Reliability concerns and an aggressive timeline for possible implementation were among the issues raised Thursday at an informational meeting on proposed carbon dioxide emissions rules for power plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency released proposals in June that would mean carbon dioxide reductions of more than 40 percent from Oklahoma power plants by 2030.
EPA is taking public comments on the proposed rule until Oct. 16, although it may extend the comment period. The agency wants to have a final rule issued by June 2015.
Utility employees, environmental groups and industry representatives from natural gas, wind and coal joined policymakers for Thursday’s meeting at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The meeting was organized by Commissioner Dana Murphy.
The Department of Environmental Quality already has 12 employees studying the proposed rules and how they might be implemented in the state, said Eddie Terrill, director of the air quality division.
“I know EPA is on this timeframe they’re on, but I’m not sure it’s realistic,” Terrill said. “This plan is unlike anything we’ve ever done in the past.”
State develops plan
Terrill said DEQ plans to work with the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment’s office to develop a plan for implementation. If the state fails to act, the EPA could impose its own plan, he said.
Rob Lawrence, an outreach coordinator for the EPA region that includes Oklahoma, said the agency has tried to be flexible.
EPA suggests states follow several “building blocks” to meet carbon dioxide emissions reductions. They include increasing power plant efficiency, switching from coal to natural gas, adding renewable energy and reducing consumer demand for electricity. States can also pool their carbon dioxide reductions on a regional basis.
“It’s a nationwide rule with state implementation because we recognize everyone’s power base is different,” Lawrence said. “It’s up to the states to fix the problem as they see fit; they are in the driver’s seat.”
More natural gas
If the rule goes into effect, Lawrence said EPA expects natural gas and coal to each make up more than 30 percent of electricity generation by 2030. Coal generated about 39 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2013. Natural gas was at 27 percent.
“Coal is not being zeroed out; that’s not the goal of the plan,” Lawrence said. “It’s to achieve a more balanced approach.”
Commissioner Patrice Douglas asked Lawrence to explain EPA’s authority to issue the proposed rules. Douglas said Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act includes both House and Senate versions from bills that were never reconciled.
“The general counsel’s office has determined that when there’s a differing interpretation, we look at what can be done, and we’re trying to do it that way,” Lawrence said. “I assume someone is going to sue us over that, so we’ll find out how to resolve that. It’s unusual that something would be signed into law with two different sections.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has joined attorneys general in 11 other states in a lawsuit against the EPA’s authority to issue the proposed carbon dioxide rules for existing power plants.
A power challenge
Lanny Nickell, vice president of engineering for the Southwest Power Pool, said implementing the carbon dioxide rules could be a challenge for his organization, which ensures reliability and plans transmission for Oklahoma and parts of seven other states.
Nickell said coal provides about 61 percent of the power generation for the Southwest Power Pool, with natural gas at 21 percent and wind near 11 percent.
When engineers and analysts plugged in EPA’s initial assumptions about power plant retirements for the SPP region, the software wouldn’t work, Nickell said. That means there could be issues without investments in power plants or transmission.
“What that generally reflects is that conditions are so bad that the algorithm can’t produce an answer,” Nickell said. “I don’t want that to sound like the sky is falling. We want to continue to look at it to make sure that we’ve got the right assumptions in our models.”
Murphy said she was concerned SPP’s regional marketplace for electricity could be affected. Instead of just planning for the lowest-cost generators, grid officials would also have to take into account their emissions.
“The ‘day-ahead’ market was built around an economic model, and now it’s changing more to an environmental model, and that’s not what the design of the system was for,” Murphy said.
Whitney Pearson, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal organizer for Oklahoma, said modernizing power plants will clean the air.
“Today’s meeting highlights how critical it is that Oklahoma begin planning for compliance with the carbon standard now, rather than punting it to the future,” Pearson said.
Randy Eminger, vice president of the south region for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said he’s been to many states’ meetings.
“Their concerns are pretty similar to those in Oklahoma,” Eminger said.
“They’re scratching their heads and saying, ‘How are we going to do this and keep the lights on?’”
EPA’s Clean Power Plan
For more information on the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, go to the following sites: