Well, it didn’t take long before the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released, at the request of Texas’ very political Public Utilities Commission, another report about the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules designed to protect public health.
This time ERCOT, which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, looked at the impact of seven EPA clean air safeguards on the electric grid, including the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the Regional Haze program (all of which go back before the Obama administration), the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and others. What was surprising to learn, though, is that after power companies in the state start complying with EPA’s other clean air protections, the proposed Clean Power Plan poses a minimal incremental impact to the power grid. We would only have to cut 200 megawatts of coal-fired generation, which equates to less than one coal-fired power plant.
Singing a different tune
For as much doom-and-gloom we heard last month in ERCOT’s report about the Clean Power Plan, they certainly seem to be singing a different tune this go-around. The new report shows that Texas can go a long way toward complying with the Clean Power Plan by meeting other clean air safeguards, for which Texas power companies have had years to prepare.
Very soon power companies in Texas will install control technologies to reduce multiple – not just one – pollutants, thereby making compliance with EPA’s subsequent regulations easier and more cost-effective. In the end, Texas will only need to take a minimal amount of additional aging coal plants offline by 2029.
Plus, other energy resources, like energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and demand response (which pays people to conserve energy when the electric grid is stressed) are gaining ground every day in Texas. They have proven to be vital resources on the power grid that help reduce electricity costs for Texas homes and businesses.
Energy efficiency, in particular, provides significant reductions in power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone-forming pollutants, and has a four-to-one payback on investment. This is the type of performance worth investing in.
Putting the reliability issue to rest
ERCOT’s job is to maintain electric reliability in Texas. That’s why they have traditionally worked with power plants to ensure enough of them are up and running to meet the expected demand for electricity. To industry, changes to the status quo pose threats, but the energy system is changing – for economic, not environmental reasons.
Smart utilities in Texas recognized what was on the horizon and began prudent planning. Today, these forward-thinking utilities are well-positioned to meet EPA regulations because they already installed pollution control technologies, retired inefficient, water-intensive coal plants, and integrated more clean energy resources. If ERCOT doesn’t want to look to these utilities as a model, they can always look to their consultant, The Brattle Group, who noted that ERCOT could:
- Deploy 7,500 megawatts of flexible, easy-to-deploy demand response;
- Cut projected peak electricity demand growth in half with demand response and expanded energy efficiency alone; and
- Integrate several thousand megawatts of distributed energy storage to improve electric grid reliability, which the ERCOT report failed to include in its modeling.
Taken together, demand response, energy efficiency, and energy storage (both distributed and grid-scale) would help integrate more renewable energy on the power grid and reduce reliability concerns.
Why EPA safeguards are needed in Texas
The fact is Texas is the nation’s number one emitter of nitrogen oxides (NOx), the number two emitter of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and the number one emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2). Texas citizens stand to benefit the most from these pollution controls and a shift toward lower-carbon energy resources. In fact, CSAPR and MATS together will save up to 3,000 lives and provide upwards of $25 billion in health benefits in Texas alone.
If ERCOT has any concerns over future reliability or costs, it’s not because of EPA. It’s because some Texas power companies are wasting resources on aging coal plants and not harnessing Texas’ abundant, affluent clean energy resources.