A Leading Asian Utility to Cut Carbon Emissions

December 6, 2007 (New York Times) – CLP, one of Asia’s largest power utilities, plans to commit itself on Friday to sharply reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide.

The company plans to cut the amount of carbon dioxide it emits with each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by 4.8 percent over the next three years, and 76 percent by 2050. To do so, it will step up its investments in nuclear power, natural gas, renewable energy and so-called clean coal technologies.

Ambitious Goal

Timed to coincide with climate change negotiations currently under way in Bali, CLP’s announcement is the latest step by the power industry in addressing emissions of global-warming gases, especially carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.

CLP’s decision is especially noteworthy, energy experts said, because power companies active in developing countries rarely undertake such initiatives. CLP, of Hong Kong, has large investments in mainland China, Thailand, Taiwan, India and Australia.

Developing countries are not subject to the emissions limits set under the Kyoto Protocol, but the United States and the European Union are pressing them, at the Bali talks, to at least agree to discuss binding limits for developing countries as well.

“We believe that if everyone takes an approach like this, the magnitude of global warming may be limited to approximately 2 degrees Celsius to 3 degrees Celsius so that the most catastrophic effects of climate change may be off,” said Andrew Brandler, the chief executive of CLP Holdings, according to an advance copy of his statement. Two to three degrees Celsius is equal to 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

A United Nations panel warned last month that an increase of even this magnitude could cause a rapid rise in sea levels, as ice sheets melted, and the extinction of many species.

The company’s plan is less ambitious than those of some utilities in Japan and France, which have set much lower emissions targets and already rely heavily on nuclear energy, which produces practically no global-warming gases.

Setting its limit only in terms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of electricity also means that CLP is not committing itself to reducing its total carbon output, or limiting the amount of electricity it generates.

“If you generate more power, then absolute emissions of carbon dioxide will increase,” said Frances Yeung, an energy campaigner for Greenpeace.

On Thursday, Greenpeace protesters scaled a fly ash silo at one of CLP’s coal-fired power plants and hung a banner reading, “Climate Change Starts Here.”

A CLP spokesman, Carl N. Kitchen, said the company was not limiting its overall emissions because it operates in rapidly growing electricity markets and does not want to limit its options.

As if to underline that, Credit Suisse predicted in a research report Thursday that mainland China’s power consumption would continue growing by 11 to 14 percent a year for the next three to five years. China’s rapid expansion of mostly coal-fired electricity generation is the main reason it has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the International Energy Agency in Paris.

Jeremy Carl, a research fellow specializing in Asian energy issues at Stanford, said it might be better for the environment if CLP did build more power plants, rather than letting other companies meet Asia’s growing needs.

“Certainly they are going to be a lot more efficient than the big mainland power companies” in China, or the electric utilities in India, Mr. Carl said.

CLP estimates that its operations now emit 1.85 pounds of carbon dioxide for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. The company’s plan calls for cutting emissions to 1.76 pounds in 2010, 1.54 pounds in 2020, 0.99 pound in 2035 and 0.44 pound in 2050.

By comparison, China’s utilities emit 2.23 pounds a kilowatt-hour, those in the United States, 1.40 pounds and Japan’s, just 0.78 pound, according to data from Carbon Monitoring for Action in Washington, which gathers such data with the goal of drawing attention to climate change.

One reason for the difference is that Japanese utilities rely heavily on nuclear power and natural gas, while most of CLP’s operations are in nations where coal is cheap and abundant, like China, India and Australia, as it is in the United States.

Reaching CLP’s goals could be difficult, as many clean coal technologies either produce only modest reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, are very expensive or are simply not yet technologically feasible. For example, the company’s plan to meet its later targets assumes that it will become possible to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. But the technology to do so is still under development and could prove costly even if perfected.

The company also plans to use more natural gas, which produces less soot and carbon dioxide than coal. It has sought government permission in Hong Kong to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in a marine conservation area with fairly deep water, situated close to power plants.

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