Why "Official" Nuke Plant Cost Estimates Are Like Campaign Promises

In my in-box are a dozen e-mails wanting my reaction to Eduardo Porter’s column in yesterday’s New York Times in which he insisted that of all non-carbon based energy sources, nuclear power is “the cheapest and most readily scalable.”

Whether my correspondents knew that in my former life I meticulously established the spectacular failure of nuclear power plants to stay on budget and produce affordable electricity, or they simply thought I might have a halfway informed opinion on reactors’ proper role in combating the climate crisis, I can’t say. But I dutifully opened up Porter’s column and was quickly appalled.

Finland’s Olkiluoto fiasco shows that reactor cost escalation isn’t peculiar to the U.S.

The column fails the single most critical precept in nuclear economics: don’t confuse promise with performance. I made this point in 1979, a month before the Three Mile Island reactor accident, in a review of a book that plumbed that very theme. I was struck with how the authors of Light Water: How the Nuclear Dream Dissolved — two business academics with experience in the American and French Atomic Energy Commissions — showed that from Day One nuclear power proponents mesmerized themselves with idealized cost estimates that ignored reactors’ innate complexities and razor-thin tolerances — twin Achilles Heels that time and again broke project budgets and sowed mistrust among policymakers and the public, especially in the U.S.

Things haven’t changed. In June, Porter’s colleague Matt Wald, who has covered the nuclear industry for the Times since the early eighties, reported on a nuclear plant under construction in Georgia named Vogtle — one of two reactor projects underway in the U.S. First, Wald summarized the disastrous cost escalation at predecessor projects 30 years ago:

In those decades parts of plants were built, ripped out and rebuilt because of design and regulatory problems, leading to ruinous costs. Examples sit across the muddy construction site: Vogtle 1 and 2, which opened in 1987 and 1989, cost $8.87 billion. When they were proposed in 1971 the estimated cost was $660 million.

Wald noted that the new project, Vogtle 3 and 4, had instituted cost-control measures to lock-in plant designs and also replace often-chaotic field assembly with prefabricated parts. But, he noted:

[T]he company that was supposed to be making prefabricated parts like clockwork, from a factory in Lake Charles, La., was shipping them with some parts missing or without required paperwork. Southern [Company, the reactor owner] built a cavernous “module assembly building,” 120 feet high and 300 feet long, where the parts were supposed to be welded together, largely by robots, into segments weighing thousands of tons. But shipments stopped last August and are still arriving too slowly.

“[I]t remained to be seen,” the Georgia state construction monitor told Wald, “whether modular construction would actually save time.” Meanwhile, 5,000 miles away from Vogtle and “stifling” U.S. regulations that for decades have been blamed for “suffocating” nuclear power here, an ambitious reactor project in Olkiluoto, Finland has run completely off the rails.

“The massive power plant under construction on muddy terrain on this Finnish island was supposed to be the showpiece of a nuclear renaissance,” the Times reported back in 2009. “The most powerful reactor ever built, its modular design was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build. And it was supposed to be safer, too.”

Instead, the Times reported then, “after four years of construction and thousands of recorded defects and deficiencies, the price tag . . .  has climbed at least 50 percent.” That was just the beginning. By December 2012, three-and-a-half years after the Times article appeared, the cost of the Olkiluoto reactor had doubled again, according to Wikipedia, to 8.5 billion euro — nearly triple the original €3 billion delivery price. So calamitous is the cost spiral that the Finnish electric utility owner and the French reactor supplier are suing each other.

Why bring up Vogtle and Olkiluoto? Because they exemplify the real-world experience that Porter ignored. (They also constitute a majority of reactor construction now underway in the Western economies.) Instead, Porter hung his column on — you guessed it — paper cost estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the U.K. government. Here’s Porter’s faithful workup of nuclear vs. wind and solar, per EIA:

Take the Energy Information Agency’s [sic] estimate of the cost of generating power. The agency’s [sic] number-crunchers include everything from the initial investment to the cost of fuel and the expense to operate, maintain and decommission old plants. Its latest estimate, published earlier this year, suggests that power generated by a new-generation nuclear plant that entered service in 2018 would be $108.40 per megawatt-hour. . . This is not cheap. . . Still, nuclear power is likely to be cheaper than most power made with renewables. Land-based wind farms could generate power at a relatively low cost of $86.60 per MWh, but acceptable locations are growing increasingly scarce. Solar costs $144.30 per MWh, the agency estimates. A megawatt-hour of power fueled by an offshore wind farm costs a whopping $221.50.

Case closed, eh? $108.40 a MWh for nukes, $144.30 for solar, $221.50 for offshore wind? I’ll leave it to others to see if the EIA figures for renewables properly credit the still-ongoing declines in unit costs for photovoltaics and wind. My point here is that the nuclear numbers in Porter’s column overlooked not just Vogtle and Olkiluoto but the deep-seated problem that invariably leaves paper estimates of reactor costs bearing as little resemblance to the real thing as campaign promises bear to officials’ actual policies: the fabulous energy density that makes nuclear power so appealing in theory requires heroic countermeasures that demand degrees of perfection that are only achievable, if at all, through a punishing array of rules, regulations, paper trails, quality assurance, inspection, checking and double-checking that come at enormous cost.

I documented this in painstaking detail long ago in a book, Power Plant Cost Escalation, that took me several years to conceptualize and several more to quantify and compose and finally publish, in 1981. The book’s bottom line was that through the 1970s, costs of completed U.S. nuclear plants rose twice as fast as costs of completed coal-fired plants; while the higher costs at least paid for coal plants to become much cleaner but not for nuclear plants to be made any safer, judging by the steady drip of nuclear mishaps that culminated in the meltdown of the final nuclear plant in my database, Three Mile Island Unit 2. (The book is on-line here, as a 12MB pdf, or you can pick up a hard copy from me, cheap; send me an e-mail.)

This work went viral in the energy and business world of the time, giving me a good run as expert witness for state government agencies charged with representing utility consumers in electricity rate cases. Eventually I moved on — to bicycling advocacy, road traffic pricing, and, of course, carbon taxing. These days I mostly steer clear of nukes per se, and, indeed, of specific technologies, preferring to agitate to get the most-level playing field possible, via full-cost carbon pollution pricing.

The problems with Porter’s column don’t stop with his slavish adherence to paper estimates of reactor costs. He flogs Germany for its 0.9% bump in CO2 emissions last year (“even as they declined in the United States and most of Western Europe”), ignoring that German GDP grew relative to that of every other major European economy, and that the drop in U.S. CO2 was mostly due to the horrific (and possibly transitory) boom in fracked natural gas.

Indeed, from 2010 to 2012, a two-year period encompassing the March, 2011 Fukushima catastrophe and Germany’s subsequent decision to turn off 29% of its nuclear power production (reducing reactor output from 140.6 terrawatt-hours in 2010 to 99.5 TWh in 2012), Germany actually held constant its use of fossil fuels to make electricity.

How did German society make up for the 41.1 TWh drop in reactors’ electricity generation? Numerically, it was simple:

  • German solar-photovoltaic generation grew from 11.7 TWh to 28.0 TWh (a rise of 16.3 TWh).
  • Wind generation grew from 37.8 TWh to 46.0 TWh (a rise of 8.2 TWh).
  • Total consumption of electricity fell by 16.4 TWh (from 610.9 TWh to 594.5 TWh), despite GDP growth.

(Figures are based on data from Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie, Statistisches Bundesamt, Arbeitsgruppe Erneuerbare Energien-Statistik (AGEE-Stat).)

The institutional mechanisms are more complex and involve feed-in-tariffs and other mechanisms to elicit investment in renewables. (You can get the full scoop on how Germany turned off nearly 30% of its nuclear power without burning more fossil fuels from the excellent Energy Transition (The German Energiewende) blog run by Craig Morris at the Heinrich Boll Institute.)

Now that’s a story worth pursuing, and one I pitched to Porter in an e-mail the week before Labor Day. Perhaps my note was too gentle. In retrospect, I might have ripped a page from Nate Silver’s playbook and muttered a cautionary tale about the 2012 election pundits who went with discredited over robust poll data and predicted a Romney victory.

Photo: BBC World Service / Flickr.

Last modified: November 21, 2013

Trade Expert Is Latest to Endorse Border Adjustments to Carbon Taxes

Border tax adjustments (“BTA’s”) — tariffs imposed on imported carbon-intensive goods with corresponding rebates of carbon taxes on domestically-produced goods destined for export — are one of the more technical issues in carbon tax policy. They’re also controversial; some analysts warn of trade wars or lengthy trade litigation in the World Trade Organization over a carbon-tax with BTA’s. But stay with us as we report on a new paper detailing two routes by which WTO rules would unequivocally support national carbon taxes with border tax adjustments and thus offer a route to a harmonized global carbon price.

Typhoon Haiyan Underscores the Urgency of Global Action to Curb Global Warming

The paper, published last July by the German Marshall fund of the United States, the American Action Forum and Climate Advisers, is hardly the first to reach such conclusions. In recent years, journal articles from leading academics including Joost Pauwelyn (Duke Univ. Law, 2007 & 2012), Gilbert Metcalf & David Weisbach (Harvard Envt’l Law, 2009), and Carolyn Fisher & Alan Fox (RFF, 2009) have pointed to the potential for BTA’s to create incentives for globally-harmonized carbon taxes. But the July paper, “Changing Climate for Carbon Taxes, Who’s Afraid of the WTO?,” comes from an even more prominent and unimpeachable source.

The author, Jennifer Hillman, a German Marshall Fund senior transatlantic fellow, is one of the world’s leading trade experts. Hillman served for four years as counsel to the WTO Appellate Body (the “Supreme Court” of trade law) and, prior to that, served an eight-year term as a U.S. International Trade Commissioner. From 1995-1997, as General Counsel to the Office of United States Trade Representative, she oversaw U.S. government submissions in dispute settlement cases before both WTO and NAFTA.

So Hillman is an impressive messenger. Here’s why her conclusions are important, and why BTA’s are a crucial element of an effective U.S. carbon tax.

For carbon taxes to form the cornerstone of policies to de-carbonize the world economy, carbon pricing will need to “go global.” But without border tax adjustments, unilateral U.S. climate policy won’t necessarily lead to global emissions reductions (due to “off-shoring” of factories) and could disadvantage domestic energy-intensive business.

BTA’s offer a way to not only protect domestic energy-intensive industry but also provide carrots and sticks to induce our trading partners to enact their own carbon taxes and to prevent “carbon leakage” from relocation of energy-intensive industries. Moreover, a WTO-based process could obviate the U.N. Kyoto Protocol (“COP”) meetings where nations have wrangled for almost two decades to allocate the Earth’s dwindling carbon “budget.” Instead, the U.S. (or any large trading bloc) could simply enact a carbon tax and use WTO-sanctioned border tax adjustments to induce other nations to follow.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) functions as the “constitution” of the World Trade Organization in its mission to foster global trade. Hillman shows that GATT Articles II.2 and III.3 empower countries to impose taxes on imports provided they do not exceed the taxes imposed on “like” domestically-produced goods. (Historically, tax systems that have run afoul of Article II and III have been discriminatory attempts to favor domestically-produced goods by imposing higher tariffs on foreign-produced goods.) GATT allows taxes based on the production process — in the case of a carbon tax the “carbon intensity” of the production process. This would require data on production processes abroad, which may be difficult to obtain. Hillman suggests that, absent such data, WTO would accept an assumption that an imported product’s carbon intensity is similar to that of a like domestically-produced product. (Companies producing goods less carbon intensively than U.S.-produced equivalents could petition for reductions in their border tax adjustment.) 

Hillman offers a second avenue for BTA’s via GATT Article XX, which authorizes WTO members to adopt policies to protect human, animal or plant health or to conserve exhaustible natural resources. The general WTO policy of non-discrimination and non-interference with international trade would also apply to tariffs adopted pursuant to Article XX.

Hillman also recommends a rebate of carbon taxes paid on exported goods to ensure that domestic producers selling goods into non-carbon-taxing countries aren’t disadvantaged. She concludes that WTO should permit such rebates so long as they don’t exceed the carbon tax actually paid.

Hillman concludes

Policymakers have sufficient latitude with this [WTO] framework to design and implement a carbon tax system that represents a good faith effort to reduce carbon emissions while encouraging all other countries to cut their emissions too, all while preserving the competitive position of U.S. companies. Policy makers can be bold; the WTO will recognize genuine climate change measures for what they are and is unlikely to find fault with such measures, provided they do not unfairly discriminate in favor of U.S. companies.

Photo: Jun Tokumori (Flickr)

Last modified: November 12, 2013

Could the “Green Paradox” Thwart a Carbon Tax?

One of the best attributes of carbon taxes is that they’re fairly immune to the law of unintended consequences. No gaming or criminal mischief. No rebound effects. Just a classic downward-sloping demand curve: the fossil fuel provider pays the tax, the price of the petroleum product or coal-fired kilowatt-hour goes up, dirty energy’s market share goes down.

Could a Fast-Rising Carbon Tax Accelerate Oil Production?

But there’s a lurking concern that surfaces from time to time in the literature of resource economics and “Pigovian” taxes: raising the prices of fossil fuels too rapidly might induce the owners of those resources to extract them faster in the near term, a phenomenon known as the “green paradox.” In this scenario, fossil fuel owners would flood the market to reap higher sales before the carbon tax got big enough to kill off business. This near-term fossil fuel binge would increase CO2 emissions, obviating the fuel-shifting and demand-busting that a carbon tax would otherwise induce.

The green paradox is a direct corollary of Hotelling’s rule, a bedrock principle of resource economics. It came to mind this week as we digested the new report from the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Climate and Carbon: Aligning Prices and Policies. The OECD report urges an “explicit price on carbon” as the key mechanism to reduce global CO2 emissions. The report points to the IPCC’s newly confirmed finding that atmospheric greenhouse gases must not exceed 450 parts per million CO2-equivalent. Adhering to the resulting global “carbon budget” will necessitate zeroing out net global emissions by the second half of this century, according to OECD.

Topping OECD’s list of necessary national policies are:

[e]xplicit carbon pricing mechanisms, such as carbon taxes and emissions trading systems, [which] are generally more cost-effective than most alternative policy options in creating the incentive for economies to transition towards zero carbon trajectories.

OECD adds:

[U]se of these [pricing] mechanisms is expanding in developed, emerging and developing economies, but there is considerable scope for further uptake by governments. Overcoming political opposition to putting an explicit price on carbon will often require close attention to the distributional and competitiveness implications on the domestic economy.

OECD also stresses the need for governments to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and to enact complementary policies such as energy efficiency standards for buildings, homes and automobiles.

If, as OECD suggests, explicit carbon pricing is to drive CO2 emissions to zero by mid-century, it will have to be aggressive enough so that fossil fuels become uneconomical and are overtaken by zero-carbon alternatives. The Carbon Tax Center and a number of economists have attempted to model the price trajectory needed. While such modeling is highly speculative — it’s almost impossible to explicitly model technological innovation, for example — we estimate that the CO2 price will need to surpass $300/ton by mid-century.

That’s a hard sell politically, of course, though we often point out that a carbon tax can replace other taxes so our total tax burden need not increase. But there’s also Hotelling’s rule to consider.

In a seminal paper published in 1931, Harold Hotelling posited that exhaustible resources are a form of capital available for extraction at any time at a known cost. He showed mathematically that in a dynamic, competitive equilibrium (where sellers compete and are free to respond to changes in supply and demand), prices of such resources rise at the rate of interest. Imposing a tax that raised the price of fossil fuels faster than the interest or “discount” rate would therefore make the resource more valuable now than in the future. Thus, the “green paradox”: a carbon tax rising too fast could induce more global warming by triggering a near-term rush to extract and market fossil fuels. (Note that an expectation of rapidly rising subsidies to renewable energy could induce a similar rush to extract fossil fuels.)

Nevertheless, a new paper by Prof. Robert D. Cairns of McGill University concludes that fears of the “green paradox” are overblown in the context of oil pricing. In The Green Paradox of the Economics of Exhaustible Resources, Cairns points out that oil and gas production is limited by the drilling activity in the previous period; production from wells tends to diminish along a predictable “decline curve” reflecting diminishing hydraulic pressure in the formation. Because producers can’t cost-effectively increase production very rapidly, the assumptions of Hotelling’s rule don’t apply. Similarly, capacity to drill new wells is limited in the short term by availability of drilling rigs and related equipment; investments in additional capacity don’t pay off immediately, they must be amortized over time by expected future activity.

Cairns concludes:

Hotelling may reign but he does not rule. Models in his tradition assume free allocation of
resources over time. The rule is an arbitrage condition relating the values of net price over the
productive life of the reserve. Empirical evidence suggests that allocation is subtler than in the
Hotelling model. The operative constraint in oil industry is that allocation over time is capped in
one of a number of ways, so that arbitrage among periods is constrained. Calculations and comparisons are not simply of current costs at different time periods but of commitments, especially sunk costs, predicated on the entire future of operations.

Economic theory and empirical evidence suggest that Cairns’ conclusion isn’t limited to oil. Coal and gas extraction are also constrained by physical and capital factors that limit resource owners’ ability to accelerate production enough to overwhelm the benefits of a predictably-rising carbon price.

Like the vast majority of economists, we agree with OECD that a global carbon price is key to zeroing out global CO2 emissions. Prof. Cairns and a growing body of literature show that fears of the “green paradox” shouldn’t deter policy-makers from setting an aggressively-rising carbon tax trajectory that meets the goal of zero emissions by mid-century.

Photo: Flickr– photos of Rob

Last modified: October 23, 2013

RFF Study: Young Generation Would Benefit Most From Climate and Fiscal Benefits of Carbon Tax

A new paper, “Deficit Reduction and Carbon Taxes: Budgetary, Economic, and Distributional Impacts” by economists at the Washington, DC think-tank Resources for the Future, finds that a $30/ton tax on CO2 pollution would reduce U.S. emissions 16% by 2025. The report concludes that dedicating the carbon tax revenues, estimated at $200 billion each year, to “down payment” of the federal budget deficit offers greater economic-efficiency benefits than other revenue-return options. Moreover, according to RFF, using the carbon tax revenues to pay down the deficit would especially benefit the young, by curbing global warming and its associated future costs, and by reducing tax burdens of today’s young people far into the future.

Using a new intergenerational economic model, RFF economists examined different ways to use revenue generated by carbon taxes, revealing the impacts of those choices across the age spectrum of the U.S. population. They modeled four scenarios: three in which the carbon tax revenues are used to reduce taxes on 1) capital, 2) labor, and 3) sales of goods, and a fourth in which the revenues are returned in lump sum “dividends.” RFF found the differences in annual aggregate welfare among the four options to be relative small ― less than 3 percent. Interestingly, returning revenue as lump-sum dividends offers a slightly more progressive income distribution than a labor tax shift.

More striking differences are revealed across the age spectrum: people who are now too young to vote would benefit most from a carbon tax used to fund deficit reduction, according to RFF. The authors conclude: “[E]nacting such a policy [a carbon tax used to pay down the deficit] will be politically difficult unless current generations are altruistic” enough to act now to curb global warming and to pay down deficits, both of whose impacts will be greatest on the young. That’s an understatement.

Last modified: October 20, 2013

Data Points

U.S. carbon emissions have been dropping, thanks to a confluence of factors, led by stagnating household incomes, cheap fracked methane, booming wind power, and “peak driving.” From 2005 to 2012, releases of CO2 from fossil fuel burning fell an estimated 685 million metric tons, from 5,906 MMT to 5,221. The lion’s share of that reduction, 379 million metric tons, came in the electricity sector, as wind and gas grabbed market share from coal (3 percentage points went to wind and nearly 12 points to gas) while total power generation stayed flat.

(Emissions data come from CTC’s carbon tax spreadsheet model. Electricity market shares may be calculated from EIA data.)

The rush to fuel efficiency is more of a trickle.

The second largest emissions source, which I call “Personal Ground Travel” (driving) to distinguish it from goods movement (mostly by trucks), shrank only modestly, from 1,246 MMT to 1,184, a drop of just 62 million metric tons, or 5%. So imagine my surprise when I read in a New York Times editorial last month that “increased fuel efficiency helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions from passenger cars by 16 percent from 2005 to 2012.”

That August 10 editorial, A Clean-Car Boom, was nearly euphoric. Here’s its lede:

In a welcome development for the planet, the cars on American streets are becoming much more climate-friendly much sooner than many had expected. Consumers are increasingly buying fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles thanks to breakthrough innovations and supportive government policies.

True enough about consumers buying … not so the earlier part about emissions dropping by 16%. In fact, in the few seconds it took to follow the editorial’s link, it became clear that the 16% passenger-car reduction applies just to new autos rather than the entire sector, which necessarily takes many years to “turn over” to more-efficient models. What also became clear, in back-and-forth e-mails w/ the editorial board, was that the Times wasn’t going to publish a correction clarifying that CO2 emissions from cars fell just 5% from 2005 to 2012, not 16%.

“I assume [the writer of the editorial] meant new models, not entire existing fleets and that is the way readers would see it,” an editor advised me in an e-mail. “I will have to check with EPA and DOT,” he added, ignoring my offer to lead him to the numbers.

Would readers “see it” as the editor assumed? Would they get that CO2 reductions from driving were only inching along rather than galloping as the Times editorial suggested? I’m not sure. As I wrote to the editor in my final e-mail:

Why does this matter (apart from getting numbers right, generally)? A certain complacency has set in about heartening/surprising progress in cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, especially in mainstream environmentalist thought. Indeed, this complacency may help explain how the [editorial] writer slipped into his/her error. More importantly, it has implications for policy/politics around climate, carbon taxing, “radical” vs. “incremental” approaches, etc.

The implications I had in mind are obvious but worth saying: If you “learn” that regulations have already eliminated one-sixth of carbon emissions from driving in just seven years, you’ll be more inclined to trust that further application of regulations can get induce more reductions. And if regulations are up to the task, the need to take on the tougher job of enacting a meaningful carbon tax dissipates.

Would that were so. But regulations aren’t up to the task of eliminating 80% or more of U.S. CO2 emissions. They’re intrinsically piecemeal, long lead-time, backward-casting, and suboptimizing. They also produce no revenue, thus giving them zero salience in any possible budget deal. As I wrote here late last year, only a carbon tax can

broadcast …  a clear price signal to begin shifting millions of decisions toward less energy and emissions — big decisions that determine design of vehicles and transport and that set the pace and nature of investment in low- and non-carbon energy; as well as the full gamut of household-level decisions …  Almost as importantly, a robust carbon tax changes the culture by broadening the definition of pollution and valorizing conserving behaviors with monetary rewards.

Or, as CTC’s Washington rep, James Handley, put it, in an early-2012 post dissecting putative EPA regulations of CO2 emissions from power plants, “EPA regulations might, optimistically, achieve significant near-term reductions, albeit at a higher cost than a CO2 pollution pricing system. But more importantly, those regulations can’t be expected to induce further innovation.”

Indeed, James’s post drew on work by noted Resources for the Future economist Dallas Burtraw to conclude that in the near term, EPA regulation of greenhouse gases was unlikely to reduce carbon pollution any more than a small carbon tax, say, one starting at $10/ton of CO2 and rising by just $3.50/ton per year. “Moreover,” James noted, “it’s not clear how much further EPA regulation could reduce emissions after 2020. That’s because regulations are essentially static and do little to induce innovation or to reduce fossil fuel demand via conservation.”

With or without a correction by the Times, there’s no getting around the need for a robustly rising carbon tax.

* * * * *

Separately, we call your attention to a new report by prolific automobile researcher Michael Sivak and two colleagues at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, “A Survey of Driver Opinion About Carbon Capture in Vehicles.” Using an opinion survey, the three inferred that Americans “appeared to be willing to pay about $100 for a 20% reduction in [their car’s] carbon dioxide emissions.” Applying an average 25 mpg fuel economy for newly purchased vehicles, an annual distance driven per vehicle of 11,000 miles, and a typical 11-year vehicle life, that 20% reduction equates to 9.5 tons of CO2. A willingness to pay $100 to eliminate 9.5 tons equates to just $10-$11 per ton of CO2 removed, suggesting that relying on Americans’ altruism isn’t going to do the heavy lifting of reducing carbon emissions.

Photo: Veee Man, via Flickr.

Last modified: September 20, 2013

Which Carbon Tax: Robust or Miniature?

Not all carbon tax proposals are equal. Some would raise the level of the tax robustly enough over time to transform the energy supply and the ways everyone uses energy. Others envision miniature carbon taxes meant to generate revenue targeted for specific purposes. The Breakthrough Institute (BTI) advocates a miniature version: a $5/T CO2 tax to fund energy R&D that they insist will unleash cheap new sources of low-carbon energy to undercut fossil fuels. In contrast, the Carbon Tax Center finds that a briskly-rising economy-wide carbon price is needed for energy efficiency and renewable energy to displace the vast bulk of fossil fuels by mid-century. An excellent example is the measure proposed by Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT) in 2009 for a CO2 tax starting at $15/T, rising to more than $100/T over a decade, which we estimate would reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by one-third in that time.

The “robust” carbon tax met the “miniature” carbon tax at the BTI meeting last month in Sausalito, CA.  James Handley, the Carbon Tax Center’s Washington DC representative, discussed his paper, “Reaffirming the Case for a Briskly Rising Carbon Tax,” which responded to BTI’s draft (and not yet citable) paper, “Costs and Complexities of Carbon Pricing.” The BTI paper asserts that only a fully revenue-neutral carbon tax set at a socially-optimal price with full participation by other nations would be more effective than subsidies and regulations at reducing CO2 emissions. The paper points to the ineffectiveness of the low carbon prices induced by the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and argues that the public won’t tolerate carbon prices rising to levels high enough to reduce emissions substantially. Because modest carbon taxes can’t deliver the needed emissions reductions, BTI argues that the carbon tax to shoot for is a small one funding targeted R&D that will unleash a technology breakthrough leading to abundant, cheap energy. (BTI supports “fourth generation” nuclear power, using fast breeder reactors as touted in the film “Pandora’s Promise.”)

In rebuttal, Handley argued that taxing CO2 pollution instead of productive activity such as work and investment is a climate policy offering enormous climate benefits at little or no cost. Successful carbon taxes in British Columbia and Sweden are proof that voters can be persuaded to embrace carbon taxes that reduce taxes on individual and business income, retail sales and payrolls. These taxes, along with Australia’s new carbon tax, demonstrate that well-designed carbon taxes can effectively reduce emissions quickly, at minimal cost, without stunting economic growth.

Handley further noted that the effectiveness of BTI’s proposal hinges on the ability (and willingness) of Congress and federal agencies to identify and fund nascent low-carbon energy technologies capable of breaking fossil fuels’ economic dominance. Yet a steadily-rising economy-wide carbon price can perform this task far more broadly and effectively, Handley argued, by encouraging every energy supplier and every energy user to look for ways to reduce emissions, spurring innovation across the entire spectrum of energy supply and use. He noted that diverting carbon tax revenues to R&D would preclude using carbon tax revenue to reduce other taxes, thus undercutting political support.

Last modified: July 7, 2013

The Politics and Economics of Obama’s New Climate Program

We present this guest post by Robert J. Shapiro, Co-founder and Chairman of Sonecon, LLC, and U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs during 1997-2001. Click here for his full bio, and here for the same post on Sonecon’s blog. Dr. Shapiro joined CTC’s board earlier this year. 

The Supreme Court’s blockbuster decisions on voting rights and same-sex marriage attracted most of the attention, but President Obama also moved decisively last week, on climate change. The facts that drove the President are scientifically undisputed. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions in the earth’s atmosphere continue to raise global temperatures; and without serious action, the long-term effects on sea levels and climate could be catastrophic. Yet climate-change deniers on the far right have a tight hold on a majority of congressional Republicans, who now won’t even acknowledge the threat. With no hope of reaching a reasonable accommodation, the President put forward new regulations that don’t need their approval — and ultimately will be less effective and more costly for average Americans than the alternatives which Congress won’t consider.

Dr. Robert J. Shapiro

For a while now, most climate experts and economists have broadly agreed that the most efficient and effective way to reduce these carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is the direct approach: Raise the price of fuels based on the GHG emissions they produce, and so raise the price of all goods and services based on the emissions created to produce them. In principle, this approach could attract bipartisan support. It rests on one of the bedrock tenets of conservatism, the power of prices in free markets, as well as the liberal disposition to create national programs to improve the general welfare. Yes, the most straightforward way to achieve such climate-friendly fuel prices is apply a dreaded tax to all forms of energy based on their carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG emissions. But even that, in more placid political times, could be a basis for attracting broad support, since the revenues from a climate tax could be dedicated to cutting payroll, corporate and other, more economically-distorting taxes.

The truth is that every other serious approach to climate — from a cap-and-trade system to the President’s new regulations — also would raise prices: Directly or indirectly, they make it more expensive to use fuels that emit more than their share of greenhouse gases, relative to other fuels that damage the climate less. Over time, those price differences should gradually move millions of businesses and tens of millions of households to favor the cheaper, more climate-friendly fuels and technologies, and the goods and services produced using them.

The sobering news is, we don’t have much time. Scientists warn that however broadly we might adopt the current generation of cleaner fuels and technologies, the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other GHG will soon reach levels that will produce serious climate changes. However, the economics of setting a clear and hefty price on carbon and other GHG would also create new incentives that could extend the frontiers of climate technology. If energy companies, scientists and entrepreneurs can be certain about the price of carbon and other greenhouse gases, looking forward — if they know how much more it will cost people to use climate-damaging fuels, compared to climate-friendly ones — that would create strong incentives to develop and adopt the next generation of climate-friendly fuels and technologies.

The question is, how efficient and effective are each of these approaches, and which is most likely to spur new advances? The question highlights the costs of the extreme right’s current hold on congressional Republicans, which drives the political stalemate on climate policy and has left President Obama with few options apart from executive regulation. His new regulatory agenda has three parts. It includes, first, higher energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, aimed at reducing energy use whether clean or otherwise. There also are new loan guarantees for projects to reduce or isolate the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels, and additional grants to develop more efficient biofuels. These guarantees and grants are designed to promote greater use of more climate-friendly technologies and fuels by reducing the cost of capital to develop them. While these measures provide a sense of the administration moving on many fronts, their combined impact on the climate crisis will be modest.

There is one measure that could matter a great deal more: The President has directed the EPA to develop new CO2 and other GHG emission standards for existing power plants. This follows EPA regulations proposed last year that set similar standards for new power plants. The logic is straight-forward: Set standards that will force utilities to rapidly shift from coal to natural gas and renewable fuels. This makes sense, since the use of cheap coal to generate electricity accounts for about half of worldwide carbon and other GHG. Shifting to natural gas worldwide would cut life-cycle GHG emissions by 20 percent, and shifting to renewable fuels would reduce those emissions by as much as 40 percent.

There is no doubt that sufficient regulation could move the United States to a path under which our GHG emissions would decline in a sustained way. But using regulation in this way will cost Americans a great deal more than a carbon tax with the same result.

Under the new regulation, existing power plants will have to develop and adopt new investments that meet a new, uniform standard by reducing their emissions from fossil fuels or converting their plants to use cleaner fuels. To begin, monitoring and enforcing such regulation will cost a lot more than collecting a tax. More important, the program suffers from the inefficiencies of most regulation, because some utilities will be able to meet the regulation much more cheaply than others, based on the state of their current plants. For example, plant A could reduce its emissions by a required unit by investing $1,000,000, while plant B could reduce its emissions by the same unit for $250,000, and by two units for $500,000. So, reducing emissions by two units under the regulation will cost $1,250,000, while plant B could achieve the same result for the climate under a tax or a cap-and-trade system for $500,000. Under all of these alternatives, most of the costs are passed along to the ratepayers and consumers. But a tax with offsetting tax reductions could return much of those costs to everyone. Based on a simulation from several years ago, those costs could average some $1,500 per-household, year after year.

Finally, while the new regulations should spur technological innovations to enable utilities to meet the standard more efficiently, the incentive to innovate will dissipate once the standard is met. By contrast, the economic incentives to develop and adopt cleaner fuels and technologies never go away under an emissions tax, since every incremental advance would reduce the tax and, with it, the price of energy.

This past weekend, President Obama also devoted his weekly address to his new climate program. He deserves credit for refusing to be cowed by his opponents’ intransigence. He could truly elevate his presidency, however, by taking the case for a carbon/GHG tax with offsetting tax cuts to the country, and beating his opponents on one of the most fateful challenges we face today.

Last modified: July 2, 2013

CTC's Carbon Tax Model: Peering Under the Hood … and Beyond

This post is a response to a set of five questions we received from Paula Swedeen, an ecological economist from Olympia, WA. Paula graciously granted permission to reprint her e-mail; our answers follow each of her five questions.

Hello Mr. Komanoff — I recently downloaded and read through your updated carbon tax model. Thanks for making this publicly available — it’s an extremely useful tool for thinking through how a carbon tax might work and potential optimal designs. I also read the exchange that you and your colleague James Handley had with Dave Roberts at Grist last November-December which laid out some interesting questions about how to spend revenue from a carbon tax. I have a few questions about the policy implications of the results of your default case, and about some of the assumptions in the model.

My background is in ecological economics and biology, and I work quite a bit at the intersection of forests and climate change. I consult for non-profit environmental groups and Tribes on conservation policy for forests and aquatic ecosystems. While I have worked on the portion of California’s climate policy that impacts forests, I am not wedded to using cap-and-trade for addressing climate change, and think a carbon tax has some important advantages at the national level.

Here are my questions.

1) Your default case of starting a tax at $15/ton of CO2 and increasing it by $12.50 a year results in an average rate of emission reductions of 2% per year between 2014 and 2036 (amount of average annual reductions compared to emission levels in 2013, the year before the tax starts). While this results in substantial reductions compared to what we are doing today, much research, as you are no doubt aware, points to the need for global emissions to decline at rates in excess of 5-6% per year, starting now, in order to meet even a 50% chance of staying below a 2 degree C temperature rise (a frighteningly weak goal to start with). From a global equity perspective, the U.S. ought to at least meet that average requirement, if not exceed it given our historical emissions. See for example, Anderson and Bows, 2011 (http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1934/20.full.pdf+html).

What other policies, in addition to the already robust carbon tax you propose, do you see as being available to accomplish the other 3-4% annual rate of emission declines we should be achieving?

Answer: Our default tax is based on the 2009 Larson bill. I calculate a slightly stronger reduction rate for it than you did: 2.5% a year from 2012 to 2036. (Here I’m comparing projected 2036 emissions of 2,860 million metric tons of CO2 with actual 2012 emissions of 5,243, and of course I’m compounding the average.) But your point stands.

To some extent, that disturbingly small average is an artifact of the diminished “bite” built into any additive tax that increments by a constant annual amount: the tenth $12.50/ton tax increment has less salience to households and industry than the first. At some point, the additive rises would need to give way to constant-percentage-increase rises, unless the rate had already achieved market-clearing levels — a scenario we critiqued in this space several years ago as over-optimistic.

Any model tends to have greater predictive value in the near term than the far, and thus we’re more heartened by the 3.1% average decline rate predicted for the first dozen years than we are discouraged by the 1.9% average rate for the second dozen. But even a 3% annual decline rate is wanting, as you noted.

The ideal carbon tax is, thus, steeper even than Larson’s “aggressive” bill. But we have to begin somewhere. As for complementary policies, we’re impressed with the 100% Wind-Water-Sunlight vision propounded by Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson and his team. His new paper in Energy Policy, “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” is a good place to start.

2) In your exchange with Dave Roberts, you acknowledge that there are barriers to clean technology deployment, but state that the strength of your tax compared to the proposals coming out of Brookings or MIT would exert more technology pull to overcome these barriers. However, given that this pull looks to result in about half or less of the rate of emission reductions needed, does this influence your perspective on whether spending some of the revenue from a carbon tax on deployment and R&D would be worthwhile?

Answer: We’re all for basic energy research, but less enamored of government-funded development and deployment. In any event, we believe that dedicating “incremental carbon-tax revenue” to transparent and progressive federal tax-shifting or per-household dividends will do more to cut carbon than spending it on RD&D. It will do so by preserving the political bargain that makes possible next year’s carbon-tax increment, and the increment after that, and so on (as evidenced in British Columbia, where 100% revenue return preserved political support for the yearly tax rise), and thus creates powerful price signals that can drive investment, not to mention research and development.

3) The equity argument of needing to refund the tax to consumers, especially low income households, is very important. Using the revenue numbers from your default case, and U.S. Census Bureau numbers for household income distribution, it looks like over $500 billion in dividends would go to households making more than $200,000 a year over the 22 years you modeled out the tax. This is a substantial sum of money going to people that could arguably afford higher energy prices, and whose carbon consumption behavior may not change all that much based on the size of the refund compared to their incomes. What do you think about directing that money to clean energy deployment and other emission reduction efforts instead? I understand the political reasons for giving a refund to everyone. However, are there other technical or economic arguments for not having an upper income cut-off and instead using the revenue for direct emission reduction projects?

I am very interested in your perspective on this point, because it seems that given how late we are in the race to avoid an irreversible threshold to a largely uninhabitable planet, we should be throwing everything we have at the problem. I have a hard time seeing how we can afford to refund such large sums of money to high income households when it could be used to important effect elsewhere. Would it not be worthwhile to vastly expand public transportation, and/or put as many solar arrays on available roof-tops as could be purchased, or keep forests standing rather than recycling revenue to those who likely don’t need it? A $200,000 annual income cut-off for a refund would still shield low and middle income families from energy price increases. Obviously, other income cut-offs could be used, but you get the idea.

I definitely get the idea, and I thank you for the calculation (which I confirmed , probably using the same Census income table as you; it puts 4.2% of U.S. households at or above your cutoff, which I multiplied by the projected $14.8 trillion in cumulative “available” carbon-tax revenue to 2036, to calculate $620 billion.)

My response parallels my answer to Question #2: for me, the value of preserving the structure of the overall arrangement (in which equal per-household dividends of the tax revenue engender public and political support for the tax to keep rising) overrides both my strong personal feelings about economic inequality and my awareness (which I share with you) of the potential payoff from allocating the $620 billion to infrastructure and energy projects that could push down CO2 emissions further. Here I’m particularly concerned with the perceived arbitrariness of an income cutoff. Consider that in just the tenth year of the tax (2023 if it starts in 2014) the per-household dividend will exceed $4,000; in which case a household with an income of $199,000 will make more money, with the dividend, than one with an income of $201,000. Yes, sliding scales could be devised, but these threaten to make the distribution so complex that it becomes vulnerable to other carve-outs which then cascade to a point where it loses its public appeal.

4) Forest loss is a large source of carbon emissions globally. Most of the emissions come from tropical deforestation, but conversion of forests to housing and commercial real estate in the U.S. (and some other management changes) is projected to make domestic forests a net source of emissions by 2030. Allocating a very modest portion of carbon tax revenues to both the U.S. contribution to financing an end to tropical deforestation, and to preventing forest conversion domestically directly reduces CO2 emissions, and has numerous ecological and social co-benefits. Having worked in this particular field for over 20 years, I know that coming by adequate funding for forest conservation is a huge challenge – this is another race we are losing to disastrous consequences. Carbon taxes are being used by other nations, like Norway, to address emissions from tropical deforestation. And Waxman-Markey allocated some auction revenue for forest conservation. Using carbon tax revenue to reduce forest-based emissions, or even increase biological sequestration, also has the advantage of not trading off forest emission reductions for a portion of fossil fuel emission reductions, as occurs under an offset system with cap and trade. I am concerned that if no portion of carbon tax revenue goes to this purpose, there will be few other sources of revenue adequate to the task. Do you have any thoughts on this topic?

Answer: We advocate briskly-rising carbon taxes as a needed corrective to spur low-carbon energy innovation and to encourage renewables and efficiency in a price system that lets them compete fairly. But the same logic that points to the need for a carbon tax to “internalize” the social cost of carbon pollution in fossil fuel prices suggests that payments are needed to assure the continued social benefit of carbon sequestration services by forests and aquatic ecosystems. As you point out, these ecosystems are being diverted to more financially lucrative uses because their climate and other ecological benefits are unpriced. Under “the polluter pays” principle, those who benefit from dumping carbon into the atmosphere should pay for the service of sequestering it safely. And yes, that’s a lot more direct and clear than using offsets under cap-and-trade to fund ecological services.

As noted, we recommend returning carbon tax revenue (either as a tax shift or a direct payment) primarily as a way to mitigate regressive effects and to build the kind of long-term political support we’ve seen for British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax. But the argument for using at least a portion of the revenue stream to fund carbon sequestration services strikes us as compelling. Several carbon tax proposals suggest allocating funds from harmonizing border tax adjustments (essentially tariffs) on carbon-intensive imports to finance international forestry projects. Under that structure, carbon tax revenue from domestic goods would be “recycled” to households, while the import tariff would fund preservation and restoration of forests and perhaps aquatic ecosystems’ capacity to sequester carbon.

5) Can you briefly describe your confidence in your price elasticity assumptions? I noticed when ramping up the tax in your model, for example to start at $40/ton and increasing it by $20/year, the average rate of emission decline does not respond that dramatically — it goes from 2% up to 2.6% per year. Do you have any sense of the chances that your model might either over or underestimate individual and business reaction to carbon price increases?

Answer: My math yields a somewhat different result. Comparing projected 2036 emissions with actual 2012, and again using compound averages, I calculate a 2.5% annual average decline with the default $15.00/$12.50 tax, and a 3.7% decline rate with “your” $40.00/$20.00. Your tax is roughly two-thirds higher than mine in 2036 and has achieved a roughly one-half greater decline rate, which seems plausible.

Again, though, your broader point is well-taken: the elasticities in the model are merely estimates, not “facts,” and they are particularly uncertain on the supply side, which is the anticipated locus of the decarbonization process under a carbon tax. (In three of the model’s six sectors, a majority of the CO2 reductions come from fuel decarbonization, whereas in only one, air travel, does a majority come from reduced usage; one sector is split 50-50 and reductions in the sixth, natural gas usage in industry and heating, are necessarily all via less usage because natural gas can’t be decarbonized further.)

It does appear that our model is conservative (predicting lower CO2 reductions) than most other models. Perhaps it needs to be more attuned to the extent to which strong, clear price signals will encourage development and deployment of low- and zero-carbon technologies. We hope to explore and explain these differences via further analysis.

Thanks for any time you have to address these questions.

Best,

Paula Swedeen

Thank you for your collegial and thought-provoking questions!

Last modified: April 24, 2013

Time for a Smart Taxpayer Revolution

Guest post by Lindsay Sturman, a writer living in Los Angeles with her family.

We all hate taxes, but we also want and need government services. Rather than raise taxes or cut services, there’s a Third Way that has been overlooked: tax behavior that costs the public money.

“Sin taxes,” or better yet, “Smart Taxes” create a virtuous cycle – the tax raises the price of the product, causing consumption to drop, thus reducing the costly and damaging behavior. It’s Economics 101 – if we raise the price, we’ll get less of the behavior.

It’s unusual in government to have your cake and eat it too – but “Smart Taxes” is one of those rare perfect storms.

Tobacco is a great example, because most people wish fewer of us smoked, especially children. Over a hundred studies have shown that raising the price of cigarettes causes consumption to go down. Smoking also costs taxpayers dearly in health care costs treating Medicare and Medicaid patients for lung cancer, emphysema, chronic pulmonary disease and heart disease. Economists across the political spectrum agree that a pack of cigarettes should be taxed to reflect the true cost to society of smoking so taxpayers are not subsidizing tobacco companies.

Think about it: tobacco companies put out a product that causes disease and death, they make a handsome profit, and society is stuck with a huge bill estimated to cost the U.S. $96 billion a year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Economists have a word for the damage: an “externality.” In a perfect capitalist system, the cost of the externality of lung cancer would be captured in the price of a pack of cigarettes.

Carbon combustion is another area that costs us dearly – in higher rates of diseases such as asthma, traffic crashes, tailpipe and smokestack pollution, and the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming. Why should taxpayers subsidize the corporate pollution and the detrimental effects of a product, while the polluters walk away with a huge profit? Let the polluters pay, and let the price reflect the cost.

Along with cigarette taxes, another smart tax in use for decades is alcohol taxes, which cover at least some of the cost of alcohol-related disease and accidents. Along the same lines, a tax on bullets could offset some of the societal costs of shootings – the costs to hospitals, police departments and the court and prison system; this was once a political non-starter, but there is now a growing movement calling for this change. We could also be made better off, economically and health-wise, by taxing sugar and soda consumption that contributes to the marked increase in diabetes and obesity-related diseases; the costs are staggering, with obesity alone costing America a shocking $147 billion a year.

Here are examples of Smart Tax proposals from across the political spectrum:

  • Carbon tax – Carbon Tax Center puts revenue in the trillions with a substantial cut in emissions – $1.5 trillion over 8 years.
  • Soda tax – 1 cent per what? tax would raise $160 billion over 10 years while motivating 8-10% decline in consumption, lowering our health care costs.
  • Tobacco tax– 50 cent per pack rise could raise $80 billion in 10 years (Congressional Budget Office).
  • Marijuana tax – In states where legal, could raise $90 billion in 10 years and save the same in reduced law enforcement. Net gain: $180 billion.

By taxing “bads” we can achieve the trifecta: raise money to treat the disease/damage/costs, reduce consumption and thus prevent disease/damage/costs in the first place, and make a dent in health care spending and the cost of government across the board. Not to mention avoiding the incredible suffering these diseases cause – which is the best reason to do it.

Smart Taxes do not have to be a tax increase, but rather a tax shift. For every dollar raised in carbon, alcohol, and tobacco taxes, another tax could be lowered dollar for dollar: payroll taxes, income taxes, business taxes, or sales taxes. Lowering those taxes would encourage the economic activity that we want more of but which our upside-down tax system inhibits. Republicans and Democrats alike agree that sales taxes cut down on sales and payroll taxes impede job growth.

Smart Taxes could motivate the next taxpayer revolution. Whatever our political persuasion, we as citizens need to demand that our elected officials lower taxes on “goods” and raise them on “bads.”

Photo: A.C.N. Photography, via Flickr.

Last modified: April 18, 2013

Presenting: An Even Better Carbon-Tax (Spreadsheet) Model

Today we unveil our enhanced carbon tax model. The link on our Home Page takes you automatically to the new version. (You may also download the model by clicking here.)

As before, the model is a compact (1 MB) Excel spreadsheet that runs on PC’s or Macs with Excel 2003 or later. Like prior versions, it splits the U.S. energy-economy into a handful of “sectors” (e.g., electricity, passenger vehicles) and, for each, generates 20-year-or-more projections of usage and per-unit carbon emissions with and without a price on carbon pollution. You can set the prices yourself — we say “prices,” plural, because you can specify both the initial price and the rate of year-to-year increase; or you can use our “out of the box” pre-set prices.

The result is a pair of emissions projections — one with the carbon price and the other without — with both referenced to the same set of anticipated changes in economic activity and energy prices. The difference between the respective projections is the emission savings (reductions) imputed to the carbon tax.

Here are the key new features:

  • The new model is baselined to current (2012) levels of economic activity and fuel use. Thus it reflects the dizzying shifts of late in electricity generation shares, from high-carbon coal (which lost 7.4 percentage points of market share from 2010) to lower-carbon gas (up 6.4 points) and, to a lesser extent, zero-carbon wind (up 1.2 points).
  • The model employs “official” U.S. forecasts of economic growth, general inflation, and, most importantly, of prices for electricity, natural gas and crude oil, rather than our own forecasts. (The carbon tax is layered “on top of” the official prices.)
  • Explicit treatment of inflation. First, the carbon tax itself can be indexed to general inflation, or not; second, energy prices (including the carbon-tax-affected prices) are translated into the nominal (inflation-inclusive) prices in which end-users actually experience (i.e., pay) them. While this may sound complex, the model results are more rigorous (accurate) than before.
  • The model has six sectors, up from five. We’ve split our catch-all category of “Other” energy uses (other than electricity, driving and other personal ground travel, freight movement, and aviation) in two: uses fueled by natural gas, and uses fueled by petroleum products. This enables the model to more fully capture differences in gas and petroleum prices including sensitivities to carbon taxes.
  • We’ve overhauled our derivation of the tax’s impact on petroleum usage. Not only was our previous method needlessly convoluted; it also over-calibrated oil’s shares of the different sectors and thus led to overstating the reductions in petroleum usage from the carbon tax-caused reductions in future energy usage. (The predicted reductions are impressive nonetheless: for the Larson bill, which we model with inflation-indexed prices of $15/tonCO2 in the first year, incremented by $12.50/ton each year, the tenth-year reductions in oil usage are 4.3 million barrels a day from 2005 levels, and 2.6 million b/d from projected oil requirements without a carbon price; for comparison, the Keystone XL pipeline is intended to deliver 0.83 million barrels a day of crude from Canadian tar sands to U.S. refineries.)
  • A new spreadsheet tab, Index, has links that improve navigation among the 18 different tabs.
  • Clearer graphs of CO2 reductions and petroleum savings, and a new graph of revenue generation, expressed both nationally and per-household.
  • Generally improved layout and presentation.

The key result — the model’s estimate of CO2 reductions from U.S. carbon taxes — is largely unchanged from earlier versions. In the tenth year of a “Larson”-type carbon tax, with the carbon tax rates noted in the large bullet-paragraph above, projected U.S. emissions CO2 from fossil fuel combustion are 1.8-1.9 billion metric tons less than predicted without a carbon price, a 33% reduction.

A few tabs in the spreadsheet aren’t yet complete. Nevertheless, the features enumerated here constitute such a large improvement over the prior version to warrant posting it today. We invite all users of the model, old and new, to kindly:

  • Update earlier findings you may have drawn from prior versions of the model, substituting results from this one.
  • Walk through the model with an eye toward evaluating it for logic, rigor, presentation and functionality. Please e-mail us all suggestions and criticisms, via [email protected]

Happy modeling, and best wishes.

   — Charles

Last modified: April 9, 2013