Clean cars, clean energy

electric carThis piece in Bloomberg news, The Dirty Road to Cleaner Cars, captures well the conundrum of cleaning up vehicular emissions.  22% of US CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector.  (This number is17% worldwide.)

Tesla set records when it launched its Model 3 in April, racking up more than 400,000 reservations for the $35,000 sedan since then. So it’s clear that there is a level of consumer awareness of, and demand for, reducing tailpipe GHG emissions.

But while electric cars are part of the solution – especially in sparsely populated locations, where mass transit is not feasible (like rural Vermont, where vehicular emissions comprise 26% of our carbon footprint) – they can only be as clean as the source of the juice that fuels them.

Eric Roston writes “with the solar, wind, natural gas, and (still potential) nuclear revolutions, the metabolism of the energy system is accelerating. Electric cars lead the parade.”

For Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, electric cars are just one of three ways of cleaning up the US energy system.  He first points to improving the efficiency of fossil fuel-generated electricity while also increasing zero-carbon power as quickly as possible before plugging buildings and vehicles into this clean(er) electric power grid.  His mantra? “Clean electricity, and electrify everything you can.

If you build it, they will come

Clean LineU.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz just announced the approval of a large-scale transmission project that will bring wind power from Texas and Oklahoma to the southeastern states. Called the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, the $2.5 billion transmission line is the largest of several clean energy infrastructure projects being developed under DOE partnerships. Moniz says that “moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is high in demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” and highlights the tangible benefits of creating jobs, reducing emissions, and increasing grid reliability. The P&E Clean Line is expected to start construction on the 600-kilovolt, direct current line in 2017 and bring it into service in 2020.

The DOE’s action to greenlight the greening of US electricity comes over the opposition of several states. The DOE is helping private developers get these projects running using, for the first time, its power to partner with transmission companies found in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  Arkansas regulators had refused to site the new P&E Clean Line five years ago because the project developer didn’t operate in the state and so wasn’t considered a utility under state law. (Missouri regulators have acted similarly on another clean line, the Grain Belt Express.) The Department’s decision will likely be challenged, questioning its authority under the 2005 law to take land for the line. Landowners argue that federal eminent domain is unconstitutional because the project isn’t needed.