States Aren't Shying Away From Regulating Carbon Emissions From Power Plants


March 20 —  States have begun preparing a variety of potential approaches for complying with the Environmental Protection Agency's final regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, and panelists at an energy event said people should keep open minds on unconventional ways of meeting the standards.

Miles Keogh, director of grants and research with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, told an ICF International breakfast briefing March 20 that everyone should remain open to different ways of complying with the upcoming regulations under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

“We need to be open to strategies that may not be chic in some of the circles we're used to running in, as long as they're using good decision making,” Keogh said. “An approach, I think, that actually accepts political realities on the ground is much better than trying to say, ‘Well, you could be more like us if you just managed to get around the politics that are the reality around where you live.’ ”

Keogh pointed to Georgia and South Carolina, which he said are working on compliance plans that would allow the most efficient coal-fired power facilities to continue operating as long as possible.

“I think we need to sort of say to ourselves that it's great that we're coming to good places using different avenues,” Keogh said. “We are very different in this country.”

June Target Date

President Barack Obama asked the EPA to develop regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants by June 2014 as part of his Climate Action Plan. The agency already has proposed separate emissions standards for new power plants, standards that rely on the use of carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Many in Congress argue those technologies have not been adequately demonstrated.

Another panelist at the event, Kelly Speakes-Backman, a commissioner on the Maryland Public Service Commission and co-vice chair of the NARUC Committee on Energy Resources and the Environment, highlighted Kentucky as an example of a state that already had begun considering a variety of different ways it might comply with the forthcoming regulations.

Many states “have started that process,” Speakes-Backman said. “I think understanding different scenarios and how they would play out in your state is a huge part of the first step.”

Members of NARUC are not united on how they will approach the regulation and among states, some would be “absolutely trying to fight” the regulation, said Speakes-Backman.

New Decision-Making Model Urged

Speaking more broadly about electric grid reliability and resiliency, Keogh said utilities should develop new ways of long-term planning that minimize risks to the grid while allowing for uncertainty.

“We need better processes for decision-making under terms of uncertainty,” Keogh said.

Those making decisions on what types of infrastructure to construct need to plan for decades of power generation and should take into account uncertainty regarding fuel sources, Keogh said.

Speakes-Backman said her ongoing concerns include the increasing interconnectedness of the electrical grid, the safety of aging electrical infrastructure, long-term protection of the environment and how to make smart investments that do not impose heavy burdens on ratepayers.

The role of electric regulators is shifting from a purely economic role to one that emphasizes risk management and grid reliability, Speakes-Backman said.

“We're not just economic regulators anymore,” she said.

Speakes-Backman said other issues for utility regulators include addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the grid system, considering market-based solutions for carbon pollution and recovering costs concurrently for large-scale investments made by utilities.


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