We have a climate plan, the only one in the south. But is it enough?
It’s the first climate plan in the Gulf South, setting out big goals to put emissions-heavy Louisiana on a cleaner path. But a report on the effort so far shows how much work remains. The first year of Louisiana’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 was marked by industry commitments to spend billions on facilities to help the state meet that goal, according to the report approved last week by Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ Climate Initiatives Task Force. Top accomplishments include construction of or plans to build new solar projects that would triple the renewable energy generated in Louisiana, increasing solar power in the state to 3 gigawatts. That remains a small portion of the state’s total commercial electric generation capacity in 2021, about 24 gigawatts, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than $21 billion in new or expanded industrial projects aimed at carbon reduction include new facilities manufacturing components for electric vehicles; producing alternative fuels; creating carbon capture and storage facilities; and new low- or no-carbon ammonia and hydrogen production facilities, the report said. And the state’s universities and trade schools have expanded programs geared toward employment in the move to a low-carbon future, the report said.nola.com
The plan was approved but many questioned how successes are tracked.
Approval of the annual report by the climate task force on Tuesday came only after several task force members raised questions about how the state is tracking its successes. Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, representing environmental and “climate justice” organizations on the task force, urged staff to recognize that not all carbon reduction successes are equal. While reducing vehicle emissions and increasing efforts to make buildings energy-efficient are important, Louisiana’s industrial sector represents 66% of the state’s carbon emissions. “This is not a situation where we can just say, we did nine out of 10 things, so we’re doing well,” she said. “If we tally this numerically, we’lll be really proud of ourselves, but we won’t have necessarily addressed the actual elephant in the room, which is industrial emissions.” “There is no question that moving toward renewable energy will make the state richer, healthier, more productive, and will create more jobs. But the public and political commitment have to be stable and ongoing,” said Rob Verchick, an environmental law professor at Loyola University and a member of the task force. “No one’s going to invest in offshore wind or land-based solar farms in our state if it’s not clear they will have a path to success in upcoming years. ” Tyler Gray, director of corporate and government affairs for Placid Refining Co. LLC and a member of the task force, warned that industries’ rapid adoption of their own carbon reduction plans might conflict with the state plan’s strategies. But after the meeting, he said the annual report does reflect progress. “Louisiana is primed for success. The announced investments in energy projects and university programs, along with legislative framework created for federal funding, reflect positively on the task force,” said Gray. “However, from a consumer standpoint, the markets will dictate next steps and there are still important hurdles to overcome. Nonetheless, you miss all the shots you don’t take, and Louisiana is taking the steps it needs for this path.” Edwards has appointed Jackson Wright, his director of special projects, to oversee efforts to secure a share of more than $700 billion in federal funds now available for carbon reduction efforts nationwide.
Tjhere are sic categories.
The report outlines achievements made during the past year in six categories that touch all parts of the state’s economy.
Clean energy transition.
The report lists commitments from three major electric utilities, as well as private industry, to move electricity production away from carbon-based fuels. The aim is to develop 1,632.5 megawatts of solar power, equal to about 6.6% of the state’s 2021 summer electricity capacity. Entergy New Orleans is partnering with Diamond Wind to develop wind power in the Gulf of Mexico, and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is preparing its first offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf later this year. The initial lease area off Louisiana represents about 2,115 megawatts of electricity. The Community Lighthouse Program and Together Louisiana are partnering with faith-based congregations and community groups across New Orleans to create neighborhood microgrids with battery backups that can be used as “resilience hubs” during power outages and disasters. The New Orleans City Council has appropriated $1 million for resilience hubs.
Industrial carbon emissions represent 66% of all state emissions. The state has compiled a list of more than $21 billion in industrial projects built or announced since 2020 aimed at decarbonization, including nine that will be producing materials such as renewable diesel fuels; two facilities manufacturing resources for electric vehicles; and six facilities that will be producing hydrogen or ammonia. Louisiana also has joined with Arkansas and Oklahoma to compete for a $1 billion grant to develop a hydrogen hub funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Actively managed methane emissions
Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and reduction efforts are aimed at both the state’s 4,600 “orphaned” or abandoned oil and gas wells and active facilities. The state received $25 million from the federal infrastructure bill to begin plugging orphan wells. In 2021, the Legislature passed a law improving regulation of abandoned wells that the state says could help it win an additional $200 million in grant money.
Transportation, development and the built environment.
This category includes efforts to improve roadways and increase use of alternate transportation methods. It also includes proposals to change land use regulations and building codes to support emission reduction efforts. The Federal Highway Administration approved the state’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan in September, which calls for building charging facilities across the state. The state Department of Transportation and Development will distribute $73 million in grant money for businesses or organizations to own, install and operate charging stations. The state’s “Drive Electric Louisiana” project is working with vehicle dealers and utilities to deploy additional electric vehicles. The state also is funding five projects with $63 million in federal grant money, including train stations in Baton Rouge and Gonzales for the future Baton Rouge to New Orleans Inter-City Rail Service for $20 million.
Natural and working lands and wetlands
Louisiana hopes to gain carbon reduction credits through recognition of the ability of restored wetlands to sequester carbon in their soils, and also to improve sequestration of carbon in both agricultural and timber lands throughout the state. The report lists as a success the state’s new Louisiana Outdoors Forever Program and Fund, which has first-year funding of $10 million for land conservation efforts statewide, with the projects aimed in part at sequestering carbon dioxide.
An inclusive low-carbon economy
This part of the plan is aimed at strengthening the state’s economy and workforce in ways that include low- and moderate-income residents. The report points out that more than 3,400 people are already employed in the solar industry in the state, according to federal statistics, and that additional solar projects will add to that. The state’s colleges and technical training programs are reshaping their coursework to help students take advantage of those opportunities.
A lot has started and involving many players.