An Overview of Alternative Fossil Fuel Price and Carbon Regulation Scenarios

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The benefits of the Department of Energy's research and development (R&D) efforts have historically been estimated under business-as-usual market and policy conditions. In recognition of the insurance value of R&D, however, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Fossil Energy (FE) have been exploring options for evaluating the benefits of their R&D programs under an array of alternative futures. In this report, the two alternative scenarios being considered by EERE and FE staff – carbon cap and trade and high fuel prices – are compared to other scenarios used by energy analysts and utility planners. The report also briefly evaluates the past accuracy of fossil fuel price forecasts. We find that the natural gas prices through 2025 proposed in the FE-EERE Scenarios Working Group's High Fuel Price Scenario appear to be reasonable based on current natural gas prices and other externally generated gas price forecasts and scenarios. If anything, an even more extreme gas price scenario might be considered. Similarly, we find that the oil prices originally proposed by the Working Group in the High Fuel Price Scenario appear to be reasonable, if not conservative, based on: (1) the current forward market for oil, (2) current oil prices, (3) externally generated oil price forecasts, and (4) the historical difficulty in accurately forecasting oil prices. Overall, a spread between the FE-EERE High Oil Price and Reference scenarios of well over $8/bbl is supported by the literature. We conclude that a wide range of carbon regulation scenarios are possible, especially within the time frame considered by EERE and FE (through 2050). The Working Group's Carbon Cap-&- Trade Scenario is found to be less aggressive than many Kyoto-style targets that have been analyzed, and similar in magnitude to the proposed Climate Stewardship Act. The proposed scenario is more aggressive than some other scenarios found in the literature, however, and ignores carbon banking and offsets and does not allow nuclear power to expand. We are therefore somewhat concerned that the stringency of the proposed carbon regulation scenario in the 2010 to 2025 period will lead to a particularly high estimated cost of carbon reduction. As described in more detail later, we encourage some flexibility in the Working Group's ultimate implementation of the Carbon Cap-and-Trade Scenario. We conclude by identifying additional scenarios that might be considered in future analyses, describing a concern with the proposed specification of the High Fuel Price Scenario, and highlighting the possible difficulty of implementing extreme scenarios with current energy modeling tools.

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