EPA green rules increase blackout risks; emission caps on reliable fuels will shut down power plants
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals for natural gas and coal-fired power plants aim to eliminate nearly all of their carbon emissions by 2040, but those providing and distributing the nation’s power say the rules would undermine the grid by forcing plants that generate most of the nation’s electricity to shut down or use less-reliable green sources.
Critics of the proposed rules say the rolling blackouts that threatened California and Texas last summer and the power outages that afflicted eight states during bitterly cold weather over the Christmas holiday could become the norm in many areas of the country.
Plants powered by fossil fuels comprise 60% of U.S. electricity production and would struggle to meet the proposed emission caps. Some would disappear from the grid in favor of intermittent power sources such as wind and solar.
As head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Jim Matheson represents the interests of electricity producers and distributors that provide power to 42 million people. He warned that the proposed caps would significantly reduce “always available power generation” as the nation’s demand for electricity significantly increases, particularly in extremely cold or hot weather.
“We think that puts grid reliability at risk,” Mr. Matheson told The Washington Times.
The proposed rules, announced last week by EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, would require the nation’s 3,400 coal and natural gas plants to implement carbon capture and storage technology, which is still in development and not yet considered viable, to meet the new emission caps. Carbon capture technology has been hobbled at the EPA, where approval awaits a significant backlog of permits to construct storage wells.
Electric utilities could cut emissions by switching to renewables such as wind or solar, which currently provide 13% of energy to the nation’s power grid, or hydropower, which provides about 6%.
Plants that now use fossil fuels but cannot implement carbon capture technology could comply with the standards by substituting more expensive green hydrogen, which is obtained from water electrolysis and requires massive amounts of renewable energy to produce.
The EPA provides a third option for the natural gas and coal plants to meet the standards: Shut down.
The proposed standards incentivize the shuttering of coal-fired power plants by waiving many of the new requirements if they pledge to close by 2035.
The nation’s utilities “will follow the path of least resistance,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the free market Institute for Energy Research. “They’ll figure out the best way to comply with the regulation, and if it means shutting down the plant because you get credit, that’s the nature of the business. It’s a numbers game.”
Green energy groups celebrated the proposed rules after leaning heavily on the Biden administration to end the nation’s use of fossil fuel, which they believe is a significant cause of climate change. Environmental groups argue that renewables make the energy grid more reliable and point to failures at natural gas and coal-fired plants last winter that contributed to power outages in the Tennessee Valley.
Mr. Regan, who acknowledged that some coal plants would shutter under the rules, said the EPA’s primary responsibility in proposing the emissions limits was to protect health and the environment.
The rules, which the EPA issued under the Clean Air Act, would reduce emissions through 2042 by the equivalent of 137 million passenger vehicles and prevent approximately 1,300 premature deaths, more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits, and more than 300,000 asthma attacks, the agency said.
“This is one of the most important steps we can take to confront the climate crisis,” said Lissa Lynch, federal climate legal director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It targets the source of a third of the nation’s carbon footprint — the climate pollution from power plants that burn coal and gas. It’s long past time to rein it in.”
Mr. Matheson, whose association represents 900 energy cooperatives, said EPA officials appear to have ignored the impact of the rules on the power grid’s reliability.
“From our perspective, it doesn’t appear that reliability was ever even a factor that was even considered by the EPA as it puts together this rule,” Mr. Matheson said. “And we see a rule that we think is going to compromise the specific, mission-driven thing we do, which is to keep the lights on for our consumers.”
The proposed rules are subject to a comment period and public hearings before they are finalized next year.
They also face significant legal hurdles.
Recent court decisions suggest that the proposed standards could be thrown out when an inevitable lawsuit eventually reaches the Supreme Court.
The high court ruled in 2022 that Congress did not empower the EPA with the authority to impose emissions caps.
The agency faces the same Supreme Court skepticism with this proposal. Yet proponents of the rules say the green energy and tax increase legislation that President Biden signed last summer will help the EPA standards survive legal challenges because it codified carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Critics say Congress does not empower the EPA to determine the makeup of the U.S. energy grid.
A final court decision could be years away. In the meantime, the rules will likely impact the power grid by discouraging the construction of natural gas plants or hastening the closures of existing plants that use fossil fuels.
“The wheels start turning,” said Daren Bakst, deputy director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment. “As a result of trying to switch, you might start seeing plants shut down, costs passed on to consumers and grid reliability problems.”
Read the full article on the Washington Times.