April 20, 2012

Building High Speed Rail won’t do much to cut carbon dioxide emissions

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:11

Brad Plumer at the Washington Post on the latest straw that high speed rail enthusiasts have been grabbing to justify their expensive toys:

… Brown’s administration has proposed using money raised by California’s new climate law. Under the state’s cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, power plants and factories will have to buy permits to pollute. Brown has suggested diverting this money into high-speed rail. But there are two problems here. For one, this might be illegal, as the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded on Tuesday. But second — and more broadly — high-speed rail turns out not to be the most effective use of money that’s meant to combat global warming.

Paul Druce at Reason & Rail offered up a few numbers on this topic last year. The California High Speed Rail Authority claims that by 2030, if the train ran entirely on renewable energy, then it would reduce the state’s carbon emissions by about 5.4 million metric tons a year. If you ignore all the energy used to build the system, that means the rail network would reduce California’s emissions at a cost of $12,506 per metric ton of carbon dioxide.

That’s a pricey way to cut carbon. To put this in perspective, research has suggested that you could plant 100 million acres of trees and reforest the United States for a cost of about $21 to $91 per ton of carbon dioxide. Alternatively, a study by Dan Kammen of UC Berkeley found that it would cost somewhere between $59 and $87 per ton of carbon dioxide to phase out coal power in the Western United States and replace it with solar, wind and geothermal. If reducing greenhouse gases is your goal, then there are much more cost-effective ways to do it than building a bullet train.

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