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Can solar increase emissions? A debate erupts

The Daily Climate

Utility data and recent claims from conservative groups are stirring up a debate about whether greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution can rise because of large amounts of solar on the grid....


Robert Borlick's picture
Robert Borlick on Aug 23, 2019 3:55 pm GMT

While I doubt that this is the case in North Carolina, it is possible for adding renewable resources to increase emissions.  This is likely to happen due to two offshore wind projects under construction off the coast of Maryland.  

Maryland has an Renewable Portfolio Standard which cannot be met with in-state resources so the electricity suppliers must purchase RECs from resources located outside of Maryland.  The current supply of these RECs are from wind farms in Michigan and other states in Western PJM.  Thus the RECs produced by the offshore wind projects will displace RECs that would have been purchased from sources in Western PJM.  

The reduced REC purchases from onshore wind farms in Western PJM will cause those wind projects to not be built bcause developers rely on REC revenues to make their projects profitable.  This energy that the foregone wind projects would have produced will be made up by existing fossil fuel plants,  some of which will burn coal.  This MWh for MWh offset will happen because Western PJM is a market separate from Eastern PJM, where Maryland is located, because transmission constraints limit power flows between the two regions.  Althogh the offshore wind energy will reduce the output of gas-fired plants in Eastern PJM, the dirtier fossil-fired plants in Western PJM will run more and will emit more greehouse gases than the associated reductions in Eastern PJM.  In effect, Maryland will be exporting its pollution to the Midwestern states in PJM.  

The situation just described is what emerged from a detailed modeling analysis that Levitan Associates conducted for the Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC).  The Levitan report is available in MPSC Docket No. 9431, available on the MPSC website. 

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