rising tide of climate responsibility will be measured in increasingly
wide margins of electoral defeat.
It takes a long time to turn the course of an industry as large
and powerful as the one that profits by mining and burning coal. But
markets, and the superior technologies that markets ultimately favor,
are the greater force in our capitalistic democracy. The Clean Power
Plan did not spring fully formed from the minds of EPA regulators
in 2015; the regulations are the culmination of a trajectory toward
prosperity with environmental responsibility that was laid down by
the will of the people in the Clean Air Act decades ago.
As global temperatures break new records almost every month,
the Clean Power Plan comes not a moment too soon. It is not
responsible to delay it any longer.
Tim Echols is against the Clean Power Plan. Here is his take:
Recently, I took a trip down to the bottom
of Tallulah Gorge to see a still-working
hydro plant that started operations in
1914. The experience served to further
my concern about the Clean Power Plan
and its consequences on my state and
At one time, this plant lit up
Atlanta. From the rock tunnel built to
channel the water above the gorge to the
brick powerhouse sitting in the bottom
of the gorge to the tram that takes you
down the cliff, these assets were built to
withstand the test of time. While certain
components have been replaced, the facility, which was state-of-the-art in 1914, is still producing power today. That makes it a great deal
Likewise, as you travel throughout Georgia Power’s facilities,
you find coal plants maintained in an equally meticulous manner. The
power company has spent almost $5 billion adding pollution control
equipment to these plants expecting to generate power for decades.
But because the Clean Power Plan demonizes carbon dioxide,
commissioners like me will be backed into a regulatory corner by the
EPA and may be forced to close perfectly good assets.
Think of it as upgrading your smartphone before the end of
your contract period-resulting in a much higher fee. When it comes
to Obama’s EPA plan, prepare to multiply that times several billion
dollars more because it is your state’s electric grid that the president
is mandating be upgraded early.
I sat in the White House across the table from the President’s
climate czar and was told that our country’s clean energy goals could
not be met without new and existing nuclear power. Yet, the Vermont
Yankee nuclear power plant was closed recently, for economic
reasons. No White House Rose Garden speech, no press conference
from party leaders, and no intervention by this president to save an
incredibly reliable asset in the northeast. Enough of the “moral” talk
as he establishes his legacy it seems.
At the risk of being called cynical, I would like to suggest that
this paradigm shift orchestrated by President Obama is political
and essentially the fulfillment of a campaign promise. Sure, it has
happened before, and when it is “our guy” on “our issue,” we simply
smile and high-five our friends. But we saw this movie before when
President Obama shut down the Yucca Mountain licensing process in
fulfillment of a similar campaign promise. Both the Clean Power Plan
and the Yucca decision are disruptive, costly and unnecessary.
Unnecessary? Think about this. Georgia is the fastest growing
solar state in the nation. We produced more clean energy jobs than
any other state in the first quarter of 2015, including California. We
have more Nissan LEAF electric cars in Atlanta than any other city in
America, including San Francisco.
Georgia has reduced our CO2 emissions by over 30 percent since
2005 and reduced mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions
by over 85 percent since 1990. In 2005, over 50 percent of Georgia
Power’s generation was coal. Now, it is 32 percent. In that same 10-year
period, the use of clean natural gas increased from 27 percent of Georgia
Power’s generation in 2005 to 49 percent in 2015. Not bad for a red state
where every constitutional officer is a Republican.
But there are major consequences of the Clean Power Plan:
first, the construction of additional transmission and gas lines. When
coal and nuclear plants are closed and new gas or solar plants are
constructed, the environment is disrupted. No one likes big power lines
or gas pipelines in their back yard, but alas, these new assets will need
to be built to accommodate this new world we are moving toward.
Look no further than the aforementioned closure of the Vermont
Yankee nuclear power plant-which supplied 70 percent of Vermont’s
power. To replace that “controversial” nuclear power, new lines may
be built under Lake Champlain as well as above ground to bring in
energy from solar or gas. Wouldn’t it be ironic for Vermonters to
replace a carbon-free source of power with natural gas generation that
does emit CO2? Go figure.
But wait, there’s more. It hasn’t been that long ago since the
president spoke in favor of clean coal. “With the right technological
innovations, coal has the potential to be a cleaner-burning, domestic
alternative to imported oil,” he said in 2007 on the campaign trail.
Southern Co. stepped up in Kemper County, Mississippi and invested
in a coal gasification project. Yet the White House has been radio
silent about the project and “coal” has become a four-letter word that
no democrat wants to utter.
Finally, let me postulate the “Eaton Theory,” named after my
colleague, Chuck Eaton, who believes that the Clean Power Plan will
actually result in a net increase in CO2 worldwide. Commissioner
Eaton believes that the coal will be sold somewhere, mostly India and
China and other developing nations. Because these countries are far
less restrictive in how they burn coal than the United States, Eaton
postulates that we will see CO2 levels rise in their country. When the
math is done, their increased usage will likely offset our reductions.
The U.S. is on the right track. We don’t need to speed up what is
happening anyway. I can only hope that a court might grant a “stay”
of this rule until its impact versus benefits can be properly analyzed.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2015
issue of Power Engineering magazine, EL&P’s sister publication.