coal to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). U.S. EPA projects that ALL coal plants will institute CCS by the year 2035. Why? Because the cost of emitting carbon will be so high that the economics will drive utilities to institute CCS.
Even U.S. EPA notes in its analysis that this projection is "optimistic." That certainly is an overstatement given the fact there are no successful CCS projects currently being implemented. So what does it mean if CCS is unrealistic in that time frame? It means huge cost increases for coal-fired utilities because the price of allowances under the cap and trade program will rise.
With fewer reductions there is a corresponding increase in the value of the C02 reduction credits used to offset emissions. Higher costs for C02 credits translates into larger compliance costs for coal-fired utilities. Those huge costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of electricity price increases.
Seems to me Ohio business and officials better start seriously considering the implications of federal regulation of CO2. I am not advocating against passage of greenhouse gas regulation. Ohio better start planning for a carbon constrained world and how electricity prices tied to coal generation may affect Ohio’s competitiveness.