Precautionary Principles and Ethics Applied to Energy-Environmental Systems and Preliminary Economic Assessment

By Dr. Peter J. Catania
October 2003

The Author is the Chairman of International Energy Foundation (IEF) in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. Dr. Catania also serves on the International Standards Organization in the development of the international energy standard on Technical Energy Systems, and has submitted 18 country reports on renewable energy and energy conservation to the Canadian International Energy Agency.

Superimposed on risk assessments is the question related to ethics and the additional superimposition of the precautionary principles. Stakeholders and the public who will be affected by the decision should have direct input in the decision process. It can also be argued that there is an absolute need for a greater degree of transparency, and accountability. Application of the precautionary principles is not independent of international relations and implications. Equally important are concerns related to ethics and the natural extension to the development and utilization of energy sources. This presents opportunities for those countries richly endowed with oil and gas resources. Many forms of renewable energies have seen increased market share due in part to the technological advances, the steady decrease in capital and annual operating costs and the desire by humanity for an increased awareness of the environment and its international implications. Thus, those countries that are richly endowed with oil and gas should undertake not only a moral and ethical international role but also an international leadership role in the development of wide-range applications of renewable forms of energy. An added advantage, over and above leadership and vision, is the creation of sustainable, environmentally benign global renewable energy industries and associated return on investment. Finally, this paper also briefly discusses economic/environmental implications and issues related to technical barriers to trade. In the end analysis, the underpinning aspect rests with the code of conduct directed by our value system.


Risk assessments that are presently used by developed and developing nations alike focus on answering three basic concerns. These concerns are (1) What can possibly go wrong with the system? (2) How would this occur? and (3) What are the effects on the system, culture, people and the surroundings? To provide a complete answer to the first question one would need to anticipate every possible environment, operating condition, and operator error that the system may be subjected to. It is obvious that the number of possibilities rapidly approach infinity. With each scenario one relies on a subject matter expert and this expert places the scenario into groups with a " low, medium or high" likelihood. The consequence of a scenario is based on the observations of the analyst, consultation with reference material or the operation of a computer simulation. The consequence may be uncertain due to unpredictable or non-controllable factors such as weather, e.g., the distribution of a toxic cloud. In general, the deductive methods of analysis are (1) the classic Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), the Hazard Operations (HAZOP) and the Event Tree Analysis (ETA). A deductive analysis is the Fault Tree Analysis (FTA). Details related to these analyses are discussed by Wyss (2) and Guidelines for Hazard Evaluation Procedures by the Centre for Chemical Process Safety, American Institute of Chemical Engineers (3).

In addition to the rigid risk assessment techniques one needs to become aware of the issues related to the basis of ethical considerations. Mantell ( 4 ) presented the following, which serves effectively as the foundation for problem solving in the area of ethics.

  1. Mankind and the universe exist and will continue to exist.
  2. Each person is expected to live for an average statistical life span and each period of this life span has equal value.
  3. Every person has a purpose and each person must be given the opportunity to fulfill this purpose. One must accept differences in values between cultures. Introducing this level of tolerance may result in a specific activity being acceptable in one culture and rejected in another.
  4. Each person´s purpose is to seek, to correlate, and to disseminate truths, and to strive to aid and improve the existence of all other persons.
  5. No one person, nor the human race, can know all of reality and therefore one should be concerned with those truths which have the greatest generality, particularly those involving individuals and the social existence of mankind.
  6. Life, property and freedom are inalienable rights of every individual.
  7. One should seek to use the least amount of material, energy and time to fulfill a purpose.
  8. When there are no radical changes in the social order it will be assumed that the existing social order be maintained with allowances for gradual evolutionary changes.

These 8 points are based upon how society should be, not on how it is. Each and every person who reviews these fundamentals will unquestionably arrive at a somewhat different approach to solving a specific problem related to an individual, a region, or a country or society as a whole. Nevertheless, these fundamentals should be in the forefront of a systematic, orderly thinker, and more specifically, presented to those who are entering the engineering profession, government and industry.

The public´s understanding of science and technology is in a stage wherein we are witnessing a declining public confidence in these areas that is driven by lack of understanding and fear of the unknown. The speed at which technology is changing complicates the process of comprehension. The suspicion that new and menacing technologies are going to be imposed without due consideration and consent is a natural consequence. Wenk (5) pointed out that "there is a compelling obligation to consider also a new environment for practice--the social, economic, legal, political and ecological ramifications that impose design constraints." Scientists and engineers must accept a considerable share of the responsibility for such a situation. For example, when science and engineering research becomes controlled by large sums of financing there is a tendency that one specific research approach will attempt to diminish the validity of another in order to protect the continuous flow of funds to that research project. Furthermore, there exists the potential that researchers could be tempted to modify the results so as to maintain cash flow. Research is not independent of politics (6). The public has the right to expect an explanation of where science and engineering are taking society. The role of government in all of this is to encourage scientists and engineers to better communicate, coordinate and co-operate with politicians, public servants, and the general public. Although academics and institutions should take the leadership role there is a strong case that should require the research recipients at the end of their publicly funded research to undertake some form of educational work in the broadest sense. Scientists and engineers can no longer sit in their research offices and labs and focus primarily on technological advances and improvements in predicting scientific outcomes through modified scientific equations. We must take on new roles. The public has a right to know.

Superimposed on questions related to risk assessment is the question related to ethics (7). Where decision-making must be concluded on risks of serious or irreversible damage to the environment and people and where the basis for this rests on a high degree of scientific uncertainty one should utilize the precautionary principles. This is ultimately judged on the basis of values and priorities of a region, a nation or a continent. A listing of a person´s value profile is presented later in this paper. Decision-making is further complicated by the inherent dynamics of science, such as for example, the conflicting scientific assessments related to effect of greenhouse gases on climatic change. There also is uncertainty in the timing and regional character of the resulting changes in the global climate.

The basic precautionary principles are:

  1. acceptable, legitimate risk management tools that can be categorized as inductive assessments, deductive assessments or probabilistic models and
  2. refers to those situations wherein there is a need to make a decision on a serious or irreversible damage wherein there is a high degree of scientific uncertainty.
  3. Sound scientific evidence must be the corner stone for applying the precautionary principles with respect to acting or not to act and the measures taken once that action has been made. Societal needs such as serious to irreversible harm to humans, safety, the environment or resource conservation are integral parts of the equation.
  4. The chosen level of protection against the selected risk(s) must guide decisions.
  5. The burden of proof and the responsibility for producing it must be designated and it is also realized that this may shift over time due in part to the changes in knowledge, expertise or public opinion.
  6. Whatever the decision one must incorporate a timely revaluation of the basis for the decision and provide additional or modified transparent process in consultation in committee.
  7. There is a need for not only transparency but also clearly defined accountability and substantive active involvement of the public at large.
  8. Applications of the precautionary principles should be at least directly proportional to the severity of the risk being addressed and/or the level of tolerance of the public.
  9. The application should in all cases be non-discriminatory with respect to the source of energy and application.
  10. Applications of the precautionary principles should, to the maximum extent possible, be cost-effective and have the objective of securing the maximum cost-benefit ratio for society. In dealing with cost effective measures it is understood that the costs include cradle-to-grave costs as well as the environmental costs for land, water and air. These last three aspects have been and are presently still ignored.
  11. The precautionary principles should be applied without prejudice to both developed and developing nations.

Consistent and reproducible scientific evidence is the basis for applying the precautionary principles. The outcome of action or the lack of action should be defined in terms of the possibility of serious and/or irreversible damage and the fullest extent of that damage. It must also be understood that data taken over a small range of parameters and then extrapolating over a range of several orders of magnitude beyond the experimental range must be treated with caution. Urgent situations may require the best solution at the time and the technology pertaining to this specific solution will, with experience, change over time. It is therefore essential that an accurate, quality monitoring of the method be an integral part of the process and that the outcome be well documented. In many circumstances the reports on a variety of scientific methods should not solely be based on the quantity of experimental methodologies and results but rather on the quality of the results. All reports should not only summarize the state of scientific knowledge and experiences but also address the balance of uncertainties and define areas wherein additional information is required so as to result in quality outcomes. To define the soundness of the principles applied in a specific application it is equally important to have the process judged on the basis of a peer review process similar to the peer process that is applied within universities. Finally, it must be remembered that scientific evidence will be used in guiding decisions and ultimately the public will determine the acceptance of the degree of risk and the economic repercussions related to the selected technological application.

Further scientific monitoring and research is essential in any precautionary application. This is required to reduce the level of uncertainty thereby allowing for a continuous improvement in the selected process consistent with the severity of the problem. Scientific evidence should be used to define the cause of the defined risk and the level of the risk. In general terms, the responsibility for providing evidence must rest with the designated party who is undertaking the action that is associated with the risk. The party who has the responsibility or the party who can best present the evidence may define this. It is the opinion of the author that in a majority of cases a collaborative effort is the best approach.

Stakeholders such as the industry wherein the CEO plays the significant role in setting ethical standards for a company (8) and the public who will be affected by the decision should have direct input in the decision process as well as in the recommendations for further improvements with the selected process. The assessment should contain the benefits and disadvantages, the cost, the improvement in the collaborative team approach and any other aspect of the decision so as to enhance and strengthen the capacity and capability of the process in response to the risk. A review of the selection process, the team and the scientific information may be required on a periodic basis. Of equal importance is the redefinition of the public and corporation´s level of risk. Are they compatible or do they diverge from one another? For example, it may be concluded that the decision for a specific application is non-economical for the corporation. On the other hand it may be concluded by society that it is essential that the decision be carried out regardless of the costs to the corporation. Thus, there is a need for revaluation, cooperation, coordination and communication.

It can be argued that there is an absolute need for a greater degree of transparency, accountability and increased public involvement in evaluating the risks and in determining the best process to handle the risk. Openness and transparency in all phases of the process is essential in strengthening the decision and in determining accountability while at the same time demonstrating due diligence. Public participation is essential in those cases where there is an advanced clear definition of harm from a decision, or the lack of a decision.

Applying specific precautionary principles within national boundaries is not independent of international relations and implications. In these cases there is a greater need for collaboration in reaching a common ground that can be acceptable to the stakeholders, that is, industry and society.

As mentioned earlier, the factors that effect the decision are technical, economic and human dimensional in nature. These are in many circumstances contrary to one another. A decision to act and the specifics related to that decision or the decision not to act should not be based only on economics but rather on the impact and the realization that scientific evidence is in a constant change of improvement.


Is ethics the same as law? Do ethics and law overlap? Tarr (9) has defined ethics as" the study of conduct that is above the law." Whereas Onsrud (10) states "Ethical conduct is often defined as that behavior desired by society which is above and beyond the minimum standards established by law." One can conclude that there is as a result of these definitions a level below which is unacceptable and punishable by law whereas above this level it is desirable but not required by law. One´s reputation is what others think of you whereas one´s ethics is who one really is. Ethics is therefore related to but different from and above the law; judged by your action (what you do) not by what you know (knowledge) and is the personalized way in which you make value-laden decisions.

"If engineers are to be "ethical" they must expand their view of the design process so that in addition to considering alternative solutions to a given problem, they take an active role in helping society define and discuss the problem itself. By coordinating public discussion about technological issues, by practicing the classical art of rhetoric, engineers can gain an ethical "middle ground" between mere technical excellence at one extreme, and setting a personal moral agenda for society on the other." (11)

A person´s value profile is based on a selection of the following traits and governs our everyday decision-making process. What values define the make-up of the politician, the engineer, the scientist, the lobbyist and the chief executive officers within industry?

The interaction between ethics and unethical behavior and legal versus illegal actions can be explained by dividing the system into four quadrants: Quadrant one is legal and ethical, Quadrant two is legal and unethical, Quadrant three is illegal and unethical and Quadrant four is illegal and ethical. At this point it is essential that we look at these quadrants with regards to the engineering profession.

Quadrant one-legal and ethical
This is the quadrant in which society prefers to function. Planning, design, construction and operation of projects or activities fall within this quadrant along with most supporting activities such as marketing finance, accounting and personnel matters.
Quadrant two- Legal and unethical
An engineer by luck designs a facility outside of his/her competence; an engineer divulges information developed for or with a client or former client. These are only two examples.
Quadrant three-Illegal and unethical
An act of fraud such as bid rigging or collusion with others to secure a contract, breach of contract and negligence. In today´s world it is not difficult to find numerous other examples in spite of the fact that this is the specific quadrant that one never wishes to finds oneself.
Quadrant four-Illegal and ethical
An engineer violating a signed secrecy agreement with an employer to go public and report on a situation that they believe is or may be hazardous to the public at large. Once again one can site numerous examples and in the Province of Saskatchewan the legislature is debating legislation in order to protect the whistle blower in publicly funded institutions such as universities. Within this quadrant is the whistle blower.
One definition of whistle blowing is "the act of a man or woman who, believing that the public interest overrides the interest of the organization he (she) serves, publicly blows the whistle if the organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent, or harmful activity."(12) The obligation to protect the public is the main determinant. When is an engineer morally and ethically permitted and when are they morally and ethically obligated to do so? Martin and Schinzinger (12) has summarized three rules of thumb wherein it is morally and ethically permissible to engage in external whistle blowing, that is, in those cases when information is passed outside of the organization.
  1. If the harm that will be done by the product to the public is serious and considerable,
  2. If they make their concerns known to their superiors,
  3. If getting no satisfaction from the superiors they exhaust the channels available within the corporation, including going to the board of directors.

For the whistle blowing to be morally obligatory requires two additional conditions. These conditions are:

  1. One must have documented evidence that would convince a reasonable, impartial observer that the individual´s position is correct and the company´s policy is wrong.
  2. There must be strong evidence that in making the information public will in fact prevent the threatened serious harm.

Internal whistle blowing occurs when the information is conveyed to someone within the organization. Open whistle blowing is when the individual reveals the information and their identity. In anonymous whistle blowing one conceals their identity. Within the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan open whistle blowing is acceptable when allegations are presented against a registered professional engineer.

Open whistle blowing entails a substantial risk of retaliation. One´s reputation, career and personal relations may be terminated. It is absolutely vital that any professional organization, for example, Professional Engineering Organizations, should protect the whistle blower against retaliation by employers. Failure to do so verges on the edge of unethical behavior of the organization in not protecting the public. In this case, a single individual needs to be protected from retaliation in one form or another. All organizations must be capable of following through the allegations of unethical behavior or conduct unbecoming that of a professional engineer by open or anonymous whistle blowing. To do otherwise is unacceptable. The law must be altered in order to protect the whistle blower. An example of whistle blowing was discussed by Johnson (13) with respect to the Three Mile Island incident. In this case "...almost after the near meltdown at Unit 2, two officials in the Site Operation Office of General Public Utilities reported a reckless company effort to clean up the contaminated reactor. Under threat of physical retaliation from supervisors, the GPU insiders released evidence alleging that the company had rushed the TRMI cleanup without testing key maintenance systems. If whistle blowing was a disloyal act, it deserved disapproval, and ultimately any act of whistle blowing needed justification. This disturbed me. It was as if the act of a good Samaritan was being condemned as an act of interference, as if the prevention of a suicide needed to be justified."

What does the future hold for ethics? In the past, many of the codes of ethics have become codes of law, thus, the question arises on whether the engineer should be less concerned on ethics or focus on a different kind of ethics? We are now more aware than ever before that ethical considerations must include the environment. The preservation of past cultures, endangered species, historic sites, vegetation, material selection in a process and aesthetics are added ethical values in today´s society. Competence is an area that requires more attention in the engineering community. It has been suggested by Florman (14) that although the number of failures are few they would be even fewer if

  1. people were more careful in their work,
  2. were more thoughtful in developing solutions to problems,
  3. were more aware of new developments,
  4. were more active in sharing findings and
  5. were more active in public affairs.

Florman (14) also indicated that in an assessment by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology out of 800 structural failures 36 % were caused by insufficient knowledge, 16 % in underestimation of influence, 14 % by ignorance, carelessness and negligence with the balance comprised of 6 additional causes. The conclusions are obvious. While good intentions are admirable qualities by themselves they do not necessarily lead to competence. In addition, the ethical realm should be taken up by new ethical issues and concerns such as a broader environmental ethic, a competency ethic, a social ethic and a cultural ethic. Environmental ethics were discussed by Gunn and Vesiland (15) as early as 1987. It is advisable that one should focus their career energies on developing and refining one´s personal code of ethics.

Cultural differences can be understood by a comparison of the linear Western logic versus the "holistic viewpoint, creating the image of the universe as a huge, single entity rather than as a collection of discrete parts." (13). The linear approach is clearly understood through the examples given by Alcorn (16). "For instance, if I drop the ball from the tower, then it will fall towards the earth. If the ball falls towards the earth, and there is someone standing beneath it, then the ball will hit him or her. If these events occur and the ball is 4 inches in diameter and constructed of iron and the tower is forty feet tall, then the person who is struck will be seriously injured. Therefore, if you drop the ball under these conditions, then a person will be seriously injured....This linear logic in Western culture is reinforced by the written language.... writing and books are constructed to proceed step by step (word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter and so forth) from an initial statement to a final statement". This linear thinking lends itself to creativity and innovation through the scientific method that we are so accustomed to, that is, definition of the problem, observing the evidence, forming the hypothesis, experimentation, and formalizing the theory. Knowledge is the key to technological change but equally important is the dissemination of knowledge and the ability to put this knowledge into practice.

Engineers have an ethical obligation to use good scientific methods at all times, as for example, developing theories, carrying out calculations, or making statistical estimates where exact results are not possible. An example is related to global climatic change wherein some three percent of all of the carbon dioxide in the earth´s atmosphere is a result of human activity. The balance, some 97 percent, is from biological activities in earth´s oceans, volcanoes and decaying plant life. The latter is rarely published (17).


Al-Lababidi (18) concluded the following with regards to energy resources in Arab Countries. There are, as of 1997, 643.6 billion barrels of proven oil reserves in the Arab producing countries ( 62 % of world oil reserves) and the estimate of the undiscovered potential oil-recovery in these same Arab producing countries ranged from 134.4 to 176 billion barrels. In terms of natural gas the Arab producing countries have 21.7 percent of the world´s reserves or 32.7 trillion cubic meters. Estimates of undiscovered potential natural gas is 23.5 trillion cubic meters. Although no specifics were given for renewable energies, such as solar energy, he concluded that the Arab countries are endowed with large reserves of solar energy sources and hydrocarbons. The additional hydrocarbon reserves are promising due to the implementation of improved recovery techniques. While solar radiation has been given the status of being as large as if not greater than the non-renewable sources of energy they are being held back from penetrating the market place due to high capital costs and the need for technological advances. When one considers value systems and ethics it would seem to be obvious that a major effort should be lead by these same Arab producing countries in ensuring that solar energy permeates the market place on a global basis. This global leadership and vision should and will be forthcoming.

Lynch (19) expanded the analysis of price forecasting by noting that extrapolation was not driving forecasts. " The expectation for rising prices for conventional fuels in the 1970s caused many alternative energy producers to predict that their paths would cross in the near future, as oil, gas and electricity prices rose by 3-5% above inflation and the costs for renewables dropped by 5-10% per year, especially for such immature technologies as solar. Instead, the price of conventional fuels collapsed, leaving alternatives chasing, but not yet catching, a moving target. Still, there seems little question that over the long run, the cost of alternative energies will drop faster than conventional fuel costs. If prices for photovoltaics drop between 5 and 7.5 % per year, solar electricity in the US would be competitive with conventional electricity in 2010 to 2018. However, if it is assumed that conventional electricity prices drop at 2.2% per year, which is the trend of the past 15 years, then it will take 4 to 8 years longer, depending on the cost trend for photovoltaic power." These are only illustrative numbers not predictions to show the estimated impact of more realistic views of prices for competitive fuels.

There is no doubt that many forms of alternative energies have seen an increased market share as the technologies improve and the cost declines. In the short to long term it is unquestionable that emissions from hydrocarbon based energy sources will result in an increased market share for renewable forms of energy. This is however not an automatic process. The alternative energy industries with the continued support of conventional industries and governments should focus on the research and development required to improve on the economic competitiveness of these fuels so that they will be accepted by consumers for their own sake. A substantive infusion of funding in a variety of forms needs to be put into action in cooperation, coordination and communication with academia, industry, governments and the public at large.

One of many examples of the positive action by industry is that demonstrated by the Japanese Corporation Kyocera (20) wherein their new 20 story headquarters in Kyoto was designed and constructed with some 2000 PV´s on the roof and the south facing side of the building. This has resulted in 12.5 % of the corporation´s electrical power and as a result reduced the annual carbon dioxide emissions by 97 metric tons. In addition, this source of power also aided in the reduction of nitric oxides and sulphur dioxide. The balance of the electrical power is derived from a natural gas generator that operates at almost twice the efficiency of a centralized power plant. To reduce peak demand for power during the day hours the building is cooled by passing the air over ice which in turn is made during the evening hours when the demand for power is minimal. In this way there is equalization of electrical power resulting in a more energy efficient system.

Apogee Research International Ltd. (21) outlined the principles of good management for the electrical power sector within APEC. These principles are predictability, transparency, consistency, efficiency and cost effectiveness. It is essential that there be an open dialogue with the stakeholders in reviewing the current environmental policies and discussions related to the future environmental policies. Environmental policies that meet these principles assist in attracting investment wherein the return rates are maximized and the risks are minimized. The specific level of environmental standards is not necessarily a consideration in investment decisions so long as ways in which the standards are reached does not create greater risk for investors and the costs of complying with the environmental policies are factored in the rate of return. Governments should review their current environmental practices in light of these principles and the precautionary principles and identify unique opportunities that will be beneficial to the industry as well as to society. These principles assist in reducing the environmental related risks to the investor and society.

Economics, Energy and Environment

Pollution threatens our natural capital, the productive value of land, air and water, therefore it threatens our very existence. The definition of natural capital by Costenza and Daly (22) is defined as a stock that yields a flow of valuable goods and services into the future. This is viewed as an environmental issue by the public-at-large but in actual fact it is a market failure, hence, it is an economic problem. This arises from the fact that whenever a commodity is undervalued there is a natural propensity to increase the demand until the price rises and restores equilibrium. Decisions will then be based on this new equilibrium position. On the other hand, if the commodity is continuously undervalued or is free it will result in an inefficient use of the resource. This is the basis to the problem of pollution.

Costs borne by society are in general invisible even though society continues to discard the wastes of economic activity into the environment. These externalities or third party effects, either positive or negative, are imposed on parties not directly involved in the production or use of the energy resource. This is one category of social costs and benefits which are usually not taken into consideration in an unregulated market or consumptive decision-making process. If air, land and water had always had a market price, their values would have been recognized in economic terms and pollution would be minimized. It is therefore obvious that the correction to this market imbalance lies in valuing those resources which in the past have been considered free goods. It also rests in internalizing environmental externalities. Policy-makers and energy researchers are presented with a challenge.

Kreith (23) discusses the need for integration of societal or external costs and presents the data from Koomey´s 1990 survey (24) to show that the external costs as a percentage of delivered costs in the United States varies from 12% for natural gas, 25% for oil and 45% for coal in existing steam plants. For new plants the percentages for coal and gas are 18% and 17% respectively. When the external costs are added to the current market price for power the net result is that many renewable energies will be competitive.

Standard Costs for Emissions and Waste

Land, air and water are waste sinks and indeed represent a cost that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The decision to incorporate these costs into the economic process is difficult but it does not mean that it cannot nor should not be acted upon. An appreciation of these problems are outlined by Ottinger et at.(25). Although the environmental costs vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction it is imperative that they reflect the true cost within the specific jurisdiction. Failure to do so will result in a market distortion, hence, the displacement of industry to areas where the environmental costs are undervalued or non-existent. This is no different than moving industries to areas where the cost of inputs such as labor are lower. It is a formidable task to develop such costs and it raises the question - Is there an opportunity for the development of a standardized cost? It is imperative that these standardized costs be established by an international energy forum recognized by the international community, such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) who stated in 1992 "... there is a rapidly growing demand for standardized energy information for product and processes." Thus, was borne the ISO technical committee 203.

The electrical utility industries may believe that their industry is an unlikely recipient of these environmental international standards. Leighton (26) pointed out a growing movement to electrical power deregulation hence access to transmission lines by carriers other than the owners. The higher environmental costs in one jurisdiction may be circumvented by producing electrical power in an area where these costs are not internalized and the transmission to an area where they are incorporated. The decision-making process should not be undertaken in order to make the resulting environmental impact someone else´s problem.

Enforcement of Environmental Compliance

A number of utilities are beginning to internalize the costs of their emissions and wastes. In Canada, for example, TransAlta is establishing a price, as an internal charge, on their wastes. The corporation is also offering incentives to solicit ideas on how to reduce these wastes. Saskatchewan Power Corporation in cooperation with others is conducting a research investigation on the extraction of carbon dioxide from flue gases and it´s utilization in the enhanced oil recovery in the Southern section of the Province of Saskatchewan. Hydro Quebec has developed a framework for economic assessment of environmental externalities based on the following principles:

Within the United States, approximately one half of the state regulatory commissions have begun requiring utilities to incorporate environmental externalities in resource selection and planning. As an example, the Public Utility of Oregon sought to assure an adequate supply of energy at the lowest cost to a utility and it´s customers, through the adoption of least-cost planning for all of Oregon´s energy utilities. These external costs should be considered in the planning process to the fullest extend practical and quantifiable. Voluntary incorporation of externalities into the planning and decision-making is desirable but unlikely to occur. Mandating such actions may be necessary in order to ensure compliance.

Rewarding desirable behavior is always more effective than punishing undesired behavior. In this regard, allowing utilities to incorporate these costs into their rate base , in effect earning a return on their investments in the environment, would reward this positive behavior and ensure it´s success. These costs should be based on the amount of damage created, not on the basis of avoidance or abatement. If costs are based on the basis of abatement they are usually based on the cost of technology. For example, the cost of a new coal plant would not incorporate the cost of the damage done but rather the cost of scrubbers, etc. This may reflect the cost of emissions not released into the atmosphere but neglects the cost of those emissions not removed from the flue gases. By focusing on the damage we focus on the problem, that is, the emissions and the associated environmental costs. Utilities are comprised of innovative personnel and the issue is to create methodologies that would harness these innovators in developing unique solutions for unique problems.

Failure to Incorporate Environmental Costs

What is the outcome when utilities fail to incorporate environmental costs into their planning and decision- making process? At the minimum, the natural resources will continue to be undervalued and least cost planning will be skewed towards generating options that produce pollution. The market failure will not be addressed. From a business perspective this will not have an impact in the short term, however, it will in the long term since environmental pressures will become more not less important. Therefore, utilities that opt early for the incorporation of environmental costs into their decision-making process will have an advantage over those who remain with the status quo. Competition will become more important in the future and for those who have taken the leadership role they will also have the experience with the developed associated technologies. This in turn will enhance their competitive edge in the international market.

Failure to act now may result in the incorporation of these environmental costs through public pressure, investors or legislators. These groups will in effect become de facto the regulators. In fact, the presence of such is already a reality. Financial institutions are becoming leery of lending money for ventures unless the environmental integrity of those ventures can be guaranteed. Investors may be unwilling to invest in a corporation´s bonds if they feel that the corporation is not concerned about the environment. Customers on the other hand may forsake the company´s product if they believe that the product and the company produce negative environmental impacts that have not been properly mitigated. In a globally competitive market this impact is far reaching. John Holland and Richard Loulou (27) stated "Trade in the future will involve environmental considerations from a broader perspective than the cost of environmental controls. Just as the brightest graduates are likely to move to employers with sound environmental objectives, international purchasers will assess the contribution of vendors of sustainable development. A foretaste of such factors was offered in the case of the seal hunt, and the issue is looming in the forest products sector. We had better get the environment part of our energy equation right if we want to continue to trade in energy commodities, or perhaps even energy-intensive products."

Questions of liability and international law and legal responsibility also present compelling reasons to incorporate environmental costs in the decision-making process. An example is the concern of electromagnetic fields of power lines. Moody´s (28) in March of 1993 stated "utilities that employ prudent avoidance now will be less likely to suffer later." This statement although reserved for EMF can by extension be brought to bear for other environmental concerns. Legal actions brought against a utility based on the negative effects of EMF have made their way to the courts. Regardless of the outcome, these actions can have devastating impacts on a corporation or industry.

Utilities in the developing world may face yet another compelling argument for the incorporation of environmental costs in their planning. The Canadian International Development Agency policy on sustainable development states that " CIDA´s policy is to integrate environmental considerations into it´s decision-making and activities, and to work with it´s partners and developing countries at improving their capacity to promote environmentally sustainable development." Others, such as the World Bank are embracing similar principles. The bottom line is that developing countries may find project funding more difficult to secure if the leading agency is not assured of environmental sustainability.

Utilities should fear externally imposed regulation for more than that imposed by their own regulatory commissions. The changes precipitated by these external bodies usually take place after the planning and more often after implementation. Costs associated with changes or retrofit at these late stages are costlier than the case when the environmental costs had been part of the initial planning process. This self-imposed compliance is in the author´s opinion the best way of proceeding. Utilities can continue to resist change and defend the status quo. This will work to their disadvantage. We have exhausted all the inexpensive energy because we did not consider the environmental externalities. There is no option but to internalize external costs in any true cost analysis.

It is better to face the above facts at the outset and to be an active partner in developing the methodologies and standards that will be used to facilitate true cost pricing and decision-making. If utilities are not active partners they will find these methodologies and standards being imposed on them with the resulting implications and problems which have been alluded to.

Is the status quo worth defending? Not engaging in true cost analysis and allowing further environmental degradation is the outcome. This is not a defensible position in the global market. Since it is unlikely that this is where the future lies can any utility afford to play "catch-up"? Those who have incorporated environmental costs in their planning and decision-making process will have an advantage over those who defend the status quo. As a result of the experiences of the new technologies associated with the deployment of environmental costs the advanced utilities will have a future competitive advantage.

A Troubled World

It may be concluded from the preceding discussion that energy and associated technologies are prerequisites for a troubled world´s future. Policy makers must however also provide an educational base and translate policy problems into research issues and the results of research into policy solutions. International cooperation among energy researchers and policy makers must include the following directions if nations, hence mankind, are to achieve their respective goals. These goals are:

Corporations and educational institutions must take a pro-active response and the natural resulting advantages of this position are:

Education and Energy

This area has been ignored, not as a result of a conscious decision, but rather by assigning it a low rating when compared to the escalating economic prosperity and the need to feed this growth by a secured long-term energy supply. Education is vital to all and this significance can be visualized by reference to the following:

The scientific research investment expressed as a percentage of GNP by many of the emerging nations was less than 1.5%. For example, between 1980-1985 Brazil was 0.5%, Costa Rica 1%, and El Salvador 0.9%. The historical national research and development intensifies (% of GNP) has for many OECD countries appeared to have stabilized within the range of 2.0-3.2% with the most striking upswing being that of Japan wherein the values increased from 1.4% in 1963 to 3% in 1989. Canada on the other hand has fluctuated in this same time period from 1 to 1.4%. More specifically, the Provincial R&D expenditures for 1986 varied from slightly less than 2% for Ontario to values less than 1% for British Columbia, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. The implications of these percentages are left to the readers imagination.

Economic Final Analysis

Utilities must take a leadership role in the international arena by being an active partner in developing methodologies and standards used to facilitate the true cost pricing of environmental impacts in the decision-making process. Failure to act accordingly may result in substantive legal costs and enforcement of environmental costs by de facto regulators such as the public, investors and legislators. It is important to focus not on the negative but on the positive implications of incorporating environmental externalities in the economic and technical sectors. Some of these benefits include better marketing positioning, competitive advantage opportunities, reduced exposure to legal aspects and imposed retrofits, and the establishment of a defensible position within the world community. The latter point will translate into positive productivity among the workers.

Being part of the solution rather than being part of the problem cannot be overstated. Utilities should initiate discussions with world recognized organizations such as the International Standards Organization in developing globally acceptable standards as an integral part of the true cost analysis of energy systems.

Countries richly endowed with energy resources and their respective utilities need to undertake a leadership role in the support of enhanced communication, cooperation, and coordination of energy researchers of all nations. Additionally, a systems analysis of research and development and education is of the utmost urgency. The time to act is now.

Barriers to Trade

The Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee adopted the following six aspects related to trade (29). These are transparency, openness, impartiality and consensus, effectiveness and relevance, coherence and development dimension. Before highlighting these aspects it needs to be pointed put that these same aspects can be viewed as ethical issues for engineers and scientists, governments and the business community.

All essential information on current work and for proposals for standards under consideration should be made available to all parties.
Membership of an international standardizing body should be open on a non-discriminatory basis to all relevant bodies of WTO countries.
Impartiality and Consensus
All should be provided with opportunities to contribute to the development of an international standard so that the standard will not privilege nor favor the interests of a specific supplier, region or country. Impartiality includes, among other factors, access to participate in drafts, consider views and comments, decision making through consensus building, obtaining relevant information, dissemination of the international standards, fees charged for documents, revision of international standards and the right to transpose the international standard into a region or a national standard.
Effectiveness and Relevance
All international standards need to be relevant and effectively respond to regulatory and market needs as well as scientific and technological development in a country. They should not distort the global market, have adverse effects on fair competition, or hold back innovation and technological advancements. They should also not favor characteristics or requirements of any specific country.
It is critical that international standard bodies take precautionary measures so as to avoid duplicating the work of others. In this light, cooperation, coordination and communication are essential components in developing standards.
Development Dimensions
Developing countries should never be excluded from the process. Capacity building and technical assistance are required in these circumstances. We must also be aware that there are areas where the participation of developing countries is limited. This is due in part to the lack of technical capacity, the location of the technical secretariat and technical meetings, the translation of the standards into national languages, as well as other financial and human resources. Action is required in order to overcome these limitations.


This paper introduces the precautionary principles, ethics and the relationship with regards to energy and the fundamental principles in the development of energy standards. The precautionary principles are not only required but are essential and when these are combined with a code of ethics as determined by one´s value system and the development of international standards the results will be beneficial to all members of society. The underpinning aspect is in the opinion of the author rests entirely with the code of conduct directed by our value system. In this light, the author believes that those fossil fuel rich nations will undertake the responsibility, accountability, leadership and vision in financially supporting, on an international basis, the continual development of cost-effective, renewable forms of energy for the betterment of mankind. In this process they will also insure that the technical considerations are incorporated within the social, cultural, economic and environmental domains.


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