Utilities await impact of new coal regulations

President Barack Obama is using his executive authority to propose new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on coal-fired electric plants across the nation.

The new EPA rules would attempt to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent.

“Nationwide, by 2030, this rule would achieve CO2 emission reductions from the power sector of approximately 30 percent from CO2 emission levels in 2005,” the proposed regulation states. “This goal is achievable because innovations in the production, distribution and use of electricity are already making the power sector more efficient and sustainable while maintaining an affordable, reliable and diverse energy mix.”

The EPA says the regulation will also “reduce pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick by over 25 percent.” The agency projects the reductions will avoid 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

States will have a variety of options to meet the goal, including improving energy efficiency of the coal-fired plants, changing how long the plants operate each day and increasing the amount of power derived in other ways through renewable energy. The regulation gives states a deadline of June 30, 2016, to submit their plans.

“As president, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” Obama said.

Brian Manthey, spokesman for Wisconsin Energy Corp., the Milwaukee-based parent company of We Energies, said it is too early to estimate the impact the new rules will have on the utility.

Of Wisconsin Energy’s 27 plants, five are coal-powered, three rely on natural gas, one uses oil and natural gas, and the remaining 18 are renewable (biomass, hydroelectric and wind). However, coal is responsible for a majority of energy generated by the company.

“We have been a leader on reducing emissions, and the final version of the rule should give credit for early actions, such as repowering of Port Washington from coal to natural gas, our plan to convert (the Menomonee) Valley from coal to natural gas and our significant investment in renewables – the two largest wind farms in the state and the new biomass plant. Since 2000, we have increased our generation capacity by 50 percent while cutting emissions (nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter) by more than 80 percent,” Manthey said.

By acting through a regulation rather than proposing a law, the president skirts Congress.

U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said, “Today’s regulations issued by EPA add immense cost and regulatory burdens on America’s job creators. They will have a profound effect on the economy, on businesses, and on families. The Chamber will be actively participating in EPA’s input process on these regulations and will be educating our members and affiliates about their impacts.”

However, environmental advocates say such claims are exaggerated. “The bottom line is that it is immoral and unconscionable to ignore climate change and fail to implement solutions that are available today that will help us avoid its worst impacts,” said Shahla Werner, Ph.D., director of the Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter.

Johnson Controls Inc., a Glendale-based developer of energy management systems, praised Obama’s proposals. “Energy efficiency represents one of the largest opportunities to reduce carbon emissions while creating jobs, reducing costs and increasing energy security,” said Dave Myers, president of Johnson Controls Building Efficiency. “Johnson Controls is well established and prepared to support state energy efficiency policies and plans across the country with the technologies and commercial offerings we have available today.”

The EPA will conduct four public hearings on the proposal.

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