Texas Could Lose Half Its Coal-Fired Power Under EPA CO2 Rules

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Texas’s energy grid operator has a message for the Environmental Protection Agency: Don’t mess with Texas — or its electrical grid.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has published an analysis criticizing the EPA’s rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from state power plants, which it says will harm the reliability of the state’s electrical grid due to the massive waves of coal-fired power plant retirements that would occur.

Under EPA’s proposed rules, Texas would have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 853 pounds megawatt hour on average from 2020 to 2029. Texas would have to reduce emissions to 791 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour by 2030.

But reducing carbon emissions from power plants will come at a heavy cost, according to ERCOT’s analysis. Texas’s coal-fired power retirements will range from 3,300 megawatts to 8,700 megawatts and utility customers’ energy costs will increase up to 20 percent by 2020. It’s not only increased energy costs that ERCOT works about, the grid operator has warned that EPA rules could harm the reliability of the electrical grid.

“The anticipated retirement of up to half of the existing coal capacity in the ERCOT region will pose challenges to reliable operation of the grid in replacing the dispatchable generation capacity and reliability services provided by these resources,” ERCOT reports. “Integrating new wind and solar resources will increase the challenges of reliably operating all resources, and pose costs to procure additional regulating services, improve forecast accuracy, and address system inertia issues.”

“Accelerated resource mix changes will require major improvements to [the] transmission system, posing significant costs not considered in EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis,” ERCOT notes.

The EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It’s the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan to tackle global warming and boost green energy use.

Under the EPA’s plan, each state has to find ways to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. EPA, for example, has proposed that Texas cut its emissions by about 38 percent. Some states have much higher targets to meet. For example, Washington’s EPA-set goals require a 72 percent reduction in emissions.

Environmentalists have championed the EPA’s proposed rule, saying its necessary to fight global warming. Activists have criticized ERCOT’s negative take on the EPA’s carbon rule.

“Obviously, grid reliability is a critical component of ERCOT’s mission, and the best way to secure reliable power for Texans is to harness more homegrown energy using innovative, clean technologies,” writes Jim Marston, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Texas office.

“Texas has the nation’s most competitive electric grid for a reason – ingenuity and smart planning,” Marston adds. “Texas can take a page from the numerous power companies in the state that are already proving a low-carbon energy system is dependable and low cost.”

But ERCOT is not the only grid operator to warn about potential negative impacts from the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

The Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which oversees the electrical grid in some Midwest states, says that the EPA’s power plan creates the “very real possibility” of power outages and rolling blackouts if power plant emissions limits aren’t delayed.

“If the proposed Clean Power Plan remains as is, the bulk electric system will be at serious risk of violating these [voltage limits],” the SPP wrote to the EPA. SPP’s grid “will experience numerous thermal overloads and low voltage occurrences.”

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which oversees grid reliability for North America, reported that the EPA’s plan could harm the reliability of the electrical grid. NERC said the “number of estimated retirements identified in the EPA’s proposed rule may be conservative if the assumptions prove to be unachievable.”

“Developing suitable replacement generation resources to maintain adequate reserve margin levels may represent a significant reliability challenge, given the constrained time period for implementation,” NERC added.

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