Energy

California’s Wildfires Have Burned Enough Carbon To Power Roughly 23 Coal Plants For One Year, Estimates Show

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  • California’s wildfires have burned enough forest to dump 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, scientists say.
  • That amount of carbon dioxide is equivalent to powering 23 coal-powered plants over the course of a year, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Gains Californian officials have made in terms of lessening climate change all went “up in smoke” as a result of the state’s massive wildfires, one forest expert told The Washington Post. 

Wildfires have likely dumped more than 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the environment — more than the total emissions required to power the entire state, a pair of atmospheric scientists told The Washington Post Thursday.

Burning 90 million metric tons of carbon emissions over the course of a month is the equivalent of powering 23 coal-fired power stations for one year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator.

The Daily Caller News Foundation used the EPA calculator to determine the total, which is based on estimates from Niels Andela, an atmospheric scientist at Cardiff University in Wales who relayed his estimation to the Post. The DCNF’s calculation, like the estimate conducted by Andela, does not take into account the acreage and type of vegetation burned throughout the summer.

“Given that 2020 is really a record-setting year for California, it’s going to be quite off-the-charts compared to the observational period we have,” Andela told The Post. The estimate of 91.2 million tons is preliminary given that he does not have a robust set of data, he said, adding, “That would be my expectation.”

The U.S. flag flies on Campbell Transportation's towboat M.K. McNally as it passes Mitchell Power Plant on the Ohio River in Moundsville

The U.S. flag flies on Campbell Transportation’s towboat M.K. McNally as it passes Mitchell Power Plant, a coal-fired power-plant REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Guido van der Werf, a wildfire emissions expert at Vrije University in Amsterdam, believes Andela’s estimate of 90 million metric tons is rough, but notes that the wildfires will pump a record amount of carbon into the air.

“What is pretty certain is that this year beats the previous record in the satellite record (starting in 1997) … by a large margin,” van der Werf told the Post. Andela and van der Werf used satellite data measuring heat from the fires to make their estimates, the Post reported. (RELATED: Wildfires, Blackouts And High Gas Prices: Californians Fight Familiar Foes Amid Pandemic)

Wildfires continue burning in parts of California, Oregon, and Washington, CNN reported. Fires have killed more than 33 people in West Coast states since August, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

They have also culminated in more than half-a-million people evacuating Oregon, a number representing roughly 10% of the state’s overall population, according to CNN.

Roughly 100 massive fires blazed through the West Saturday, including 12 in Idaho and nine in Montana, the National Interagency Fire Center said Saturday. All told, the wildfires have churned through more than 4.5 million acres in 12 states. More than 3.3 million acres burned so far this season in California.

California’s power plants, which are subject to the state’s decade-long cap-and-trade program along with other green energy mandates, are typically responsible for spewing 62 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2017, The Post reported, citing data from the California Air Resources Board. The wildfire season has obliterated that number, one forest preservation expert argues.

“When you look at what California has done with its cap-and-trade program, and other states’ efforts to address emissions, all the gains we’ve been seeing, frankly, literally went up in smoke this year,” Travis Joseph, head of the American Forest Resource Council, told The Post. His group is based in Oregon and represents mills, manufacturers and the timber industry in the Western states.

California’s reliance on wind power and solar panels, along with the state’s mission to eliminate fossil fuel products as a major form of energy production, contributed to the state’s rolling blackouts during the wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during an August press conference addressing the blackouts.

The state’s energy system operator — California Independent System Operator (CAISO) — issued a Stage 3 emergency for the first time in 20 years, per a press statement CAISO that month. Many citizens were required to conserve as much energy as possible while others were subject to rotating power outages due to heavy strain on the energy grid, CNN reported in August.

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