The EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) tells 47 states and three Native American tribal nations to come up with plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by a third or else the federal government will do it for them. The “or else” looks an awful lot like the cap-and-trade carbon emissions scheme rejected by Congress multiple times in the past decade. In any event, the CPP is an unprecedented federal power grab.
The U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of the 1,500-pages of costly red tape, temporarily delaying electricity cost hikes of around 30 percent, depending on the state.
The rationale for this disruption of the electric grid is the aim of slowing the rise in the global average temperature by 0.018 degrees Celsius by 2100 — well within the wide margins of error of climate models, none of which have accurately predicted the result of complex interactions of the Earth’s climate.
Thus, in exchange for a theoretical and imperceptible slowdown in temperature, Americans will lose jobs and pay more for their electricity, food, and water. Nowhere is that more immediately evident than on the Navajo Nation, an area larger than West Virginia in northeast Arizona, southeast Utah and northwest New Mexico that is home to 174,000 people, many of them without work, electricity or running water.
The Navajo Nation is home to two large coal-fired generating stations and two coal mines that power those plants, providing high-paying jobs and more than half the revenue needed to operate the Navajo tribal government.
The power plants on Navajo land have been under environmental assault for years, with one plant shutting down 3 of 5 boilers and the other installing more than $700 million of additional air quality equipment to improve winter visibility over the Grand Canyon to “pre-anthropogenic” levels, as if we have an accurate read on the regional air quality hundreds of years ago. Regulators are pressing for another $1.1 billion on additional retrofits — even as the Clean Power Plan threatens the underlying economic viability of coal power, regardless of how clean it is now.
The larger of the two plants, the Navajo Generation Station near Page, powers Arizona’s massive water system that makes modern life possible for 5 million people as well as irrigating highly productive farmland. For the environmental left, this is the biggest sin: that reliable and affordable coal power allows people to live well in the desert.
As coal comes under increasing attack, advocates for renewable power have suggested replacing some of the 17,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity produced by the Navajo Generation Station with wind power. Two practical problems emerge with this idea. First, the power plant generates electricity at a capacity factor of 86 percent — meaning that, except for planned maintenance, the plants three boilers produce 86 percent of their rated power output every day of every week, year in and year out. By comparison, wind in Arizona generates power with a 19.5 percent capacity factor — with outages dictated by the weather, not by maintenance schedules or demand. Further, all of Arizona’s 99 wind turbines produce about 1 percent of the power of the Navajo Generation Station. Second, the most advantageous site for wind power on the Navajo Nation sits astride a major migratory path for eagles.
In the wake of yet another horrific Islamist terror attack in Europe, it is appropriate to consider the national security implications of our power grid. Natural gas, because of generally low cost availability due to fracking combined with tougher regulations, has risen to take much of coal’s declining market share in the electric market. Natural gas power generation has a glaring weakness, however: fuel storage. Most natural gas power plants generate power from gas straight from the pipeline — if the gas flow to the pipeline is cut off, the power plant shuts down. Coal plants, on the other hand, generally keep a supply of fuel on hand. Thus, coal power has a vital role to play in America’s energy security.
If the EPA’s Clean Power Plan eventually gets a green light from the courts, it will increase the cost of electricity, typically by far more than regulated electric utilities are willing to admit (most utilities will simply pass the costs onto consumers and make more money due to a guaranteed rate of return). Increased costs for electricity will have a ripple effect on manufacturing jobs as well as the standard of living of working Americans who will pay more for their electricity.
The most immediate and obvious effects of the Clean Power Plan will be felt on the Navajo Nation, a vulnerable community that desperately needs the jobs and the revenue from its power plants and coal mines. The Navajo, and Americans as a whole, deserve better than this all pain and no gain plan.
Chuck DeVore is vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and served in the California legislature from 2004 to 2010.