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Fri Jan 15, 2016, 03:06 AM

Michigan researchers put price tag on climate liability for fossil-fuel plants

New research places the climate liability for this Michigan power plant as high as $1.2 billion.
PHOTO BY Ken Lund / Creative Commons

Michigan researchers put price tag on climate liability for fossil-fuel plants

Andy Balaskovitz
19 hours ago

Coal-fired power plants across the country could be billion-dollar liabilities for utilities if their greenhouse gas emissions are challenged in court, according to researchers at Michigan Technological University.

Should an entity — individuals, groups or governments — take legal action against utilities for their plants’ greenhouse gas emissions and contributions to climate change, researchers have developed a way to determine the amount of monetary damages that might be awarded to plaintiffs.

These polluting plants, therefore, could have significant impact on shareholders, researchers say.

While oil companies are under scrutiny over whether they adequately disclosed climate risks in securities filings, utilities face similar risks by not curbing greenhouse gas emissions from their conventional plants, according to a recent paper published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

The research — co-authored by Michigan Tech electrical engineering and materials science professor Joshua Pearce and research assistant Negin Heidari...


Paper "A Review of Greenhouse Gas Emission Liabilities as the Value of Renewable Energy for Mitigating Lawsuits for Climate Change Related Damages"
Renewable energy technologies (RETs) have well established benefits including: i) improving environmental sustainability [1-3], ii) improving public health [4-6], iii) creating jobs [6-9] and iv) financial benefits [10-12]. For example, the average price of completed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have dropped 33% since 2011 [13], and the cost of electricity generated from wind also dropped more than 43% in the past four years [14]. As the economic costs of RETs have decreased they are now competitive with traditional electricity sources in many regions [10-12]. Perhaps one of RETs greatest benefits, however, is the value they bring for mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the concomitant climate change [15- 19]. Both global GHG emissions [20-22] and global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations are are increasing rapidly [23,24]. The resultant climate change is well established with a high confidence as are the negative impacts on natural and socio-economic systems [25,26] including: i) higher temperatures and heat waves that result in thousands of deaths from hyperthermia [27-29], ii) crop failures [30,31] that aggravate global hunger [32-34], iii) power outages [35,36], iv) rising sea levels which causes the low-lying coastal areas to submerge gradually [37,38], v) erosion of shorelines [37,38], vi) increased risk of flooding [39], and saltwater intrusion [37,40], vii) strong storms which causes more damage to coastal environment, increased risk of floods, [41-44], viii) droughts, [45] and ix) fire [43,46,47]. These negative externalities have been shown to be due to human activities with the confidence level of 95% (primarily combustion of fossil fuels, which are the dominant cause of global warming from 1951 to 2010)[48,49].
Emission trading has been considered as a solution to climate change in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions [50-53]. Unfortunately, it has some disadvantages including relying on a complicated system [54], carbon price uncertainty [55], and encouraging industries that are the most dependent on coal and oil to maintain the status quo because the permits have been historically inexpensive [56]. Thus, at the present time, emissions trading as a method of mitigating climate change has essentially failed [57-59], so another method is needed.(Emphasis added - K)

A method gaining traction to bring these negative externalities into the market is the use of litigation, which provides a different path to motivate reducing corporate actions resulting in climate change [60-69]. If such GHG emission litigation becomes widespread, then the one of the core benefits of RETs for emitters would be a reduction in the liability for climate change.
This economic benefit is currently often ignored because of the lack of knowledge of the potential liabilities. To provide the necessary data, this paper first reviews recent literature on the potential for climate change litigation and the seven methods to quantify liability for climate change. Then, this paper provides a formulation is developed to estimate the liability for GHG emitters considering i ) pollution factor (which is a fraction of emissions produced by each major polluter over the overall emissions), ii) probability of human contribution to natural disasters, and iii) estimated cost of disasters. Next, the top ten emitters in the U.S. are identified and their potential liability is quantified using standard carbon costs and this method. Potential liabilities are explored in depth in this paper with a single company comparing the results of the fractional liability from only natural disasters within the U.S. for a single year to a sensitivity of the future costs of carbon emissions from other sources of emission-related liability. Finally, potential climate change victims (potential litigants) are identified and their capacity to bring such lawsuits are evaluated. The results are discussed and conclusions are drawn about the potential value for RETs to reduce GHG emission liability.


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Reply Michigan researchers put price tag on climate liability for fossil-fuel plants (Original post)
kristopher Jan 2016 OP
Nihil Jan 2016 #1
kristopher Jan 2016 #2

Response to kristopher (Original post)

Fri Jan 15, 2016, 05:59 AM

1. Their most likely response is Chapter 11 + "I.O.U. One Planet". (n/t)


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Response to Nihil (Reply #1)

Fri Jan 15, 2016, 01:32 PM

2. No, the most likely response is a flight of investment money from coal plants.

It's how you accelerate shutting the damned things down.

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