Which states are making real and timely progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and what are the factors that are contributing to their success? Which states are really just paper tigers…all talk and little action?
That’s what we explore in a new series of episodes with scientist and energy expert Jack Kerfoot that begins today as we analyze climate change progress in four states in the Northeast: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.
Jack Kerfoot is a scientist, energy expert, and author of the book FUELING AMERICA, An Insider’s Journey. Kerfoot began his career in the energy industry in 1976, when America was paralyzed by an oil embargo. He spent over 45 years traveling the world, working with scientists, bureaucrats, ministers, tycoons, sheiks, and heads of state on a diverse range of energy issues. He is the principal of JL Kerfoot Energy Services and blogs on his website, Our Energy Conundrum, at www.jackkerfoot.com.
During the episode, Kerfoot explains the basics of climate change, including the necessity of reducing greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuels. He details why New Jersey and New York states deserve A+ marks for their efforts, while Massachusetts and Rhode Island are "paper tigers", having enacted written goals and objectives but not doing the detailed work needed to make them a reality.
Here are some querstions we cover in the episode:
1. What exactly are greenhouse gases and what are the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in America?
Greenhouse gases allow sunlight to pass into the earth’s atmosphere but prevent the heat from the sun from leaving the atmosphere.
The primary components of greenhouse gases include Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Methane, Ozone, Nitrous Oxide Water Vapor, and Chlorofluorocarbons. Carbon Dioxide comprises over 80% of greenhouse gases. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, or natural gas) is the dominant source of Carbon Dioxide.
2. Greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming, which in turn is linked to climate change. What is the evidence and impact of global warming and climate change?
Evidence of global warming include decades of satellite data that show the melting of glaciers and ice fields around the world. This corresponds to the steady rise in temperatures in the world’s oceans.
Evidence of climate change is shown in recent United Nations reports that document major weather events (blizzards, heatwaves, hurricanes, droughts, floods, etc.) around the world have increased by over 80% from 1981 through 2000, compared to 2001through 2020.
As an example, the extreme cold weather in Texas in February 2021 resulted in rolling blackouts across the state, causing 215 deaths. In June 2021an unprecedented heatwave in the Pacific Northwest in the US and Canada resulted in over 500 deaths. In 2022, unprecedented droughts, wildfires, and/or floods have devastated numerous countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
3. What are the primary sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States? In 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the major sectors generating greenhouse gas emissions were:
Transportation - 28% : Fuels are primarily refined petroleum (gasoline, diesel, etc.) for cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes.
Electricity Generation - 25%: Fuels include natural gas and coal. Renewable energy (wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, etc.) and nuclear power plants generate almost no greenhouse gas emissions.
Industry - 23%: Fuels used in the generation of steel, iron, and chemicals include coal, natural gas, and refined petroleum. Steel, iron, and chemicals are used to manufacture cars, computers, cell phones, pharmaceuticals, etc.
Commercial/Residential - 13%: Fuels used in the heating and cooling of homes and businesses include natural gas and refined petroleum. Excludes electricity from the power grid.
#5 Agriculture - 10%: Fertilizer, livestock, and farm equipment with combustion engines are the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector.
President Biden’s focus has been to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the top three sectors (transport, electricity, and industry), which generated 76% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.
4. Would you explain how the electricity generation sector has changed over the past 15 to 20 years?
In 2005, U.S. utilities used fossil fuels to generate 71.7% of the nation’s electricity (coal – 49.6%, petroleum gas – 19.1%, & oil - 3.0%), while zero carbon fuels generated 28.3% of the nation’s electricity (nuclear - 19.3% & renewables – 9.0%).
In 2021, U.S. utilities used fossil fuels to generate 61.2% of the nation’s electricity (petroleum gas – 38.8%, coal – 21.9% & oil – 0.5%), while zero carbon fuels generated 38.8% of the nation’s electricity (renewables – 19.9% & nuclear – 18.9% ).
The type of fossil fuel also impacts greenhouse gas emissions. Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas.
Power companies have built new renewable energy plants and replaced coal-fueled plants with natural gas fueled plants. As a result, CO2 emissions from the Electricity Generation Sector has fallen from 2.42 Billion Metric Tons in 2005 to 1.54 Billion Metric Tons in 2022.
This is significant as the total carbon dioxide emissions for all sectors in the U.S. has fallen from 6.00 Billion Metric Tons in 2005 to 4.97 Billion Metric Tons in 2022.
5. Which states are making real and timely progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and what are the factors that are contributing to their success?
The type and power potential of renewable energy resources (wind, solar, hydropower, etc.) vary dramatically across our nation. States in the Great Plains region have very strong and consistent winds, while states in the Southwest region have an abundance of sunny days.
Environmental philosophies and policies vary significantly from state to state. Identifying which states are making real and timely progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions is best done by comparing states in the same region of the country, which have similar renewable resource potential.
As an example, let’s contrast and compare four different states in the Northeast -Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Each state has enacted renewable energy standards for their electric utilities. However, the state’s environmental policies have produced notably different results at reducing greenhouse emissions.
In 1997, The state enacted a Renewable Portfolio Standard, mandating utilities to generate 35% of electricity sales from renewable sources by 2030 and an additional 1% each year after.
In 2019, Massachusetts closed the state’s last nuclear power plant. Natural gas fueled power plants replaced the power capacity lost from the closed nuclear power plant, causing an increase in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
In February 2023, utilities used fossil fuels to generate 81% of Massachusetts’ electricity.
Massachusetts has significant undeveloped renewable energy resources, including offshore wind, solar, onshore wind, and hydropower. However, the state’s complex and lengthy land permitting, and access regulations create barriers to any new renewable energy project development.
It is highly unlikely Massachusetts will be able to generate 35% of its electricity sales from renewable sources by 2030, as mandated in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
In 1991, New Jersey enacted a Renewables Portfolio Standard, which requires state utilities generate 50% of all electricity sales from renewable energy by 2030
In 2021, work commenced on the New Jersey Wind Port, which will support the construction and operation of the numerous offshore wind farms which will operate along the eastern seaboard.
In February 2023, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced programs to achieve 100%zero-carbon energy by 2035 and mandating all new cars sold will be electric by 2035.
In February 2023, utilities used fossil fuels to generate 37.5% of New Jersey’s electricity.
Three major offshore wind projects are scheduled to be commissioned in two to three years. These projects will generate sufficient electricity for the state to shutter the fossil-fueled power plants in New Jersey.
Ø It is highly likely New Jersey will be able to generate 100% zero-carbon energy before 2035!
In 2004, New York enacted a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandated all utilities sell 50% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2040.
In 2019, New York increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard for the sale of renewable energy from 50% to 70% by 2030. The state further mandated that 100% of all electricity generation have zero-emissions by 2040.
In February 2023, utilities used fossil fuels to generate 44% of New York’s electricity.
In May 2023, the New York Power Authority completed the 86 mile Moses-Adirondack high voltage transmission line, which is critical for the development of future renewable projects in center of the state.
Numerous offshore wind, onshore wind, and solar projects are scheduled to be commissioned in the next two to eight years. These projects will generate enough electricity for New York state to shutter fossil-fueled power plants in the state.
Ø It is highly likely New York will be able to generate 100% zero-carbon emissions by 2040!
In 2004. Rhode Island enacted a Renewable Energy Standard requiring state utilities to generate 38.5% of all electricity sales from renewable energy by 2035.
In 2016, the first offshore wind farm in the United States was commissioned off the coast of Rhode Island.
In 2020, Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order committing Rhode Island to be powered by 100% renewable electricity by year-end 2030.
In February 2023, utilities used fossil fuels to generate 89% of Rhode Island’s electricity.
Rhode Island has completed very few new utility scale renewable energy projects, since the Block Island Offshore Wind Farm in 2016.
One offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island is scheduled to be operational by 2025. However, the power from the wind farm will only replace less than 15% of the electricity from natural gas fueled power plants in Connecticut.
It is unlikely that Rhode Island will be able to generate 38.5% of all electricity sales from renewable energy by 2035, as mandated in the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.
It is highly unlikely that Rhode Island will be able to be powered by 100% renewable electricity by year-end 2030, as per Governor Raimondo’s 2020 executive order.
6.What can we learn from the energy policies of these four states in the Northeast?
States should always investigate, before they legislate. States like New Jersey and New York identified barriers to developing new renewable energy resources, which enabled them to successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and position to achieve their environmental goals.
New York invested in a major high voltage transmission line, which is critical for the development of future renewable projects in center of the state. New Jersey developed new policies to fast track integration of major offshore wind projects into the state’s power grid. New Jersey also invested in a major wind port, which will support the construction and operation of numerous offshore wind farms along the eastern sea board.
In my opinion, the legislators in Massachusetts and Rhode Island did not closely monitor their state’s progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. New York and New Jersey legislators have not only monitored their state’s progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they were also advocates for clean, renewable energy. New York and New Jersey showed environmental leadership.
The clock is ticking on climate change. Legislation without active and committed support from our elected officials is meaningless.
Listen to the podcast:
View the interview: https://youtu.be/6tS3u6_34OQ