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Fossil-fueled Power
Non-Fossil Generation
End-Use Efficiency
Electricity T&D
Carbon Sequestration
Non-CO2 Reductions
Other GHG Reductions

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Terrestrial Seq.
Carb. Capture&Storage
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 Terrestrial Carbon Management


Vegetation and soils are widely recognized as carbon storage sinks. The global biosphere absorbs roughly 2 billion tons of carbon annually, an amount equal to roughly one third of all global carbon emissions from human activity. Significant amounts of this carbon remains stored in the roots of certain plants and in the soil. In fact, the inventory of carbon stored in the global ecosystem equals roughly 1,000 years worth of annual absorption, or 2 trillion tons of carbon.

Terrestrial carbon management is defined as either the net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere or the prevention of CO2 net emissions from the terrestrial ecosystems into the atmosphere. Such activities – in the form of forest and agricultural land-use activities – can help, especially in the near term, to solve the issue of increasing atmospheric CO2, at a reasonable cost and with secondary environmental and other benefits. They also can allow more time for developing new energy technologies that require long lead times, including lower-emitting energy technologies, and to avoid the premature retirement (at high costs) of existing energy infrastructure.

Domestic and international activities undertaken by individual utilities in this area include reforestation and forest preservation. In addition to sequestering CO2 emissions, these activities have the added benefits of: restoring bottomland hardwoods on marginal agricultural lands; preserving, creating and improving habitats for a variety of wildlife, including migratory birds and waterfowl, and even threatened and endangered species; improving water and soil quality; reducing flooding; conserving biological diversity in ecosystems; and providing recreational benefits.

Research and development activities in terrestrial sequestration are focused on integrating measures for improving the full life-cycle carbon uptake of terrestrial ecosystems, including farmland and forests, with fossil fuel production and use. The following ecosystems offer significant opportunity for carbon sequestration:

  Forest lands. The focus includes below-ground carbon and long-term management and utilization of standing stocks, understory, ground cover, and litter.
  Agricultural lands. The focus includes crop lands, grasslands, and range lands, with emphasis on increasing long-lived soil carbon.
  Biomass croplands. As a complement to ongoing efforts related to biofuels, the focus is on long-term increases in soil carbon and value-added organic products.
  Deserts and degraded lands. Restoration of degraded lands offers significant benefits and carbon sequestration potential in both below-and above-ground systems.
  Boreal wetlands and peatlands. The focus includes management of soil carbon pools and perhaps limited conversion to forest or grassland vegetation where ecologically acceptable.

The subsections below elaborate on several to these several terrestrial sequestration areas, including an overarching discussion of measurement, monitoring, and verification (MMV) issues.

Several organizations have been active in sequestration projects, and possibly could serve as Partners in Terrestrial Sequestration Projects. A partial list of these organizations includes the following:

  Winrock International http://www.winrock.org/
  The Nature Conservancy http://nature.org/
  Ducks Unlimited http://www.ducks.org
  The Carbon Fund http://www.thecarbonfund.org
  World Bank Prototype Carbon Fund http://prototypecarbonfund.org

Measuring, Monitoring, and Verification (MMV) Issues

Terrestrial sequestration, while a promising area for GHG mitigation, introduces several policy issues regarding the measuring, monitoring, and verification of the GHG savings. Some of these issues include the following:

  Duration/Permanence.  One criticism of forestry efforts is that these do not provide the same long-term benefits as reducing energy-related emissions.  This can be true if stored carbon is released within a few decades, due to natural disaster, land ownership changes, etc.  However, there also are ways to address the issue of duration or permanence, such as buffers and contingency credits (i.e., making the project larger as a safety margin); external insurance; and full carbon accounting.  Full carbon accounting assesses all changes in carbon stocks in all important carbon pools of the project.  In this approach, any shortfall must be addressed by purchasing credits or undertaking other projects.  Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that even if a forestry activity were short-lived, e.g., a few decades, it would still be valuable, since it may serve as a bridge to the future.
  Leakage.  Leakage occurs when man's efforts produce a direct greenhouse gas benefit in one location/time but also a contradictory (or amplifying) effect elsewhere.  For example, if one area of forest is protected or increased, negative leakage would occur if, due to demand for forest products, a corresponding area of forest elsewhere were harvested, reducing the net greenhouse gas benefit.  Positive leakage can occur where an activity leads to amplified or "spillover" benefits in other situations. Leakage is an issue for all types of projects, including energy projects.   Leakage can be avoided, minimized or at least quantified by proper project design.  In addition, many projects clearly present no leakage concern to begin with; e.g., the UtiliTree Carbon Company's projects in the Mississippi River Valley of the U.S. do not significantly alter the millions of acres of agricultural land in the region and do not contain a commercial forestry aspect that would alter forest product markets.
  Additionality.  Additionality, or supplementarity, is a criterion that can be an issue for poorly conceived projects, but which is not an issue generally.  For international projects (of all types, not just forestry) in nations that are not required to take on emission reduction commitments, if a project fails to create valid GHG credits, and then a party in another nation claims such credits, then net greenhouse gas emissions would likely be higher.  For domestic projects, carbon sequestered via activities that are already required by government regulations or by law might in some cases not be considered additional.  Careful evaluation of project baselines/reference cases or benchmarks can address emissions additionality.
  Quantification of Carbon Benefits.  Measurement methods for carbon stored in trees and other vegetation have existed for many decades.  Techniques for measurement of carbon in soils have advanced over recent years to the point where they are accurate but many measurements can be required to accurately measure soil carbon.  Thus, it is not a matter of whether carbon can be measured accurately but more a matter of how to continue to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of such measurements.

The following suggested guidelines will help in the development of credible projects and programs:

  Carbon benefits must be real, compared to reasonable baselines or reference cases.
  Only actual project results should be counted.
  Projects must be monitored and verified routinely.
  The carbon accounting system should provide transparent, consistent, comparable, complete, accurate, verifiable and efficient reporting of changes in carbon stocks.
  Monitoring should balance cost and accuracy to attain reasonable accuracy.
  Projects should be consistent with maintaining or enhancing ecosystems and biodiversity, while avoiding generally the conversion of native ecosystems. 
  Negative leakage must be evaluated, quantified and addressed in project accounting.
  Full carbon accounting is necessary over a long period of time for all lands with forestry activities related to the Protocol to address the issue of permanence.

Forest programs

Trees are referred to as "carbon sinks," because they take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air and sequester it in living plant tissue.  About one-half of a tree is carbon. Carbon can be managed through many different types of forestry activities, including:  forest preservation and management projects to maintain carbon sequestered by reducing deforestation and harvest impacts; forest management to enhance existing carbon sinks; creation of new carbon sinks by planting on pasture, agricultural land or degraded forest sites; storing carbon in wood products; and energy conservation through shading buildings and homes.

The technical potential for forest carbon management is great, able to counteract a meaningful portion of the carbon added annually to the atmosphere.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that, during 1995-2050, slowing deforestation, promoting natural forest regeneration and global reforestation could offset about 60 to 90 billion tons (12-15%) of fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions (as carbon, C), with three-quarters of this in the tropics.  The IPCC also reported that reduction of deforestation-related CO2 emissions is especially important because these emissions currently represent about 20 percent of man-made CO2 emissions and have made up one-third of man-made emissions since 1850. 

The electric industry has a long history of involvement with traditional forest management and tree-planting programs, through preserving forest lands for both recreational use and wildlife habitat, tree maintenance around power lines, education of homeowners on tree placement around power lines, and commercial forestry on electric utility-owned lands.  In association with events such as Earth Day and Arbor Day, many utilities supply seedlings for employees, children and others to plant.  The electric industry owns a large amount of land in order to house and surround its current and future generation, transmission and distribution facilities.

Utilities have also initiated numerous forestry projects specifically to offset CO2 emissions or conserve energy.   These efforts included electric power companies involved in urban forestry energy conservation programs such as American Forests' Global ReLeaf program and some utilities are using biomass as a fuel to produce electricity.  The majority of trees planted, however, are associated with projects designed specifically to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and to store carbon in tree biomass. 

Carbon offsets, properly documented and monitored, should be a major component of any strategy to respond to greenhouse gas concerns.  Well-designed projects can be important tools because of their multiple attributes: reducing emissions and increasing uptake of carbon; contributing to sustainable development goals; providing substantial ancillary environmental benefits; and cost‑effectiveness in managing CO2

Some specific reasons for utilities to participate in forest carbon management include:


There is a large technical potential for forest carbon management – a large project can offset millions of tons of carbon emissions.

  Forestry options to manage carbon are cost effective in many cases – e.g., a few dollars per ton of carbon offset.  Forest carbon management opportunities can be among the most economical ways to address CO2 emissions.
  Forestry carbon management adds flexibility, thus expanding the electric utility repertoire of options.
  Experience leads to improved future projects.
  Forestry efforts have positive secondary environmental and social benefits, including: new habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds, songbirds, bears and other wildlife; improved water quality due to less use of fertilizers and less erosion due to cultivation; improved flood control due to trees stabilizing soil and the new ecosystem storing more water; and recreation opportunities and other esthetic improvements.
  International projects will help to demonstrate the effectiveness of jointly implementing activities with other nations.

Forestry projects yield positive public relations – using forestry to manage CO2 is well received by the public and environmental groups.

Agricultural programs

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions can often be managed through the variety of agricultural activities which utilities and their customers engage in, such as:

  Conservation tillage to reduce soil disturbance and maintain higher soil carbon and nitrogen content
  Improving efficiency of fertilizer and pesticide use, reducing energy usage during their manufacture and transportation
  Reducing post-application fertilizer nitrogen emissions by changing application rate, placement, and timing
  Creation of new carbon sinks by planting halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) on otherwise unproductive desert coastal lands
  Managing grazing lands through improved species of forage, integrated nutrient management and modified grazing
  Recovering and using methane for on-farm power production
  Reduced methane emissions from ruminants (i.e., cattle) through improved nutrition and other management practices

Soil carbon sequestration has great potential to address carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture and many land grant universities are actively evaluating these opportunities.

Deserts and degraded lands

As an alternative to forestry, sustainable, drought proof options in rainfall areas between 2 and 25 inches exist for saltbrush growing and stock grazing with superior sequestration levels than normal grasslands.  The advantages of saltbrush, a hardy perennial plant with life expectancy of beyond 100 years, is its capacity to be fully established in twelve months, salt tolerant up to 25,000 ppm, and with 3-5 meter tap roots and up to 10 meter laterals, carbon storage persists through regular stock grazing from either cattle or sheep.  Successful saltbrush applications have been made in both the middle East and Australia.

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 Power Partners Projects

American Electric Power (AEP) has pursued a number of reforestation and forest preservation activities in the United States, Bolivia, and Brazil. In the United States, AEP has partnered with the Conservation Fund and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to acquire, protect, and restore a bottomland hardwood forest on more than 18,000 acres near Catahoula Lake in east central Louisiana, a major haven for migratory birds in the Mississippi delta. AEP restored the bottomland hardwood habitat by planting native trees on its portion of the property and a portion of the property owned by USFWS. In Bolivia, AEP is working to protect the Noel Kempff Mercado Park, which has nearly four million acres of threatened tropical forests and is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. The project preserves forest that otherwise would have been logged –helping to mitigate GHG emissions by capturing carbon in the trees – and fosters sustainable development in local communities. In Brazil, AEP helped create the Guaraquecaba Climate Action Project in the Atlantic Forest to restore and protect 17,000 acres of threatened or degraded tropical forests.

Public power systems are sequestering substantial GHG emissions through the use and expansion of APPA’s TREE POWER program. Currently, more than 250 utilities, serving more than 50 percent of public power’s 19.1 million customers, participate in the TREE POWER program, which was created in 1991.

Aquila sponsors several carbon sequestration programs, such as “Trees Forever” in Iowa, and similar programs in Missouri. Since 1992, the company has planted more than 230,000 trees, which has resulted in the sequestration of 13,000 tons of CO2 emissions and more than 319 tons of combustion pollutants.

Cleco Corporation’s carbon sequestration activities from two projects, the Bayou Jean de Jean and Maknockanut, sequestered more than 1,600 tons of CO2 emissions annually, from 2003 to 2005.

DTE Energy in 1995 committed to plant 10 million trees by the year 2000. The company achieved that landmark in only three-and-a-half years. An additional 10 million trees have been planted to date, for a total of 20 million trees. These trees will absorb approximately 6.6 million tons of CO2 emissions and produce 4.6 million tons of oxygen over a 50-year lifetime. Since 1998, the company also has funded an annual Urban Forestry Grant program and awarded 77 grants to 58 Michigan communities. DTE subsidiary Detroit Edison was one of the original sponsors of the Rio Bravo Conservation Area project to protect rainforests in Belize. Detroit Edison also was a major sponsor of the UtiliTree Carbon Company, which funded forest restoration projects in the United States and abroad.

Duke Energy has initiated a number of reforestation and afforestation carbon sequestration projects in which the company provided funding for the purchase and planting of trees. Organizations that Duke Energy has partnered with include USDA, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Ducks Unlimited, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. More than 1.5 million trees have been planted through these partnerships. Duke Energy also has partnered with TNC, a local conservation group in Belize, and several U.S. electric utilities to undertake the Rio Bravo Carbon Sequestration Pilot Project in Belize. The project both preserves existing tropical forest by protecting it from conversion to agricultural uses and implements sustainable logging practices.

Entergy established the Sustainable Forestry Plan in 2002 to identify property within its 23,000-plus acres of company-owned land that are deemed to have high potential for achieving carbon sequestration, restoring wildlife habitats, or beautification. Through 2005, 3,200 acres of company-owned land have been reforested and more than 1.25 million metric tons of CO2 emissions sequestration are expected. In 2005, Entergy funded the acquisition and reforestation of native bottomland hardwoods on an additional 300 acres of marginal cropland adjacent to the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. Along with the plantings done in 2004, a total of 1,600 acres have been restored. This property has been donated to USFWS for inclusion in the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Over the next 70 years, the bottomland hardwoods are expected to sequester 760,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. In addition, the reforested land helps restore habitat that is critical to the threatened Louisiana black bear.

Working with EPRI, Power Partners are developing GHG emissions offsets by reducing N2O emissions in agricultural crop production: Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a significant GHG emission. Each ton of N2O emitted into the atmosphere is equivalent to emitting 296 tons of CO2. This project will investigate the approach of developing large-scale GHG-emissions offsets by reducing N2O emissions in agricultural crop production. The tools and information developed in this project will broaden the GHG emissions-offset options available to electric utilities and power generators and can serve as a mechanism to develop and strengthen partnerships with the agricultural communities that they serve.

Exelon’s ComEd subsidiary has restored more than 120 acres of natural prairie habitat on buffer lands and rights-of-way in Illinois since 1994. Exelon and its subsidiary PECO, along with other organizations, are funding TreeVitalize, an aggressive four-year, $8 million partnership led by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. TreeVitalize has three goals: to plant more than 20,000 shade trees, to restore 1,000 acres of forested riparian buffers, and to train 2,000 citizen volunteers in proper tree care techniques in southeastern Pennsylvania.

PacifiCorp is funding the reforestation of many acres of fir and ponderosa pine to absorb or sequester CO2 emissions in Oregon and Washington. Larger-scale company projects include aiding the preservation of more than 1.5 million acres of rainforest in Belize and Bolivia. These two projects, developed in partnership with local partners and TNC, are expected to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by 40 million metric tons over the life of the projects.

The PowerTree Carbon Company, formally announced in 2004, is a reforestation effort in the lower Mississippi River Valley (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi). Twenty-five power generators have committed more than $3 million for seven tree-planting projects that will restore habitats and will remove and store more than 1.5 million tons of CO2 over their 100-year lifetimes.

To help public power utilities calculate the environmental benefits of their tree planting programs, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) developed the Tree Benefits Estimator. The Estimator, posted on APPA’s Web site, can be used to estimate the amount of energy and capacity a utility can save (or has saved) through its tree-planting program. It also estimates how many pounds of carbon and CO2 emissions will be sequestered.

Southern Company has planted more than 35 million trees across the Southeast. In addition, the company initiated a five-year program to restore the longleaf pine in the southeastern United States. In partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the program will plant longleaf pine trees, restore critical habitat, sequester carbon, and improve biodiversity throughout the Southern Company service territory. In the first two years of this project, more than 1.5 million trees have been planted and approximately 3,000 acres of critical habitat have been restored.

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 References, Sources, and Other Useful Data

American Forests, “Global ReLeaf”

Global ReLeaf is American Forests' education and action program that helps individuals, organizations, agencies, and corporations improve the local and global environment by planting and caring for trees. There are two types of Global ReLeaf projects: 1) In urban areas, trees are planted through the Global ReLeaf Fund. The program also encourages individuals to plant trees around their homes and businesses or join community groups to plant trees that shade, cool, and beautify their neighborhoods. 2) In less-developed areas, trees are planted in ecosystem restoration projects called Global ReLeaf Forests. Many of these areas have been damaged by natural or human causes. These trees help clean the air and water, filter polluted runoff, slow global warming and erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife.

American Public Power Association, "APPA Tree Benefits Estimator" (2007)

The APPA Tree Benefits Estimator was designed to APPA member utilities quantify and track the benefits of planting shade trees. It estimates the amount of energy savings (KWh saved), capacity savings (KW saved) and carbon and CO2 sequestration (lbs) resulting from mature trees planted in urban and suburban settings. The Tree Benefits Estimator can be used by those who have no formal background in urban forestry or Demand Side Management (DSM) utility practices. The Tree Benefits Estimator, developed by Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), was based on the experience of the SMUD's Shade Tree program.

Edison Electric Institute, “PowerTree Carbon Company, LLC” (part of the brochure on Power Partners: EEI Industry Initiatives)

PowerTree Carbon Company, LLC is an initiative to plant trees in critical habitats in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Through PowerTree Carbon Company, LLC, electric companies are partnering with government agencies and environmental groups to plant trees and restore natural ecosystems in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Environmental Protection Agency, “Agricultural Practices that Sequester Carbon and/or Reduce Emissions of Other Greenhouse Gases”

Presents a table describing key agricultural practices and their effect on greenhouse gases. Also includes information on representative sequestration rates and saturation periods of key agricultural practices.

Environmental Protection Agency, “Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture and Forestry"

Sequestration activities can help prevent global climate change by enhancing carbon storage in trees and soils, preserving existing tree and soil carbon, and by reducing emissions of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). This website provides FAQs, basic science background, sequestration practices, information on international opportunities, and various tools and references.

Soil Science Society of America, “Carbon Sequestration: Position of the Soil Science Society of America”

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is the professional home for over 5,700 professionals throughout the world dedicated to the advancement of soil science. This FAQ addresses the relationship between carbon sequestration, land management and other environmental factors.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), Land and Water Development Division, “Soil Carbon Sequestration”

This website provides information on the activities of the Land Service of the Land and Water Development Division (AGLL) of FAO on soil carbon sequestration within the framework of its programme on the integrated planning and management of land resources for sustainable rural development. The objective is to reverse land degradation due to deforestation and inadequate land use/management in the tropics and sub-tropics through the promotion of improved land use systems and land management practices which provide win-win effects in terms of economic gains and environmental benefits, greater agro-bio-diversity, improved conservation and environmental management and increased carbon sequestration.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Is Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture Economically Feasible?” (by Jan Lewandrowski and Carol Jones, originally published in Amber Waves, April 2004)

While the U.S. farm sector’s technical potential to store carbon is important to know, it is really the economic potential for storing carbon that is most directly relevant to policymakers. Using different incentive payment structures, ERS researchers analyzed the economic feasibility of increasing carbon levels in soils and vegetation by providing various levels of payments to convert croplands and pasture to trees, shift cropland to permanent grasses, and/or increase the use of conservation tillage systems.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Chief Economist,  “Global Climate Change"

The Climate Change Program Office (CCPO) operates within the Office of the Chief Economist and functions as the Department-wide coordinator of agriculture, rural and forestry-related global change program and policy issues facing USDA. The Office ensures that USDA is a source of objective, analytical assessments of the effects of climate change and proposed response strategies. The Office also serves as USDA's focal point for climate change issues and is responsible for coordinating activities with other Federal agencies, interacting with the legislative branch on climate change issues affecting agriculture and forestry, and representing USDA on U.S. delegations to international climate change discussions.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Chief Economist. “U.S. Agriculture and Forestry Greenhouse Gas Inventory: 1990-2001” (Technical Bulletin No. 1907, March 2004)

The U.S. Agriculture and Forestry Greenhouse Gas Inventory: 1990-2001 (USDA GHG Inventory) is a comprehensive assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks in U.S. agriculture and forests. The USDA GHG Inventory provides extensive, in-depth emissions and sinks estimates for livestock, cropland, and forests, as well as energy consumption in livestock and cropland agriculture.

U.S. Department of Energy, Consortium for Research on Enhancing Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems (CSiTE)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science - Biological and Environmental Research established CSiTE, a research consortium, to perform fundamental research that will lead to acceptable methods to enhance carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems as one component of a carbon management strategy. The goal of CSiTE is to discover and characterize links between critical pathways and mechanisms for creating larger, longer-lasting carbon pools in terrestrial ecosystems.

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “EIA §1605(b) Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program Technical Assistance: General Guidance, Project- Specific Guidance, Reporting Tools, and Emission Factors”

Includes guidance and factors for forestry activities and urban sequestration.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, “Terrestrial Sequestration Research”

Terrestrial carbon sequestration is defined as either the net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere or the prevention of CO2 net emissions from the terrestrial ecosystems into the atmosphere. This DOE program area is focused on integrating measures for improving the full life-cycle carbon uptake of terrestrial ecosystems, including farmland and forests, with fossil fuel production and use. The program area is being conducted in collaboration with DOE’s Office of Science and the U.S. Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

World Resource Institute, “Carbon Storage and Sequestration”

This 5-page PDF article discusses how carbon sequestration and storage slow the rate at which carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere and mitigate global warming. Forests sequester and store more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem, and constitute an important natural defense against climate change.

World Resources Institute and The World Conservation Union, “Climate, Biodiversity, and Forests: Issues and Opportunities Emerging from the Kyoto Protocol”

This Research Report examines why the role of forests and land-use change under the Kyoto Protocol remains controversial. Notes that climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and that protecting biological diversity may help mitigate other impacts of climate change.

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