Evaluating Environmental Governance along Cross-Border Electricity Supply Chains with Policy-Informed Life Cycle Assessment: The California–Mexico Energy Exchange

This paper presents a “policy-informed” life cycle assessment of a cross-border electricity supply chain that links the impact of each unit process to its governing policy framework. An assessment method is developed and applied to the California–Mexico energy exchange as a unique case study. CO2-equivalent emissions impacts, water withdrawals, and air quality impacts associated with California’s imports of electricity from Mexican combined-cycle facilities fueled by natural gas from the U.S. Southwest are estimated, and U.S. and Mexican state and federal environmental regulations are examined to assess well-to-wire consistency of energy policies. Results indicate most of the water withdrawn per kWh exported to California occurs in Baja California, most of the air quality impacts accrue in the U.S. Southwest, and emissions of CO2-equivalents are more evenly divided between the two regions. California energy policy design addresses generation-phase CO2 emissions, but not upstream CO2-eq emissions of methane during the fuel cycle. Water and air quality impacts are not regulated consistently due to varying U.S. state policies and a lack of stringent federal regulation of unconventional gas development. Considering local impacts and the regulatory context where they occur provides essential qualitative information for functional-unit-based measures of life cycle impact and is necessary for a more complete environmental impact assessment.