EPA's Proposed Clean Power Plan Faces Continued Opposition - Including in Wisconsin

Mar 12, 2015

Existing plants fueled by coal are target of Clean Power Plan due to be finalized sometime next summer.
Credit S Bence

A panel in Milwaukee this week largely criticized the rule that would reduce Wisconsin's coal-burning power plant emissions 34 percent by 2030. Only one renewable energy advocate expressed support.

Nation wide, the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent. The proposal is all the more controversial because state requirements would vary.

Susan Hedman was allowed to speak first. She serves as administrator for EPA's Region 5 based in Chicago.

Hedman says the impacts of climate change are staring us in the face.

"The National Climate Assessment includes data collected from 1900 to the present that tracks a number of indicators that include temperature, precipitation and the increasing frequency of extreme precipitation events that overwhelm water infrastructure causing floods," she says.

Hedman says the biggest drivers of climate change are greenhouse gases. Every time a process burns fossil fuels such as gas or coal, it releases carbon dioxide into the air.

"Roughly a third of U.S. carbon emissions come from the electricity sector. And a slightly smaller proportion comes from the transportation sector," she says.

Hedman says the U.S. has made headway in reducing carbon emission by making vehicles release less. And she says those changes have helped consumers save money and U.S. industry to create new jobs.

According to Hedman, the EPA’s Clean Energy Plan, that zeroes in on existing coal-burning power plants, will encourage innovation and new technologies.

"Creating opportunities to expand our industrial base, to strengthen our infrastructure, to improve efficiency and save money, to increase job security for U.S. workers and to create new jobs in new industries that will sharpen America’s competitive edge," the administrator says.

Ellen Nowak does not share Hedman’s enthusiasm. Nowak is the newly-named chair of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission.

She sees the price tag. "From $3 billion to $13 billion cost. That was generation only. Those costs don’t take into consideration in any other transmission upgrades, the costs of any coal plants that need to be shut down, but you still have to pay for, as a rate payer," Nowak says.

And she the plan doesn’t give Wisconsin credit for billions of dollars it’s already invested in reducing carbon emissions. "Putting in new air control technology; converting plants from coal to natural gas. This is money we put into our state energy efficiency program. None of this is credited in our target and (states that have done less have a lower target to reach," Nowak says.

The sector that will shoulder most of the burden, is industry, according to Todd Stuart with the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group.

"Because so many of these industries are energy-intensive. Most of the companies I represent uses a million dollars a month or more in electricity. It’s a big portion of what their cost to produce their good is," Stuart says.

He says the EPA’s plan would hit Wisconsin harder than a lot of other states, because of its manufacturing-intensive economy.

Nick Martin says until the EPA releases the final rule next summer no one can be certain how arduous compliance will be, but he worries about what’s being called “the interim cliff.”

Martin manages environmental policy at Xcel Energy. "Wisconsin has to achieve about 87 percent of its 2030 reductions by 2020, or soon thereafter," he says.

Keith Reopelle was the lone voice of optimism among the local panelists. He’s senior policy director for the group Clean Wisconsin.

Reopelle believes energy efficiencies will lead Wisconsin to meet its 34 percent target.

“I know there are at least six utilities in the state here in the room right now; and I give them a ton of credit for their response to the proposed rule which has been to roll up their sleeves and sit down with other stakeholders and try to figure out the best path forward. I think that’s crucial," he says.

Reopelle says the cost of not implementing the rules vastly outweighs the challenge of getting it right.

Note: PSC chair Ellen Nowak also testified about the proposed Clean Energy Plan in Washington, on Wednesday, during a U.S. Senate committee hearing. 

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