Category Archives: Energy

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, Clean Power Plan, 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 Clean Power Plan, Economics| 1 Response, 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, Clean Power Plan| 1 Response, comments now closed

Why Support the Clean Power Plan? Testimony from the EPA Hearings

By Dan Upham

Across the country this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings to solicit comments about its Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on the amount of climate pollution that can be emitted by power plants. EDF’s president, a senior attorney, and a clean energy specialist were among the hundreds of Americans who testified in support of the Plan. As these selections from EDF staff testimonies illustrate, the Plan offers moderate, flexible, and necessary measures to address climate change at the federal and state levels.

It’s necessary: The climate is changing across the U.S.

Image of the DC rally outside the EPA hearings. Source: Heather Shelby

“The stakes are high in Colorado as hotter temperatures, reduced winter snowpacks, and more frequent droughts are expected to decrease Colorado River streamflows.

Our treasured Rocky Mountain ecosystems are especially susceptible to climate change impacts, and high elevations have already experienced temperature increases at rates three times the global average.

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems throughout the West.” – Graham McCahan, a senior attorney with EDF’s U.S. Climate and Air legal team.

“The Southeast is the region expected to be the most affected by increasing temperatures. Extremely hot days – 95°F or above – could cause a decrease in labor productivity by 3.2% in the construction, mining, utilities, transportation, and agricultural sectors. Extreme heat also is projected to cause 11,000 to 36,000 more deaths each year.” – Greg Andeck, EDF’s North Carolina senior manager, Clean Energy.

“The bottom line is that we cannot continue down the path of unlimited pollution.” – Fred Krupp, EDF’s president.

It’s flexible: It can work well in different states

“Strong carbon pollution standards are consistent with a strong clean energy economy in Colorado.

Solar and wind resources are cheaper than ever before. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and the cost of solar panels fell by 60 percent from 2011 to 2013. This past May, Xcel Energy [a Colorado utility] announced that it is now acquiring renewable energy at prices that out-compete fossil fuels.” – Graham McCahan

“The plan would allow North Carolina to get credit for steps it already has taken to grow clean energy and invest in energy efficiency. Here are some examples:

  • North Carolina’s solar industry is now ranked 4th in the country in installed solar capacity, thanks to policies that make it easier for investors to finance projects.
  • North Carolina has more than 1,000 clean energy and energy efficiency companies that can help the state meet the Clean Power Plan.

North Carolina demonstrates how a state can move to a clean energy economy in a thoughtful, measured and cost-effective manner.” – Greg Andeck

It’s moderate (and affordable): The cost of inaction is high

“We know that transition to clean energy is not only possible, it’s affordable. In fact, every time EPA has used the Clean Air Act to limit air pollution, it has ended up boosting our economy. Overall, the benefits have outweighed the costs by thirty to one. And every past rule has saved lives – tens of thousands of them.

Hiding from challenges is not what Americans do. And it is certainly the wrong path for us and the generations to come.” – Fred Krupp

It’s imperative: Millions stand to benefit  

“For the millions of kids who will have fewer asthma attacks in the future.

For the workers who will find jobs in new and growing industries.

For the rate payers, who will see their electricity bills go down.

For all of those who will be protected from the most damaging impacts of climate change.

And for our children and grandchildren, who will know that our generation cared enough to leave them a safer, healthier world.” – Fred Krupp

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Health, Jobs, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed

Defenders of dirty power plants use doublespeak to shape debate

Under the proposed Clean Power Plan, plants must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

As we’ve noted before, few opponents of the federal Clean Power Plan want to stand up and say they favor unlimited carbon pollution. So they’re apt to frame their arguments in more clever ways.

Under the proposed Clean Power Plan, plants must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Sometimes their approach is to use misleading statistics – like when they talk about the cost of moving to clean energy without mentioning the much larger benefits of doing so.

Or they’ll use an appealing bit of logic, which sounds right until it’s exposed to the way the world really works.

It takes more than one EPA rule

One of those seemingly-logical attacks is the complaint that the plan the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out June 2 won’t solve climate change.

A CATO Institute blog says, “EPA’s Regulations Will Not Mitigate Climate Change.” At first glance, that seems like a step forward from the crazier objections – for instance, that climate change doesn’t exist.

But it’s really just a new strategy aimed at the same goal, like a lawyer who failed to impress the jury with an insanity defense and is now piecing together a fake alibi.

Your suspicions should be raised immediately when coal conglomerates complain that an EPA rule does “little” to solve an environmental problem, which on the surface sounds like a worthy objection. Why should the United States take this step to end unlimited pollution from power plants, they ask, when it won’t resolve the problem we are facing?

The complaint rests on the idea that the pollution reductions from U.S. power plants will not cut enough emissions to stop global warming. And that’s true.

It’s like telling Ike to call off D-Day because the landing alone wouldn’t defeat the Germans.

Even though power plant emissions are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States – as of 2011, our utilities put out more of this pollution than the entire economies of every foreign country but China – they’re only a portion of total global output. So this plan does not, on its own, solve climate change.

But this argument is sort of like telling Ike to call off D-Day because the landing alone wouldn’t defeat the Germans.

Or it’s like telling a person with multiple risk factors for heart disease to keep smoking, because quitting won’t prevent an attack on its own. The reality is that in solving big problems, a major first step is always necessary and it's always insufficient.

The most important truth – in fact, the very reason some in industry are scrambling for arguments to oppose this new rule – is that the Clean Power Plan is a turning point in our environmental and economic history.

A historic step

For the first time, we’ll cut carbon emissions from their largest source, and begin to drive greater investment in abundant, affordable clean energy.

It will also have a big impact around the world. Addressing a major global problem in the 21st Century requires America to lead by example.

By making a substantial cut in our largest source of carbon emissions, we will not only cut billions of tons of pollution, we will enable a much bigger step forward internationally.

Let’s face it: Most of those in the fossil fuel industry who argue that the Clean Power Plan doesn’t cut enough pollution are really just trying to make sure we don't cut any pollution at all.

They know that if they’re able to intimidate the Congress into blocking these rules, it would make it substantially less likely that the U.S. and the rest of the world will move forward to a cleaner future.

But there’s an easy test to tell if someone offering this complaint is sincere: If they’re making suggestions to further strengthen the final rule, then they’re actually interested in a solution.

If not, they’re just trying to keep America living in the past.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments closed

The Clean Power Plan: Protecting Health and the Climate While Ensuring Electric Reliability

(This post is by EDF Associate Vice President for Clean Energy Cheryl Roberto, with EDF Senior Director of Clean Energy Collaboration Diane Munns and legal fellow Peter Heisler)

Source: Chris J Dixon via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Clean Power Plan will empower states to design customized, cost-effective programs to reduce climate-destabilizing pollution while ensuring continued electric system reliability.

States will be able to deploy flexible compliance mechanisms such as:

  • renewable energy
  • demand-side energy efficiency
  • shifts in utilization away from higher-emitting and towards lower-emitting generation sources
  • measures at specific plants to secure reductions in carbon pollution

And states will be able to do all of this while designing their compliance plans to make sure that generation resources are fully sufficient to ensure reliability.

The “bottom line,” according to Analysis Group, is that “there is no reasonable basis to anticipate that EPA’s guidance, the states’ [plans] and the electric industry’s compliance with them will create reliability problems for the power system.”  On the contrary, “[t]o date, implementation of new environmental rules has not produced reliability problems”—despite industry’s history of crying wolf.

Case in point: before Congress enacted the Acid Rain Program in 1990, electricity producers warned that it could “increase the cost, risk the reliability of electric service, [and] disrupt the long-range planning of utilities.”  Yet they quickly found solutions that reduced pollution more than required, and at much lower cost than expected — taking advantage of the program’s flexible trading system to maximize the results of conventional pollution controls.

With the Clean Power Plan, states would not only be able to implement market-based mechanisms, but also to deploy cost-effective solutions like energy efficiency, renewable energy, and shifts in utilization to lower-emitting plants.

Yet electricity producers are at it again.

American Electric Power (AEP) CEO Nick Akins recently said that a shortage of natural gas and above-average levels of coal generation during this winter’s polar vortex should raise a “red flag” about limits on carbon pollution from power plants. (See SNL Energy, April 7, 2014)  But this is in fact a red herring.

Here are some key facts about the 2014 cold weather event referred to as the polar vortex:

  • In the PJM Interconnection, unexpected outages at coal-fired power plants with operational problems were more to blame for the scarcity of power than outages of gas plants or a shortage of natural gas.
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency are key resources during periods of high demand. ISO New England said that renewable energy was an “important part of our energy mix” during the polar vortex, and that distributed generation resources “performed well and were a valuable part of maintaining reliability during the winter season.”

And new studies demonstrate that incorporating renewable energy and energy efficiency into the electric system to reduce carbon pollution is consistent with maintaining reliability.

For example, PJM’s Renewable Integration Study found that the system can accommodate up to 30 percent wind and solar generation without significant issues.

The real threat to reliability is inaction. The Third National Climate Assessment predicts significant impacts on energy supply and use if we do not curb carbon emissions. Year-round net electricity use will increase due to burgeoning peak loads in the summer, water scarcity will hamper various kinds of generation, and sea level rise and extreme storm surge events will inundate coastal power plants and energy infrastructure.

The choice is clear.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan will protect public health and reduce dangerous carbon emissions. Through the Carbon Pollution Standards for new and existing power plants, we can achieve significant reductions in climate-destabilizing emissions while sustaining access to affordable, dependable electricity.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan| 1 Response, comments now closed
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