EPA officials: Flexibility key to clean power plan

SNOWMASS VILLAGE — Regional Environmental Protection Agency officials on Monday stressed the importance of state-by-state flexibility in complying with the agency’s new clean power plan.

That flexibility leaves room even for continued use of coal in meeting the plan’s carbon-emission-reduction goal for 2030.

“Our approach is practical,” said Callie Videtich, assistant regional administrator for the EPA Region 8, which includes Colorado. She spoke at the 12th annual AREDAY (American Renewable Energy Day) summit, which continues through Thursday.

She said the plan is in keeping with trends already occurring in the power sector.

“We paid a lot of attention to what’s going on, especially with renewables,” she said in a follow-up interview.

Earlier Monday at the summit, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman hailed the plan, and President Barack Obama’s boldness in spearheading it as he serves his final years in office.

“He’s gotten wild and crazy and it’s fantastic. He’s basically making it impossible to build another coal-fired power plant in this country. That’s a big deal,” Friedman said.

Videtich and another AREDAY speaker, Laura Farris, EPA’s climate change lead for Region 8, weren’t ready to go that far in predicting the plan’s impacts.

“I think it’s up to the states to develop their plans. They’ve got a lot of options, they’ve got a lot of flexibility,” Farris said in an interview.

Said Videtich, “I can’t say what the impacts are going to be for the coal industry as each state develops its plan.”

However, Farris noted that the EPA forecasts that by 2030 coal still will be responsible for 27 percent of U.S. power production, with renewable sources jumping to 21 percent, natural gas accounting for 33 percent and 19 percent coming from other sources. Coal generated 39 percent of U.S. power in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The clean power plan requires a total 32 percent nationwide reduction in carbon emissions from power generation by 2030, but the EPA has established varying goals for individual states, including a 28 percent reduction in Colorado.

The state alternatively has an option of achieving a 40-percent reduction as measured in pounds of carbon per megawatt hour of electricity generated.

Looked at that way, the Western Resource Advocates conservation group estimates that Colorado already is on the way to meeting three-quarters of that reduction, thanks to existing measures such as the 2010 Clean Energy-Clean Jobs Act, and renewable energy requirements for utilities.

The EPA’s Farris said of Colorado, “certainly they’ve got some strong policies in place that make them well-positioned” to meet the state’s EPA target.

At the same time, coal-oriented regions of the state such as Moffat County are wary about the EPA plan because of the potential impacts on local coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has voiced concern about potential impacts to the mining industry in indicating she’s considering joining other states in legally challenging the plan. While Gov. John Hickenlooper has committed his administration to working to comply with the plan, Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has said state officials also need to consider impacts to coal communities and see what can be done to help them.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association operates the Craig Station coal-fired power plant in Moffat County, and is concerned about what steps it can take to cut carbon emissions after already having invested heavily in making the plant produce power more efficiently to reduce pollution.

Farris and Videtich noted that the final EPA plan scaled back the required heat-rate improvements for coal plants to a range of 2.1 to 4.3 percent, depending on the region of the country, compared to a flat 6-percent improvement in the initial proposal. The rate refers to how much coal is required to produce a certain amount of energy.

Farris also pointed to possible benefits from research the Department of Energy is doing into carbon capture and beneficial use, which keeps carbon from entering the atmosphere and affecting the climate.

“I think carbon capture for the coal facilities that we do keep on line is at some point going to be a viable option,” Farris said.

She said a facility like the Craig Station also conceivably could take advantage of a market-based emissions trading provision in the plan, under which plants can meet emissions standards through buying credits for carbon reductions achieved elsewhere.

Videtich said the EPA anticipates that reducing energy demand by consumers through efficiency measures will be a significant source of state compliance with the rule, because of the low cost and high potential involved.

Meanwhile, renewable-energy advocates welcome the opportunities the clean power plan provides.

Susan Reilly, a board member of the Wind Energy Foundation, said during Monday’s AREDAY event, “Wind power is a very cost-effective way of reducing carbon emissions.”

But even so, if wind is going to provide 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030, as laid out as a target in a recent Department of Energy report, the price of carbon emissions has to be factored into the cost calculation for energy production, she said.

“We’re not doing enough of a job of explaining that pollution is a cost. … If you’re going to pollute, you have to pay for that,” she said.


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