I'm Not Dead Yet: Is coal doomed regardless of whether EPA regulates carbon emissions?

 I want to pass along three interesting articles I have read over the past day or so about coal's decline (or alleged decline) in the United States totally unrelated to EPA's recent proposed rule on carbon emissions from existing power plants. Here are the takeaways:

  1. From former Sierra Club CEO Carl Pope at EcoWatch:  Hundreds of years of mining existing coal seams has made coal harder and more expensive to extract.
  2. From Berkeley Professor Meredith Fowley at The Energy Collective: The low price of natural gas and limited opportunities for exports (at least not yet) has made it economically attractive to switch fuel sources. This article has some very nice graphs about the decline of coal as a fuel source. 
  3. From Rebecca Leber at the New Republic:  Retrospective of pro-coal ads shows that coal has been predicting its own demise for over 40 years. I especially love the 1976 Coal Ad about the OPEC energy embargo. 

Reading these articles reminds me a bit of the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail about the bubonic plague.  Coal may be dying, but its not dead yet. 


Does The EPA Have A Thing Against Building Energy Codes?

What if there was a technology that had a 20 year track record of saving 4.8 quads of energy and 41 million tons of carbon, while saving consumers more than $44 billion over the past 20 years, and was anticipated to save consumers up to $230 billion on their utility bills, 53 quads of energy and 3,995 million tons of carbon from 2012-2040? 

What if the return on that technology was $400:$1--for every $1 of government program money spent, the return in cost savings was $400?

You would think that the EPA would have that technology at the top of its list of ways for states to reduce energy use and carbon emissions to comply with its new Clean Power Plan regulations. Instead, the EPA's response was "meh:"  

[Building energy codes*] might have substantial impact[], and the EPA does not want to discourage their implementation in state plans, but they might require development of appropriate quantification, monitoring, and verification protocols. The EPA and its federal partners intend to discuss the development of appropriate EM&V protocols for such measures with states in the coming years.

Federal Register, Vol. 79, No. 117, Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 34921.

I don't know why the EPA seems to have a thing against energy codes.  Perhaps it is that energy codes do not require cool new technology like carbon capture.  They do not require states to implement new programs or hire new personnel, because all 50 states already have building codes in place, either at the state or municipal level.  Or maybe it is because when you go to a cocktail party and start to talk about building energy codes, people feel compelled to refill their plate of cheez-its.       

But what I do know is that the EPA's concerns about building energy codes seem to run contrary to recent scholarship and state experience with building energy code programs.  

Two recent publications—one from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a joint study by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, the Edison Foundation and the Institute for Market Transformation—have protocols for measuring and verifying building energy code program savings.  In addition, over 10 states have included building energy code programs in their utility energy efficiency programs, many of which include M&V protocols.  

Even if the EPA is correct that there is some uncertainty and variability in M&V of building energy codes, the evidence of energy and carbon reductions for other compliance pathways that EPA supports, like carbon capture and storage, are much, much less certain.  

You have until October 16, 2014 to submit a comment on the proposed rule, letting EPA know that building energy codes should be at the top of its list of compliance paths, not the bottom.  

* Building energy codes are  minimum  standards for energy efficient design and construction for new and renovated buildings.  Like all construction codes, building energy codes are adopted as law by states and municipalities, and enforced by building code officials.