Why The 100 Kilowatt Hour Electric Vehicle Battery Is A Big Deal
The fastest car in the world, 0 to 60 mph.

The fastest car in the world, 0 to 60 mph.

Tesla is at it again, this time bumping their biggest battery pack size from 90 kilowatt hours up to the century threshold at 100 kwh.  Why is this a big deal?  It gives the Model S a range of over 300 miles now, which marks the first time an electric vehicle in production can get you that far on a single charge.

Or as Elon Musk says, you can now get from Los Angeles to San Francisco on a single charge (actually that’s dubious given the mountains, and at best would only get you to Los Angeles County, but still).

As an added bonus, the Tesla P100D is now the fastest car in production in the world, able to go 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds (and third fastest ever).

But the range is the most noteworthy thing.  Here we are in 2016, and you can have a 300-mile range electric car.  Granted, the cost is prohibitive for all but the most wealthy, but prices are coming down steadily.  It won’t be long, given current trends, before an electric vehicle could have a range of 600 or even 700 miles.  And once the price comes down on those cars, maybe by the middle or end of the next decade, a lot of discussion about “range anxiety” and access to public charging infrastructure becomes largely moot.

Is Cap-And-Trade Going To Die In California?

With the passage of AB 197 yesterday, it’s easy to assume that the future of cap-and-trade may be gloomy beyond 2020.  The program relies on legislative authorization via AB 32, which expires in 2020 (although arguably does not preclude extension beyond 2020).  But AB 197 now specifically directs the California Air Resources Board to prioritize:

(a) Emission reduction rules and regulations that result in direct emission reductions at large stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions sources and direct emission reductions from mobile sources.
(b) Emission reduction rules and regulations that result in direct emission reductions from sources other than those specified in subdivision (a).

Ann Carlson at Legal Planet asks the question whether or not this spells the end of cap-and-trade.  The answer may be quite complicated and will probably land the agency in court to resolve either way, as Ann discusses:

First, what does it mean to “prioritize” direct emission reductions?  Does the language require ARB to impose such reductions? Or only consider them in conjunction with other considerations? What happens, for example, if direct emissions reductions are more expensive than reductions achieved through cap and trade even taking into account the social costs of emissions as required?

If the Air Resources Board leadership is committed to keeping cap-and-trade alive beyond 2020, which it appears they are, then my guess is they have enough wiggle room and deference to do so, once they undertake a proper analysis of the various options on any given issue before them.

But the new language in AB 197 will certainly provide fodder for cap-and-trade critics to take the agency to court over any decisions privileging that program over direct command-and-control approaches. So in that respect, AB 197 only adds further uncertainty to the program after 2020.

The issue does not not need to be solved right away, as cap-and-trade will continue through 2020.  But the lingering doubts are apparently undermining the auctions for allowances, leading to low prices and uptake.  And industry will not want to continue indefinitely with so much uncertainty in the short term.  Hence their motivation to encourage a legislative fix as soon as possible.

2017 should be an interesting year for cap-and-trade.

BREAKING NEWS: Final Hurdle For California’s 2030 Climate Bill Passes Assembly

As I noted earlier today, there was a bit of added drama to the passing of SB 32 yesterday in the California Assembly, as the passage was dependent on the state enacting AB 197. The Assembly debated AB 197 this morning, and it passed out of the natural resources committee with six votes in favor and one opposed. It then headed to the assembly floor where it just passed 44 votes in favor, 28 opposed. The governor has vowed to sign it.

The irony is that the oil and gas industry fought attempts in the legislature to save cap-and-trade with a two-thirds vote. Cap-and-trade is a more palatable market-based alternative for the industry, compared to direct regulation, which AB 197 now prioritizes. So the industry is stuck with a majority-vote command-and-control approach.  Perhaps then it’s no surprise that industry representatives argued against AB 197 in committee this morning by saying it would undermine cap-and-trade.

So given the political momentum, my guess is that diverse parties now have an incentive to save cap-and-trade. But in the meantime, California has affirmed its international-leading commitment to stay the course on greenhouse gas reductions through 2030, pending final senate approval of an amended SB 32.

One More Legislative Hurdle For California’s 2030 Climate Law

As I blogged yesterday, the California Assembly took a giant step in approving SB 32 (Pavley), with one vote to spare for a majority.  But the bill is tied to AB 197, which is up for debate today.  That bill restricts some of the California Air Resources Board’s independence to implement the 2030 law by giving the legislature more oversight.  It also adds in a requirement that all regulations under SB 32 must include a “social cost” accounting that could make command-and-control regulations more palatable than market-based solutions like cap-and-trade.  My colleague Ann Carlson at UCLA Law has more analysis at Legal Planet.

The oil and gas industry has apparently targeted AB 197 as a way to bring down SB 32, plus the state senate will need to reconsider SB 32 given that the assembly amended it after it passed the senate first.  So it could be another nail-biter.

But assuming these bills are approved in their current form, the implications for California’s post-2020 plans will become much more clear.  First, most of the major climate regulations in place now will be able to continue through 2030, without the uncertainty of relying just on an executive order.  The big exception is cap-and-trade.  However, with command-and-control regulatory authority in place from SB 32, the oil and gas industry will have an incentive to try to re-authorize cap-and-trade as a more palatable alternative to direct regulation.  That could make 2017 a big year for that program in the legislature.

In the end, cap-and-trade is just one means to achieving our state’s climate goals, and there are other ways to get there.  Command-and-control may be more effective at guaranteeing actual emissions reductions.  The downside is that this approach could entail greater costs for industry than a market-based program.  And for environmentalists, these site-specific regulations don’t generate auction proceeds like cap-and-trade, which the state is now relying on to fund a host of programs, from high speed rail to low-income housing near transit.

But all of this speculation is premature, as we wait to see what the legislature does with AB 197.  I’ll provide updates as the process moves forward.

BREAKING NEWS: California Assembly Passes 2030 Climate Bill

It was a rough year in 2015 for SB 32 (Pavley), California’s major climate bill to extend the state’s greenhouse gas reduction efforts to 2030.  The  bill went down without a vote on the Assembly floor, due to opposition from “moderate” Democrats.

But today, the Assembly passed the bill with 42 votes in favor, 29 opposed:

This majority vote won’t inoculate certain programs under AB 32, like cap-and-trade, from court challenges alleging that they constitute a tax requiring a super-majority vote.  But the bill gives the California Air Resources Board authority to implement command-and-control regulations, if market-based alternatives are challenged.

With the senate already passing SB 32, the governor will sign soon, and California’s position as an international leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions will continue.

UPDATE: SB 32 is tied to the passage of AB 197, which is still up for a vote.

Why It Takes Longer To Build A Subway Now Than 100 Years Ago
The good old days for transit construction?

The good old days for transit construction?

It’s a subject that never ceases to amaze me.  As we face a growing infrastructure crisis across the country, with a strong need for more transit infrastructure to serve a growing population that is tired of driving and traffic, we simply can’t build like we used to.  I wrote a report about it for UCLA Law back in 2014 called Back in the Fast Lane, which offered some ways to speed up the planning and building process for new transit projects.

Alex Zimmerman at Atlas Obscura covered the topic last year, interviewing a transit historian in New York.  The article’s explanation for why it takes longer to build that city’s subway now than it did in 1900?  Zimmerman mostly attributes it to increased labor and safety standards, but other factors were at play:

Also crucial to the original tunnel’s speedy construction was the sheer number of workers deployed and the conditions they were expected to endure. Somewhere between 7,700 and 12,000 people were involved in building the first line, according to Desjarlais, and most of the workers wielding pickaxes were only bringing home around $1.50 per day [equivalent to about $40 a day in 2016 dollars].

“You have these guys down there who are literally banging at the rock with shovels,” says Newman. And it’s not like there were generous benefits or protections. “I think they were just working insanely. There were many fewer regulations in terms of public safety [and] public health.”

Nobody can argue with the need for modern safety standards. And the article also discusses reasonable delays stemming from the complex construction process now with more modern utilities in the ground.

But some of the delays are procedural and political, such as more deference to the needs of local property owners and more extensive environmental review and mitigation. And of course, we shouldn’t ignore the possibility of weak public oversight and management of these projects.  The problem is especially worrisome given the large amount of public money at stake and the potential for the corrupting influence of campaign contributions from contractors to the local decision-makers who award the construction contracts in the first place.

Ultimately, these long delays are a political problem we have to address.  Failure to do so risks continued environmental and economic degradation and a backlash from the voting public for over-promising and under-performing on these crucial transit projects.

1 comment Categories: Rail Transit
The Rise Of Community Solar

body-0-1376425473419Utilities may hate rooftop solar for cutting into their profits, but they seem to like community solar.  In these arrangements, consumers buy into a local solar PV project that could be small enough to fit on a Little League field.  The local utility buys the electricity and then reduces the customers’ electric bills based on how much the utility purchases.

This is a great option for renters and apartment dwellers who don’t have their own roof space and therefore no access to their own solar arrays.

Bloomberg reports on the new wave of community solar taking off like rooftop did:

“Utilities see community solar as a bit more friendly,” said Drew Warshaw, vice president of community solar at NRG Energy. “By definition we have to use their transmission and distribution system, we pay for any upgrades needed and they continue to have a relationship with the customer.”

Still, utilities are closely watching how this initiative plays out, mainly related to lost revenue, according to Chief Executive Officer Jim Torgerson of Avangrid Inc., which owns utilities in New York and New England.

“Shared solar has much better economies of scale than rooftop but net metering issues really have to get resolved,” he said in a phone interview. “We think it’s worth the wholesale price of power, not the retail rate.”

Even with this utility hesitancy, the future for community solar seems brighter than for rooftop, given the more pro-utility bent of the contracts.  So right now utilities may be okay with the arrangement.

But it may just be a matter of time before the technology improves enough to displace traditional large-scale utilities.  As solar and battery prices come down, many communities will be able to essentially become their own utilities, with links to neighboring microgrids.

If that comes to pass, community solar may hasten the end of the traditional utility.

Waste-To-Energy Conference Material Now On-Line

Wasting Opportunities CoverA few weeks ago, I gave a keynote address at the Southern California Conversion Technology conference in Los Angeles, held by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. The conference covered a wide range of technical and policy issues related to the deployment of advanced technologies to convert municipal solid waste into energy.

It’s a subject we covered at Berkeley Law in a recent report entitled Wasting Opportunities: How to Secure Environmental & Clean Energy Benefits from Municipal Solid Waste Energy Recovery.

The conference material, including presentations and video of the various sessions, is now posted on-line. You can access them here, and my keynote video is below and also posted on my video page. We had an interesting discussion in particular about the need to engage environmental justice communities in the process, as well as other pressing policy matters that affect the industry.

Could Chevy Beat Tesla To The Punch On A Mass-Market EV?
Chevy Bolt prototype interior

Chevy Bolt prototype interior

The Tesla Model 3 got a lot of hype and pre-release deposits, but Chevy may quietly beat Tesla in bringing a 200-mile range electric vehicle under $40,000 to market.  The new Bolt will supposedly be in production next year, and Car and Driver magazine just reviewed the prototype car with the Bolt’s chief engineer Josh Tavel:

Tavel is still tweaking various calibrations since Bolt production and sales are months out, but he’s clearly proud of what his development team has achieved. This 37-year-old engineer began amateur competition at age five on BMX bikes and continued with minimal interruption to his current SCCA Spec Racer Ford campaign. A deeply ingrained racing mentality may be why Tavel hated to sacrifice any torque to diminish tugs on the steering wheel, and why the Bolt’s every motion is well managed when you toss it around. Without imposing harshness, the ride is firm to help keep body roll in check during full-boogie maneuvers. The low-rolling-­resistance Michelin Energy Saver A/S 215/50R-17 tires absorb patched pavement without recoil and break away gently when tasked with a surprise lane change.

The review is overall very positive, although it notes some of the flaws related to slow charging and driving experience, when compared to the new Tesla.

Still, at the right price and with dependability that Tesla may struggle to offer, this car could put electric vehicles on the map for average consumers in a big way.

The Future Of California’s Cap-And-Trade Beyond 2020

As the Sacramento legislature debates SB 32 to formally extend the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets to 2030, a big piece of the political puzzle is the cap-and-trade program.  Namely, will the Air Resources Board have authority to continue the program beyond 2020?

There are a number of scenarios at play:

  • The ideal situation, for boosters of the program, is that the legislature approves SB 32 with a two-thirds majority, which inoculates the program from any court challenges that it’s a “tax” or “fee” that requires a two-thirds vote under voter-approved amendments to the state’s constitution.
  • Barring that (which seems unlikely this year but could happen next year if an anti-Trump “wave” sweeps away some of the legislators friendly to the oil and gas industry), the next option is to pass the 2030 goals with cap-and-trade via a majority vote.  Arguably, the program is neither a tax or fee and therefore only requires a majority vote to enact.  But a court would have to decide that outcome.  So more uncertainty would result regardless.
  • The third option is to simply carry on as usual under AB 32 authority, which the Air Resources Board is currently doing.  As my colleague Cara Horowitz at UCLA Law has described, there is a pretty solid argument that AB 32 provides all the authority that the Air Resources Board needs to continue the program beyond 2020, particularly with Governor Brown’s executive order to that effect.  But that approach too will almost certainly require a court to sanction, leading to more uncertainty in the coming years.

The final alternative, from a political standpoint, is to pass SB 32 on a majority vote, giving the Air Resources Board authority to issue command-and-control regulations to limit emissions from the oil and gas sectors.  Presumably, the industry would much prefer a market-based approach to command-and-control, which would bring them back to the table with their legislative allies to re-authorize cap-and-trade beyond 2020.  But who knows.  And there’s also the wild card of the governor placing a 2018 ballot measure before the voters on the issue.

One thing for sure: if the legislature does not resolve the situation soon, it will likely fall to the courts to decide.

Next Page