Desperate: TransCanada buys carbon offsets at $857/ton in hopes of getting Obama to approve Keystone XL

The EU carbon price is around $6 per ton.

The San Antonio Express-News reports:

In a June 25 speech, President Barack Obama vowed his administration will approve the multibillion-dollar pipeline only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

“The net effects of the pipeline’s impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” the president said.

Obama’s emphasis on the “net effects” of the pipeline and whether it “significantly” exacerbates greenhouse emissions suggest TransCanada could take steps to make up for the 830,000 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide the State Department estimated would be linked to Keystone XL.

While U.S. officials couldn’t compel such action, “it might be a behind-the-scenes wink and a nod,” ClearView Energy Partners analyst Kevin Book said.

For TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based company behind Keystone XL, options include greening its own portfolio by investing in renewable power and buying carbon offsets. Keystone XL supporters also can argue that Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia already tax carbon.

TransCanada might have taken the first step already. Last Tuesday, the company announced it was paying $470 million to buy 86 megawatts of solar capacity in Ontario.

CEO Russ Girling touted the deal as part of a companywide move to the greener and cleaner. TransCanada already has sunk more than $5 billion into U.S. hydropower facilities and wind farms in the U.S. and Canada.

“One-third of the power we provide to North American consumers today comes from carbon-free energy sources,” Girling said.

Spread over 20 years, the cost of the carbon emission displaced by TransCanada’s new solar investment amounts to as much as $857 per metric ton, making it an expensive offset, according to ClearView Energy’s number crunching.

But the real value isn’t numeric, Book said.

“Solar sends a message that buying offsets in the market does not,” he said. “It says ‘we’re changing us.’”

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9 thoughts on “Desperate: TransCanada buys carbon offsets at $857/ton in hopes of getting Obama to approve Keystone XL”

  1. Yes Geoff, I get the same impression about Russia being a bit sloppy on maintenance in general. But there is one industry that stands out in a way that is hard to explain. Their rail tracks are always kept in a good shape. Even during the bad times some 20 years ago when money had no useful meaning and nobody got paid for anything, I could see old but able-bodied women replacing rotten ties and fixing the ballast on the tracks.

    By contrast, when I arrived to Chicago at about the same time, I was appalled to see the condition of the local rail tracks, and they never got any better since. They typically have bad drainage problems resulting in chronic splash that leaves ties suspended and shakes the stakes out. In Naperville, where I used to board my train to Chicago, there were sections of the track right at the passenger station, each about 10 feet long and flexing more than three inches each time a freight car hit it. The freight traffic almost never stopped, and with thousands of passengers watching the show while waiting for their train each day, somebody must have noticed it and thought of it as a defect. But nothing ever got done about it. There is only so many (millions of) times you can flex a rail like that before it cracks. I pestered BNSF (whose tracks those were) countless times — especially after I heard about derailings in the area, which happened twice a year on average. Sometimes I did get in touch with a person who understood the problem and promised a fix, but no improvement followed. Trains are still derailed at the same rate.

    Somebody told me that this continues to happen because everything is insured and the sum of premiums and liabilities never exceeds the cost of good maintenance.

  2. Howdy Gene
    Methane of course is much more volatile than petroleum. We have such incidents in the US — two in Montana over the last few years but at buildings, not pipelines. One leveled a block and killed a woman in an office; the other rattled my own building (with me in it) from over a mile away, leveled one home and damaged 20, but only one person hurt and that was mild flash burns.
    Russia and its former satellites are notorious for poor maintenance practices and I imagine that’s part of their pipeline-go-boom problem. When there’s no one to sue, and the oversight agency is the one that profits from not doing oversight, safety often gets short shrift.

  3. Not really relevant to this discussion of crude oil, but gas pipeline explosions are almost a daily occurrence in Russia and surrounding countries. They have so far killed relatively few people (even though some of the biggest explosions occurred in populated places like Moscow). But once in a while, lots of people meet a whole lot of bad luck:

  4. Will the lawsuits resulting from the recent train wreck spilling crude oil and destroying a Canadian town, make Buffet more Keystone friendly?

  5. Real questions are who received the proceeds and who received a fee for arranging these expensive but minimal value transactions? Keystone doesn’t waste money on foolish projects, but it will spend money to influence the fool in the White House.

  6. Interesting that the disaster in Quebec was a petroleum tank car. Pipeline breaks create problems but they rarely kill anyone or blow up towns.

  7. Carbon offsets, carbon taxes and emission trading are all terrible policies based on lies and errors. All business leaders should say, loudly and constantly, that this is a wealth-destroying concept that hurts jobs and the poor and they should, on ethical grounds, refuse to take any part.

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