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Publications / Energy

Keeping the Lid on Pandora’s Box

The widely-aired documentary Pandora’s Promise offers a glowing endorsement of nuclear power as the solution for our climate woes. However, it is too quick to dismiss concerns about reactor safety, waste management, and weapons proliferation—let alone cost.

Poor Little Rich Countries: Another Look at the Resource Curse

Resource-rich countries are plagued by macroeconomic crises known as “Dutch Disease,” which is associated with the inflation of local currencies on account of a large influx of foreign exchange and a dip in labor supply for non-traded goods. In developing countries, the historical context of state formation is often such that the revenues generated by natural resource exports bolster the stability of authoritarian regimes and the dominant state actors consolidate their power by managing boom-bust cycles to avert crises. Using Mexico, Venezuela, and Angola as paradigmatic cases, this article examines the relevance of outside forces, domestic policies, and the opportunistic forms of engagement with external power chosen by local actors that produced tragic outcomes in each of these instances.

Originally published in Environmental Politics 20, no. 5 (September 2011): 617-632.

The Democratic Economy of Public Utility Commissions

Regulation has long been defined in terms of damage control. This article argues for a need to expand this focus to include proactive principles for achieving society’s goals. An approach to democratizing the economy should rest on two key principles: (1) that private interests should fundamentally serve the public interest and (2) that regulation should be an instrument for democratic decision-making. The American model of the public utility commission (PUC) offers a way forward.

Originally published in openDemocracy, September 8, 2009,

Nuclear Power: Should It Have a Role?

Adequate mitigation of the risks of climate change requires rapid displacement of fossil fuels with carbon-free energy sources. This imperative has prompted a growing chorus of energy analysts, policymakers, and industry advocates to press for a resurgence of nuclear energy. Even some environmentalists are urging reconsideration of the nuclear option, so long anathema to their own movement. Yet, with critical problems unsolved—safety and cost, waste storage, and nuclear weapons proliferation—nuclear power remains a deeply problematic response to the climate challenge.

A Failed Experiment: Why Electricity Deregulation Did Not Work and Could Not Work

The massive national experiment in electricity deregulation—launched by over a dozen states more than a decade ago in the wake of the Reagan revolution—has failed on multiple counts. Intended to reduce electricity rates, deregulation instead increased rates. For the ten months through October 2006, average rates in deregulated states were 55 percent higher than in regulated states. Volatility has also increased, and reliability has decreased. This report explains why deregulation failed.

Hydrogen Transitions in a Greenhouse Gas Constrained World

In order to realize the promise of a hydrogen economy in this United States, it is essential to couple it with a simultaneous commitment to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy. This study, which uses detailed scenario analyses for the country as a whole and for urban areas, finds that a large-scale switch to hydrogen produced by a clean energy system would lead to twice the environmental benefits compared to what would be achieved in a hydrogen transition under a business-as-usual energy mentality. By 2050, when a “clean” transition to hydrogen would be nearly complete, greenhouse gas emissions would be roughly half of what they are today, compared to about a billion tons more, even with hydrogen produced from coal and natural gas.

Automobility, Liberalism, and the Ethics of Driving

Automobility, or the myriad institutions that foster car culture, has rarely if ever been put under the lens of liberal political theory, even though driving is one of the most common and widely accepted features of daily life in modern societies. When its implied promise of guaranteeing both freedom and equality is examined more closely, however, it appears that the ethical implications of driving may be darker than initially supposed.

Originally published in Environmental Ethics 29 (2007): 77-90.

Sustainable Mobility: From Technological Innovation to Societal Learning

This paper addresses a persistent and worsening societal dilemma worldwide: the ecological unsustainability of the automobile as the primary means for providing personal mobility. The solution to this problem will require input from all segments of society and must include technological innovation; changes in the physical infrastructure and land use; and social, cultural, and institutional changes. This paper argues for a fundamental rethinking of the entire system of personal mobility and lays out some of the necessary steps forward.

Originally published in Journal of Cleaner Production 15, no. 11-12 (2007): 1104-1115, available at

LEAP: Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning System User Guide

The Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system (LEAP) is a scenario-based energy-environment modeling tool. Its scenarios are based on comprehensive accounting of how energy is consumed, converted, and produced in a given region or economy under a range of alternative assumptions on population, economic development, technology, price, and so on. With its flexible data structures, LEAP allows for analysis as rich in technological specification and end-use detail as the user chooses.

Economic Benefits and Feasibility of Strategies to Reduce Petroleum Consumption in California

This report analyzes the economic benefits and the feasibility of implementing Proposition 87, California’s Clean Alternative Energy Act (CAEA), which will create a modest extraction fee on oil produced in California and use the proceeds (estimated at $4 billion over one decade) as research and production incentives for alternative energy, alternative vehicles, energy efficient technologies, and education and training. Based on our analysis, the CAEA will achieve the expected savings of 4 billion gallons of petroleum in 2017, and total savings of 10 billion gallons over ten years between 2007 and 2017. In achieving these savings, the CAEA will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution while stimulating the California economy.

Public Avenues to Public Spaces: Regulating the Car

Environmental regulation of automobiles faces the problem that the burden of causing air pollution cannot be borne solely by the manufacturer, the owner, or the driver. This paper explores the implications that this constraint has had on the regulatory modes adopted by the state of California to curb automobile pollution for the past three decades. It argues that California’s experience provides us with a particularly stark view of the regulatory conundrum because of the dual nature of the stakes: a highly automobilized society having severe local air pollution problems. Moreover, by creating for itself the global reputation of being the intrepid pioneer in the field, the state’s leading regulatory agency may have become victim of its own remarkable success and gotten locked into a particular pattern of regulation.

Originally published in J. D. Wufhorst and Anne Haugestad, eds., Building Sustainable Communities: Ecological Justice and Global Citizenship (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 1-9.

Technological Change and Regulation in the Car Industry

The choices we have made over the past 200 years about modes and technologies of transportation have brought us unprecedented global interaction and, in many respects, increased personal freedom. However, all this mobility has come at a cost to society, to the economy, and to the environment. This special issue of Greener Management International attempts to inform the broad and systemic change required in the wider concept of automobility by exploring the role of the regulator, in particular in the context of more recent co-operative and partnership approaches with private-sector stakeholders, particularly the automotive industry.

Originally published in Greener Management International 47 (Autumn 2004): 5-11.

Practical Baseline Recommendations for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Projects in the Electric Power Sector

This report constructs a decision framework that can be applied to all electricity projects. No single methodology can suit all the potential diversity of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism projects in the electricity sector, which span a wide range of scales, fuels, and technologies and will take place in a varied set of electric sector contexts, both on and off the grid. This paper proposes a three-category framework for the different projects, with baseline and additionality methods specific to each, in order to balance the objectives of low transaction costs and environmental accuracy.

The Path to Carbon Dioxide-Free Power: Switching to Clean Energy in the Utility Sector

To achieve necessary emissions reduction goals, emissions from the power sector, currently responsible for 40 percent of annual US CO2 emissions, must be dramatically reduced. Fortunately, there are technologies available today affecting both electricity consumption and production that could bring about this change. This report examines the policies and measures needed to accelerate the use of those technologies and dramatically reduce US heat-trapping gas emissions by 2020. It explores a broad set of national policies to increase energy efficiency, accelerate the adoption of renewable energy technologies, and shift energy use to more efficient power systems while reducing the electricity bills of consumers and businesses.

The August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States: Technical and Regulatory Issues

The blackout that struck the Northeast and Midwest of the United States, and portions of Canada, on August 14, 2003, had no simple, single cause, as far as is currently known. However, while this blackout cannot be definitely attributed to the restructuring of the electricity industry in the Midwest, it appears that the restructuring process, especially the unbundling of certain electric services, did create conditions that led to the blackout. This report provides a detailed analysis of such impacts.

An Approach for Better Aligning the Nation’s Clean Air and Clean Energy Goals

This study considers modifications to the Clean Air Act that would increase the number of emission allowances allocated to renewable energy generation to enable renewables to compete fairly in emission trading and clean air compliance markets, and estimates the economic and environmental benefits of these changes. This analysis provides better understanding of the benefits that would derive from a renewables role in Clean Air Act compliance regimes. The estimated impacts of these modifications are compared with those of other policies, including national renewable portfolio standards (RPS), a tighter cap for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and trading, modifications to the State Implementation Plans (SIP) for (nitrogen oxides (NOx) trading), multi-pollutant cap/trade, and a combination of multi-pollutant cap/trade and RPS.

Can We Get There From Here? The Challenge of Restructuring the Electricity Industry So That All Can Benefit

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has announced its intent to restructure the electricity industry in this state. The primary objective of this report is to investigate whether small customers will have a reasonable opportunity to benefit from industry restructuring. While it is not possible to predict whether small consumers will benefit from restructuring, the report investigates whether there are plausible scenarios under which small consumers are likely to benefit. In particular, it analyzes the extent to which the requirement of real-time pricing (RTP) to participate directly in wholesale markets is likely to limit individual small consumers from potentially enjoying benefits from a competitive market.

Characterization of Criteria Air Pollutant and Greenhouse Gas Emission Factors Associated with Energy Use in the USA: Sources, Assumptions, Methodology

This report characterizes emission factors for both criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions for a variety of processes across the industrial, commercial, residential, transport, and electric sectors. This report is divided into two major parts, one for baseline-based emission factors and the other for measure-based emission factors. Baseline-based emission factors represent average sector-wide emission factors based on the existing and projected equipment vintage, and expected future emission regulations. Measure-based emission factors represent average lifetime emission factors for new technology. The sources, assumptions, and methodology used in characterizing these emission factors are included.

Clean Electricity Options for the Pacific Northwest

This report assesses the efficiency and renewable resources that could be tapped to meet Pacific Northwest electricity needs over the next two decades. The last regional assessment of this type was compiled for the Northwest Power Planning Council’s 4th Power Plan in 1994-96. Since then, the landscape of technologies, markets, and policy options has shifted, while growing concerns about electricity price volatility, energy security, and global climate change have increased the value of investments in efficiency and renewable resources.

Managing Risk with Renewable Resources

The question of uncertainty and risk in electric utility resource planning has received considerable attention in recent years. One approach to managing risk is for a utility company to invest in diverse power sources such as wind power plants. The authors of this report test this hypothesis by conducting an in-depth analysis of the risk implications of a decision to build a 1600 MW wind power plant instead of a 400 MW gas-fired combined cycle plant. The uncertain inputs included fuel prices, environmental regulations, wind plant output, conventional plant availability, and load growth. This paper examines two different market scenarios: traditional regulation and an unregulated wholesale market characterized either by a power pool or fixed-price contracts of varying duration.

Coal: America’s Past, America’s Future

As this report shows, a coal-focused national energy strategy would be fundamentally misguided. Wearing foggy and myopic lenses, one might perceive the California power crunch, high natural gas prices, and talk of “clean coal” as ample economic and technical justification for more coal. But closer and clearer examination reveals that there is a long way to go before coal will be truly, if ever, clean and an even longer way before such coal would be competitive. Policy efforts to promote coal would threaten to seriously exacerbate pollution, climate change, and health risks and would would render the chances of international accord in tackling global climate change even more remote.

Using Modern Bioenergy to Reduce Rural Poverty

This report considers village-scale biomass energy as a means of providing modern energy services to the billions who lack them, thus helping to reduce poverty. It concludes that there are large opportunities for meeting this goal effectively, affordably, and sustainably. However, persistent world-wide efforts to develop and improve bioenergy systems will be needed to achieve this goal and to resolve some key problems associated with bioenergy.

The Role of Regulators: Energy Efficiency

This paper explores possible responses to the fact that unregulated generation prices are higher than hoped and few consumers are using non-utility power suppliers. It identifies regulatory access points relative to demand-side management and energy efficiency that cross-cut the various restructurings of the electric industry across the US, while pointing out how cross-cutting elements of regulatory roles vary depending on the local situation. Four major categories of leverage points are addressed: planning, retail rate-making, environmental regulation, and funding.

Originally published in Pace Environmental Law Review 18, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 295-307.

Assessment of Policies to Support Fuel Cell Buses and the Transition to the Hydrogen Economy

Fuel cells represent a promising clean and efficient energy conversion technology for urban bus fleets throughout the world. Currently, UNDP/GEF-supported demonstration projects are underway in five countries: China, Brazil, Egypt, India, and Mexico. At the end of the GEF project’s lifetime, it is expected that the FCB initiative will have helped to bring fuel cell buses closer to commercialization and make them more attractive to other donors, and—ultimately—to private investors. This report presents an approach to evaluating investments in FCBs in a subsequent commercialization phase. It provides a policy framework to assess the country context favoring the continued support of multilateral institutions and other sources of investment in fuel cell buses.

Clean Energy: Jobs for America’s Future

In order to create a responsible, forward-looking energy policy, the United States will need to examine a number of important issues. Will the policy help meet America’s energy needs? Will it enhance national security? Will it contribute to a strong economy? Will it help meet America’s needs for a safe and healthy environment? In order to begin to answer these questions, World Wildlife Fund commissioned the Tellus Institute to consider the potential impacts of implementing a broad suite of clean energy policies over the next twenty years. This study analyzes the employment, macroeconomic, energy, and environmental impacts of implementing such policies.

Design of Coordinated Energy and Environmental Policies Using Multicriteria Decision Methods

Conventional economic modeling tools that depend upon one criterion to select among possible alternatives for inclusion in an energy or environmental policy have many limitations. The use of multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) methods in an integrated assessment (IA) framework offers a far better alternative to cost/benefit and similar methods. To facilitate understanding of MCDM methods, we offer a typology for this broad class of models, suggest some of the types of problems that may be analyzed with these methods, and recommend the implementation of several MCDM methods in currently evolving IA frameworks.

Originally published in Energy Policy 32, no. 6 (April 2004): 721-725,

Environmental Tax Shifting in Massachusetts: Taxes That Work for our Environment and the Economy.

This primer describes an innovative approach to tax policy called Environmental Tax Shifting (ETS). The basic idea is that rather than raising revenues by taxing activities that we want to encourage or support like income or savings or labor, we would tax things we want to discourage like pollution or waste or sprawl. This primer elaborates on different ways we could raise the revenues needed in Massachusetts while at the same time protecting the environment and enhancing the economy.

Cleaner Generation, Free Riders, and Environmental Integrity: Clean Development Mechanism and the Power Sector

This study provides a first-cut estimate of the potential carbon emissions impacts of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), focusing on new power plants in the power sector of non-Annex 1 countries. We conclude that while the CDM could induce some legitimate lower-emission electricity generation in host countries, it could also give rise to a considerable amount of spurious emissions allowances by crediting non-additional (“free-rider”) activities—activities that would have taken place even in the absence of the CDM. We find that under some plausible CDM regimes, the CDM could serve primarily as an instrument for generating spurious credits, and only secondarily as an instrument for economic efficiency or sustainable development.

Best Practices Guide: Integrated Resource Planning for Electricity

This guide is for resource planners at national and sectoral levels; for businesses or agencies providing electricity services through generation, transmission, or distribution; regulators of electricity markets; and others interested in the structuring of policies, markets, and regulations affecting electricity. It provides the analytical framework and assessment methodologies needed to promote integrated resource planning in different economic, political, and geographic settings.

Technology Learning: Wind Electric Generators, Solar Photovoltaics, and Fuel Cells

The purpose of this study is to investigate the empirical basis in recent history for cost reductions for three advanced energy technologies—solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, and fuel cells—and their prospects for further cost reductions. The report presents simple models based on manufacturing output and research and development (R&D) spending for each of these three technologies. Policymakers and modelers can use these tools to help assess policies such as the renewable portfolio standard and R&D subsidies, as well as more general policies such as emission taxes or cap-and-trade systems.

Can Electric Utility Restructuring Meet the Challenges It Has Created?

Over the past five years, portions of the US electric utility industry have experienced a sweeping series of changes referred to as restructuring. These changes affect both the structure of the organizations involved in the electric utility industry and the institutional arrangements by which decisions involving planning and pricing are made. As change usually does, restructuring creates many challenges. This report identifies some of the challenges created by restructuring and then discusses the extent to which restructuring has met, or can likely meet, the challenges it has created.

A Better Approach to Market Power Analysis

This paper shows that analyses of market power for wholesale electric markets are best done using electricity market simulation models rather than the more commonly used Hirschman Herfendahl Index (HHI). Market simulation models are more useful than HHI in determining price impacts due to the exercise of market power, since the HHI is far too simplistic to capture the dynamic nature of electricity markets or the behavior of market participants.

Regulatory Incentives for Demand-Side Management

This review outlines the basic considerations involved in establishing incentives for demand-side management. Its purposes are to provide background material for assessing West Kootenay Power’s DSM incentive mechanism, explore modifications to that incentive structure, and record the final incentive for 2000 that was adopted based on discussions informed by an earlier draft of this report.

Putting the Brakes on Sprawl: Innovative Transportation Solutions from the U.S. and Europe

There is no one formula for reversing the consequences of uncontrolled and unplanned growth, yet there are successful strategies that can help American towns and cities combat sprawl. This report examines some innovative transportation practices in six cities—practices that can lessen sprawl’s impact on our neighborhoods and on our environment. The report groups the problems and solutions under three, interrelated themes: (1) relieving traffic congestion, (2) overcoming inaccessibility, and (3) restoring neighborhood quality of life and downtown vitality.

Potential and Cost of Clean Development Mechanism Options in the Energy Sector

This report presents an assessment of the potential and cost of the Clean Development Mechanism as an instrument to partially meet the Greenhouse Gases emission limitation commitments of the Netherlands for the first budget period, 2008-2012. The mitigation potential in non-Annex I countries is significant when compared with Annex I reduction requirements. The inventory of mitigation options suggests that an annual mitigation potential in the first budget period at costs up to 1990 USD 10/ton CO2 is approximately 1.7 Gt CO2 equivalents.

A Pragmatic CGE Model for Assessing the Influence of Model Structure and Assumptions in Climate Change Policy Analysis

This report presents a simple pragmatic CGE model with an emphasis on industrial energy use. The purpose of the model is to serve as a tool for the exploration of model structure and assumptions. The motivation for this work was the fact that economic modeling studies influence the debate on the merits of climate change abatement studies and are consulted by policymakers seeking guidance. These studies assess the effectiveness and merits of policy options based on simulations of energy policies with energy-economic models. Policymakers, analysts, stakeholders, and the interested public should understand the strengths and weaknesses of the models and assumptions employed in such studies so that they can use them constructively.

Global Energy, Sustainability, and the Conventional Development Paradigm

The conventional development paradigm assumes that the values, consumption patterns, and dynamics of the Western industrial system will be progressively played out on a global scale. This article explores the implications of the conventional paradigm for the evolution of global energy patterns, and the compatibility with notions of sustainability. It presents a global long-range conventional development scenario to the year 2050 and identifies major environmental, resource, and social pressures and uncertainties. By clarifying the stress points in a conventional picture of energy development, the scenario provides a useful point of departure for examining alternative long-range scenarios for sustainable energy development.

Originally published in Energy Sources 20 (January 1998): 363-383,

Energy Innovations: A Prosperous Path to a Clean Environment

This study analyzes a balanced national strategy that can put the United States on an innovative, prosperous path leading to an economically and environmentally sustainable energy future. This strategy, referred to as the “Innovation Path,” is marked by a set of programs and policies that would guide our economy toward lower cost, less polluting, more secure, and more sustainable ways of producing and using energy. The approach involves setting fair performance standards, creating incentives, providing better information, and reducing transaction costs in order to foster investments in clean and efficient technologies.

Strategies for Reducing Energy Consumption in the Texas Transportation Sector

Texas is the nation’s highest energy consumer and its highest emitter of carbon dioxide, and the state’s contribution to global climate stabilization and local environmental quality will require a re-examination of its transportation system. In this study, four alternative scenarios were constructed, reflecting different energy strategies that Texas could pursue to address these issues. These scenarios suggest that only if very aggressive policies are adopted—such as those modeled in the Visionary Scenario—will transport energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in Texas stabilize, let alone decline.

Global Energy in the 21st Century: Patterns, Projections and Problems

This report aims to clarify the requirements of sustainable energy development. It begins by describing and contextualizing current patterns of global energy use, production, and resources. It then presents a global long-range Conventional Development Scenario for energy to the year 2050 assuming mid-range population and economic projections, gradual evolution of human and natural systems, and global convergence of technological, institutional, and cultural processes. The report identifies potential environmental, resource, and social stresses related to the conventional development path and explores the implications and limitations of such a path.

Avoided Cost Handbook for Electric Utilities

This document incorporates numerical examples and worksheets to form a user-friendly handbook for the staff of state public utility commissions, utility planners, and members of interest groups involved in issues of electric utility planning. Its goal is to promote the widespread use of standardized avoided cost methodologies that are conceptually consistent with integrated resource planning. Such standardization is necessary for the development of accurate avoided cost estimates for the full range of alternative resources being evaluated by electric utilities, especially demand-side management and renewables.

This report is out of print.

Environmental Sustainability as a Goal in Resource Planning and Policy

Resource planning and policy must consider impacts on the quality of our environment. Economic theory offers both a basis for environmental policy—the allocation of resources based upon individuals’ willingness to pay—and instruments for achieving policy goals, for example emissions taxes and pollution trading systems. This paper points out some of the shortcomings of an economic-based approach, particularly when used as the basis for environmental policy. It calls for a shift to an approach in which sustainability is emphasized.