Category Archives: Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan and Early Action by States to Reduce Carbon Pollution

(This post originally appeared on Resources for the Future's Expert Forum on EPA's Clean Power Plan, on October 24, 2014)

Should EPA credit early action taken by states to reduce carbon emissions? If so, how?

Under the Clean Power Plan, the United States will finally have Clean Air Act standards to address carbon pollution from existing power plants. During the long wait for these standards, a diverse group of states and companies have acted, leading the way in reducing carbon pollution. They have done so by deploying renewable energy, harvesting demand-side energy efficiency, and by shifting utilization away from high-emitting and toward lower-emitting power plants.

State and private sector leadership in addressing pollution is something that should be recognized and supported. Action at the federal level to address climate-destabilizing pollution is lagging perilously far behind the scope and pace of action that scientists tell us is necessary to mitigate harmful climate impacts and reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. For these reasons, we have long supported the recognition of early action in the context of the Clean Power Plan. Yet the question of how to do so is complex.

Under Section 111(d), EPA identifies the “best system of emission reduction” available to address dangerous air pollution from stationary sources, and sets emissions performance targets achievable using that best system. This framework—like other frameworks under the Clean Air Act—looks at existing pollution problems and how they can be addressed going forward. It does not provide for an assessment of past emissions reductions by those sources (or that state).

Of course, under the Clean Power Plan, states and companies that have already transitioned toward lower-carbon and zero-carbon energy and energy efficiency are closer to the full deployment of the best system of emissions reduction than others—and EPA should consider clarifying that states that go beyond their targets under the Clean Power Plan would receive credit for those actions under future updating of the carbon pollution standards for power plants.

The years between 2012 and 2020 present a distinct quandary. EPA uses 2012 data on power sector infrastructure in assessing the potential for emissions reductions to be secured under the best system during the 2020 to 2029 compliance period. Crediting emissions reductions secured between 2012 and 2020 would encourage states and companies to act earlier, moving emissions reductions forward in time. All else being equal, earlier action to reduce emissions is certainly better than later action. But the potential to reduce carbon pollution during 2012 to 2020 was not taken into account in setting the state targets. As such, giving compliance credit to those actions taken during this time that would have happened regardless of the Clean Power Plan—take, for example, renewable energy deployed under a renewable energy standard in a state strongly committed to clean energy—would create a bank of compliance credits. Those banked credits would be used by that state during the compliance period in the place of other, beyond business-as-usual actions to reduce emissions—and the overall emissions reductions achieved by the Clean Power Plan would be reduced by the same amount.

There are, of course, highly compelling reasons to begin to take action now to reduce carbon pollution. States and companies can take advantage of the five years between the finalization of the standards and the beginning of the compliance period to gradually build out renewable generation and build up energy efficiency programs so that these resources are ready to deliver carbon reductions. The reductions in co-pollutants that will result will help states deliver cleaner air for their citizens and meet other clean air standards. Companies can develop business models built on a foundation of clean energy and efficiency, and investments in cleaner energy and efficiency will create jobs. Improvements in energy efficiency will cut utility bills for homes and businesses, and spending those savings in their communities will stimulate the local economy. These are simply common sense actions, with tremendous co-benefits—and the existence of an initial compliance date for the long-awaited carbon pollution standards does not alter that common sense.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Leave a comment

Flexible Pollution Rules can Boost the Economy: 5 Reasons Why

By Diane Munns, Senior Director, Clean Energy Collaboration

economy_378x235

Source: Flickr/Brookhaven National Lab

Nobody likes being told what to do.

Gina McCarthy, head of Environmental Protection Agency, knows that. So she asked her agency to craft a plan that leaves it up to states to shape their energy future – as long as they cut carbon emissions from power plants.

Often lost in the heated debate over EPA’s Clean Power Plan, however, is the fact this built-in flexibility will also give a boost to clean technology ventures, and speed up energy innovations already under way in many states. It could bring down costs for consumers, and maybe even give a much-needed boost to our economy.

Here’s how.

1. Flexibility will foster creativity.

All states have different strengths and weaknesses, and their infrastructure varies. Under EPA’s plan, a state can choose to close or upgrade coal plants, join a carbon market such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, invest in zero-carbon renewable energy sources, boost energy efficiency programs, or take any other step to meet the individual goal EPA set for the state.

Chances are, many state strategies will be multi-pronged and collaborative. The best and most viable solutions will surface to the top and be exported as best practices to other states. In fact, states and utilities looking to get ahead of the game are already beginning the discussions needed to one day craft plans.

2. State plans can be tweaked and improved over time.

States have 15 years to meet their individual carbon reduction goals. This is not supposed to be a rush job, no matter how urgent the climate challenge.

So a state that needs to abandon plans for a certain new technology, or that wants to switch to a more affordable solution, will likely have time to do so. The long-term planning horizon will allow new technologies and business models to be tested and take hold.

3. As old plants close, new and cost-effective technologies move in.

The EPA rules are being proposed at a time when utilities nationwide are pondering how to best replace aging infrastructure. Three-quarters of all coal-fired power plants are at least 30 years old, which means they only have about a decade left to operate.

This transition is expected to speed up over the next few years as a 2015 deadline for reducing mercury emissions and other harmful pollutants from power plants draws near.

With carbon storage still out of reach, no off-the-shelf technology available to affordably cut pollution from coal plants – and with natural gas, a fossil fuel, not a long-term viable alternative – we expect utilities to increasingly turn to renewable generation and energy efficiency solutions to meet EPA’s goals.

Energy efficiency remains the single best value for the dollar and it can easily be deployed within the 15-year timeframe.

4. A changing energy landscape will bring new business.

As zero and low-carbon technologies become more valuable and competitive over time, there will be more opportunities for companies to move into this space – and to flourish.

For years already, utilities have been switching from coal to natural gas, a cleaner and cheaper fuel that emits about half the carbon coal does. Industry analysts expect this transition to speed up in anticipation of the new power plant rules.

As state regulators push utilities to comply with the EPA emissions targets, look for new opportunities for industry and entrepreneurs to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies at natural gas plants.

Other businesses will scale up investment in alternative energy sources as the market for such technology gains value and broadens. There are already many active players in this emerging industry, and they want to grow in the United States and beyond.

5. Coming: A new way to produce and consume energy.

States working to cut emissions from fossil plants will be exploring new approaches – not just for energy production, but also for how we consume energy. There is “low-hanging fruit,” untapped opportunities for carbon reduction and customer savings, that won’t require additional power plant investments.

Expect EPA’s plan to fuel smarter utility business models where power companies are rewarded for helping consumers save energy rather than wasting it. The environment will benefit, as will American households and businesses.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Leave a comment

The Clean Power Plan and the Deployment of Renewable Energy

(This post originally appeared on Resources for the Future's Expert Forum on EPA's Clean Power Plan, on October 2, 2014)

The proposed Clean Power Plan identifies the “best system of emission reduction” to address carbon pollution from power plants as comprised of four building blocks: (1) efficiency improvements at coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts in utilization away from higher-emitting fossil plants towards lower-emitting fossil plants; (3) deployment of zero-carbon generation sources such as wind and solar; and (4) harvesting demand-side energy efficiency improvement opportunities.

This system best satisfies the statutory command of the Clean Air Act, which directs EPA to identify the system that maximizes emissions reductions, considering cost and impacts on energy and other health and environmental outcomes.

This system also reflects what is happening across the country (and indeed, around the world) to reduce carbon pollution—states and companies are using the interconnected electric system as a whole to cut carbon pollution, deploying zero- and low-emitting generation and reducing reliance on high-emitting generation, and doing so flexibly to ensure that reliability is maintained and emissions reductions are achieved cost-effectively.Fifteen states wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the Clean Power Plan was being developed to describe the success they have had in deploying this system, cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 20 percent between 2005 and 2011, with some states achieving reductions of over 40 percent during that period.

Renewable energy is our future.

More than 60,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity have been installed in 39 states and an additional 12,000 megawatts are under construction. Wind power capacity in the United States has increased nine times over since 2005, supporting over 80,000 jobs and driving a new manufacturing sector with over 550 facilities across the country. Solar generating capacity is also rising rapidly—increasing by 418 percent between 2010 and 2014. PG&E has connected more than 100,000 customers with solar panels to the grid, saving the average residential customer with solar panels $130 a month. Costs of renewable generation have been falling rapidly, and power companies such as Xcel, DTE, MidAmerican, Georgia Power, and Austin Energy have announced renewable energy purchases that are outcompeting fossil-fueled alternatives and that will lower customer bills by saving fuel costs.

The Clean Power Plan’s assessment of the potential for renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution bases state targets on an average of existing renewable energy policies in different regions of the country. By taking this approach—effectively looking backward—the proposal fails to reflect the dynamism in renewable energy deployment that is happening across America, and fails to satisfy Section 111’s technology-forcing framework.

The proposed alternative approach, which would consider the technical and economic potential to harvest renewable energy in each state, has the potential to better reflect the country’s vast renewable energy resources. The analysis underlying the alternative approach needs to be updated to reflect current technologies (such as taller wind turbines and distributed generation) and current costs (which are falling rapidly).

An up-to-date analysis of the technical and economic potential for renewable energy to cut carbon pollution will provide a strong legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan, and help facilitate our transition to the clean energy–fueled economy of the future.

Also posted in Economics, Energy| 1 Response, comments now closed

Victory for Healthy Air: Court Rejects Nebraska Attorney General's Attempt to “Short-Circuit” the Law in Challenge to Carbon Pollution Standards

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s attempt to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants failed yesterday.

The federal district court in Nebraska dismissed the Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for new fossil fuel power plants.

The court held that:

[the Attorney General’s] attempt to short-circuit the administrative rulemaking process runs contrary to basic, well-understood administrative law. (Decision, Page 1)

The Attorney General’s challenge was flawed because it was filed only one week after EPA published proposed carbon emission standards for new power plants, in January 2014.

But the law is this case is clear and anchored in common sense.

As the court explained, legal challenges may only be brought against final standards:

Simply stated, the State cannot sue in federal court to challenge a rule that EPA has not yet actually made. (Decision, Page 1)

EPA’s proposed action is still in draft form and has been the subject of extensive public comment.

In December 2012, the D.C. Circuit rejected a similar challenge to EPA’s original proposal for the very same reason — that the standards had yet to be finalized.

This latest attempt at an end run around the Clean Air Act would have deprived the public of a chance to comment on a proposed rule and present its diverse viewpoints to the agency.  Moreover, for a court to review standards that are still being developed would be a waste of judicial resources and Americans’ tax dollars.

The court also noted a defect in the Nebraska Attorney General’s central legal claim.

The Attorney General argued that EPA’s reliance, in part, on data from facilities receiving federal assistance was unlawful.

The court explained:

The merits of this claim are not before the Court. But the Court notes that [Energy Policy Act section] 402(i) only forbids the EPA from considering a given technology or level of emission reduction to be adequately demonstrated solely on the basis of federally-funded facilities. 42 U.S.C. [section] 15962(i). In other words, such technology might be adequately demonstrated if that determination is based at least in part on non-federally-funded facilities. (Decision, Footnote 1, Page 5)

EDF previously examined the flaws with the Nebraska Attorney General’s legal claim in a detailed white paper. (You can read my blog about the white paper here)

Unfortunately for the citizens of Nebraska, Attorney General Bruning is devoting precious taxpayer resources to misguided legal attacks.

It’s not the only way in which Nebraska’s taxpayer dollars are being deployed to block vital clean air progress for our nation.

The Guardian reported that Bruning, on a conference call organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told other state attorneys general that Nebraska has challenged EPA authority more than 30 times and will keep on doing so.

Yet the Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants have won broad public support from millions of Americans — including public health associations, Moms Clean Air Force, faith-based organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and leading power companies.

Nebraska’s failed lawsuit is just one more misguided attempt to prevent vital limitations on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants from moving forward.

According to the Guardian, Bruning claims that:

EPA continues to try and ‘fix things’ that are not broken.

Tell that to the millions of Americans who are experiencing the harmful impacts of climate change.

While EPA takes steps to address carbon pollution from the single largest source in the country, Attorney General Bruning is devoting Nebraska’s tax dollars to flawed lawsuits.

Fortunately, millions of Americans in red and blue states alike are working together to forge solutions for our families, our communities and our nation.

Also posted in EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

EPA’s State-by-State Carbon Limits Indicate Smart Policy, Not Arbitrary Rulemaking

By Kate Zerrenner

EDF_FB_renewableEnergy_solar (1)In June, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced – for the first time ever – standards to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Currently power plants emit 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, but under the proposed Clean Power Plan, the U.S. power sector will cut carbon pollution by 30 percent below 2005 levels.

Since this announcement, the usual suspects have attacked the CPP, calling its proposed state-by-state reduction standards arbitrary. Their claims couldn’t be further from reality. When EPA asked states for feedback on how to best craft this standard, states asked for two things: individual standards and flexibility. And that’s what they got. Anyone familiar with the proposed standards will know they are based on a consistent and objective methodology that takes into account each state’s unique energy portfolio and emissions, as well as built with maximum flexibility in mind.

At first glance, the climate-change-denying crowd dismissed the standards as arbitrary, because the limits vary from state to state. For example, Washington needs to reduce its emissions rate by 72 percent by 2030, while Kentucky only needs to cut its emissions rate by 18 percent over the same period. Texas lies somewhere in the middle with a 39 percent reduction required. So what gives?

How did EPA get those numbers?

Let’s unpack the methods that went into EPA’s carbon pollution limits. EPA’s vision for the plan was to give the states complete ownership and flexibility in reducing overall carbon emissions. EPA decided on a simple greenhouse gas performance metric for each state:

Total power plant emissions in one year ÷ Total electricity generation in one year
= Emissions reduction rate

The states have complete control and flexibility over how to meet the emissions reduction rate.

To figure out each state’s potential to reduce emissions, EPA analyzed the practical and affordable strategies that states and utilities are already using to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, such as energy efficiency, improving power plant operations, and using more renewable energy. By analyzing state-specific data, EPA calculated practical targets for each state. Their analysis formally considers four “building blocks” for cleaner power:

  1. Improving the efficiency of existing power plants,
  2. Increasing use of the most efficient natural gas plants,
  3. Using more renewable energy, and
  4. Expanding demand-side energy efficiency—the same low-hanging fruit for which experts have been advocating for years.

States are already on their way

If we look at each state’s proposed reductions individually, it’s clear that EPA’s limits will not crash the economy or tear down the power sector. In fact, in many states it will not be difficult to meet EPA’s limits ahead of schedule.

Washington, with its seemingly onerous 72 percent reduction mandate, had already ordered its largest coal plant to shut down by 2025. Closing that coal plant alone will reduce the state’s emissions by 70 percent, because much of Washington’s electricity comes from hydro power. And Kentucky leaders have already devised a strategy to meet the state’s 18 percent reduction goal.

In Texas – my home state – we’re well on our way to meeting the 39 percent reduction standard set by EPA by simply amplifying current trends, namely relying on more West Texas wind, widening the use of efficient natural gas electricity, and taking advantage of the state’s solar potential. Now Texas leaders should craft the best framework for the state – one that has the potential to bring in billions of dollars directly to our state economy, create more homegrown jobs, and lower Texans’ electricity bills. If state leaders make another “principled stance” against the EPA, like they did with the greenhouse gas permits, we can only expect for Texas to fall behind other states as they race toward the trillion dollar clean energy economy. Come January, EDF urges the Legislature to take the bull by the horns and show the nation how Texas will continue to be a leader in energy.

It’s clear that EPA’s limits were developed with a specific and pragmatic methodology. Variation in reduction goals from one state to another reflects variation in the circumstances of individual states, which EPA wisely took into account. Those who condemn the rules as arbitrary are ignoring the actual basis for the rule.

This post first appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Energy| 1 Response, comments now closed

5 Undeniable Truths about the Clean Power Plan

Do you get a sense of déjà vu when you hear the fossil fuel industry arguments against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new climate change plan? You’re not imagining things – we’ve heard these many, many times before.

The EPA recently held public hearings around the country to solicit comments on its new proposal to put reasonable, nationwide limits on climate pollution from power plants.

The plan is moderate, flexible, and paves the way for considerable economic gains, but the substance hardly mattered for some die-hard opponents: The fossil fuel industry allies trotted out the same talking points about the supposed costs of action and American indifference to clean air policies that they always do.

Tellingly, industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress couldn’t even be bothered to wait and see what the rule said before blasting it with wildly inaccurate claims about the cost of implementation.

Fossil fuel industry allies have clung to these false arguments for decades, so it’s little wonder misinformation continues to swirl around these rules and the clean energy debate at large.

Here are the real facts about five issues opponents raised about the Clean Power Plan:

1. Renewable energy is taking hold.

Opponents of clean air regulations are keen to convince the public that affordable, renewable energy is a pipe dream. But the truth is renewable energy has never been more efficient, it’s never been less expensive, and it’s taking root all over the country.

Take a look at solar power: According to the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of solar power plummeted 60 percent between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2013. The long-term picture is just as impressive: In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost about 1 percent of what they did 35 years earlier.

And solar isn’t the only renewable that’s catching on. Wind energy accounted for one-third of new power capacity over the last five years, an amount that could double in the years to come.

Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state, saw wind energy generation grow a whopping 13 percent in 2013. Last year, 60 percent of wind projects in the entire United States were in Texas.

2. Americans support limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Industry lobbyists often suggest that Americans cringe at any and all attempts to curb the pollution that causes global warming, but that argument is flat-out false. Recent polling shows that's clearly not the case.

A recent study by Yale found that 64 percent of Americanssupport strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing power plants.

3. The power plant rules will be efficient and affordable. 

As I wrote earlier, the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress were eager to say the proposed rules will cost vast sums of money that will trickle down to consumers and destroy jobs in the process. The Washington Post Fact-Checker thoroughly debunked those claims, and it is not the first time industry has been caught red-handed.

Time and again, the cost of implementing any rules related to the Clean Air Act are five to 10 times less than the industry initially estimates they will be.

4. Power companies already have tools to implement pollution limits.

The Clean Power Plan is part of President Obama’s broader plan to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions. He has set as a goal to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 nationwide, using 2005 as the baseline. Industry opponents claim the emission reduction goal is unrealistic, but there's evidence to the contrary.

Xcel Energy, one of the country’s largest electricity and natural gas providers, has already reduced emissions 20 percent since 2005. The company is on pace to decrease emissions by 31 percent in 2020.

5. States can handle implementation better than you may think. 

Yet another common complaint from industry is these meaningful clean air regulations are too big and unwieldy for states to implement. Don’t tell that to California, which last year implemented a world-class climate law that has led to substantive greenhouse gas reductions and economic growth.

And the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiativeare already reaching stellar results.

Industry allies are actually half-right about one thing, though: The Clean Power Plan is indeed a huge deal. It may very well serve as a turning point for the United States and the world in our effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, while pointing the economy toward revitalization through clean energy.

The sooner opponents stop circulating myths to the contrary, the sooner everyone can reap those benefits.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed
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