Opponents of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants have labeled the rule “Obamacare 2.0” because it mandates states to alter the energy sector — much like the Affordable Care Act mandated states to alter their insurance markets.
“Others have labeled this proposal Obamacare 2.0 — and in many ways, it is,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said on the Senate floor Thursday, protesting the EPA’s new rule.
“The administration insists there will be no cost increases associated with this rule; all that is missing is an awful website and a pledge that ‘if you like your current electricity bill, you can keep it,’” Murkowski added. “The president promises that electricity bills ‘will shrink,’ but I’m not buying that.”
The EPA’s new rule, called the Clean Power Plan, mandates existing power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030. States are responsible for setting standards to meet those cuts within a range of options proposed by EPA, including increased energy efficiency, more green energy production and setting up cap-and-trade programs.
Republicans, some states and many in the energy industry have opposed the rules, slamming them as a massive federal intrusion into states’ rights. The rule has also been attacked for forcing coal-fired power plants to prematurely shut down and for setting the stage for higher energy costs.
“And no one understands what will happen if states refuse to move forward with their own plans,” Murkowski said. “Does anyone really think EPA has the ability to impose its federal will while simultaneously keeping the lights on and power affordable in all 50 states?”
Murkowski’s main reason for taking the Senate floor, however, was to highlight a little reported concern over the cumulative effect of EPA regulations: grid reliability. Utility regulators and Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns that EPA regulations have underestimated their impact on the power generation, which could pose a huge threat to the reliability of the U.S. electrical grid.
“We still do not have an accurate accounting of the cumulative costs associated with all of EPA’s rules, but we do know not to trust their math – because EPA has dramatically underestimated power plant retirements in the very recent past,” Murkowski said.
For example, the EPA said its Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) would only retire 4.7 gigawatts of coal-fired power by 2015. But labor unions disagreed and said the rule would retire 55 gigawatts of coal power.
As it turns out, the Energy Information Administration — an arm of the U.S. Energy Department — says that 60 gigawatts of coal-fired power will be shutdown by 2020, with 90 percent of these retirements coming by 2016, the year MATS goes into full effect.
EIA even notes that coal retirements could be pushed even higher depending on certain economic and regulatory conditions. Coal power capacity could be reduced more than 70 gigawatts if coal plants continue to shut down at an accelerated rate.
Poor forecasting by the EPA means the reliability of the electrical grid will be threatened due to coal shutdowns, as coal serves as baseload power for much of the country. This means that coal provides a constant minimum rate of power throughout the day needed to keep the lights on — something green energy, like wind and solar, is unable to do.
“It is uncertain if there will be enough time – to say nothing of sufficient capital available for investment – to build new facilities or other forms of generation needed to ensure the continued reliability of the grid,” Murkowski said.
“The Polar Vortex caused 50,000 megawatts of power plant outages,” Murkowski added. “For one key system, 89 percent of the coal capacity that is slated for retirement next year because of an EPA rule was called upon to meet rising demand. Think about that. We had a tough winter and coal facilities were able to step up.”
“The question we should be asking is, what happens when that capacity is gone? Hoping for a mild winter isn’t a viable strategy. We can’t have a-hope-and-a-prayer policy,” she said.
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