Past is prologue, and as the US Environmental Protection Agency moves forward with new limits on carbon pollution from the nation’s electric power plants, familiar alarms are sounding that the limits will drive up electric bills, threaten the reliability of our electric power system, and harm our economy. Nonsense.
Almost 25 years ago, when major amendments to the Clean Air Act forced power plant owners to cut pollutants causing smog, acid rain, asthma and respiratory illnesses, opponents made the same argument. Yet by 2012 those emissions – nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide – were down 74 and 79 per cent respectively, and the system remained robust. Moreover, electricity rates are actually lower today than they were 20 years ago, adjusting for inflation. In fact, many power companies have indicated that the rule is achievable and that they look forward to working with EPA and the states to implement it.
“I am strongly encouraged by EPA’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions through sensible and practical regulation,” National Grid US’s President Tom King, told The Buffalo News.
The electric power industry understands, as does the EPA, that a reliable electric supply is fundamental to the US economy. Compliance with environmental regulations has never disrupted the power supplies that we all rely on, and is not expected to in the future. The power sector has a record of innovating to meet regulatory challenges to protect public health.
The EPA is regulating carbon emissions under a Clean Air Act provision that gives states and power providers wide latitude in how they meet the new standard. Moreover, the limits are crafted to each state’s unique circumstances and power generation sources.
Power companies will have many tools at their disposal for meeting carbon reduction targets. For example, they can shift power generation from coal-fired plants to less carbon-intensive natural gas power plants. In 2012, only half the capacity of such plants was utilized.
“By simply increasing utilisation of these facilities sooner rather than later, meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions may be achieved ... while ensuring electric reliability,” Derek Furstenwerth, of the Houston-based Calpine Corporation, told Hearst Newspapers. As for a potential near-term increase in electric rates, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy estimates it will cost households “the price of a gallon of milk a month.” Over time, prices will lower if the states rely on energy efficiency to increase energy productivity as part of state compliance plans.
In short, nothing in past experience, or the power sector’s current preparedness, suggests that the nation’s electric system is at risk or that rates will spike when EPA carbon-reducing limits for power plants go into effect. Quite the contrary: cutting carbon from the electric sector is a vital step forward in creating a sustainable economy in a warming world.