Biden’s EPA Says Sweeping Power Plant Regs Won’t Harm America’s Grid — Experts Are Saying The Exact Opposite

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The Biden administration says that its new rules for fossil fuel-fired power plants will not cause grid reliability problems, but power grid experts are warning that the exact opposite could end up being the case.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final rules for fossil fuel-fired power plants Thursday, marking one of the most aggressive moves that President Joe Biden has made in an effort to fight climate change. While the EPA says that the rules will not make the electricity that powers the economy less reliable, power grid experts are concerned that the rules will constrain the amount of affordable and reliable power available to meet expected increases in demand over the coming years.

Under the new regulations, America’s existing coal plants will have to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to control 90% of their carbon emissions by 2032 if they want to stay running past 2039, and certain new natural gas plants will also have to cut their emissions by 90% by 2032, according to the agency. The CCS requirements pose the most acute risks to grid reliability, as the technology is not ready to play such an important role for the grid at the same time that demand is expected to grow, according to the experts who spoke with the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: Officials Told Biden’s EPA That Its Aggressive Green Power Plant Scheme Has Serious Flaws, Docs Show)

“The agency is placing strict emissions limits on the new natural gas plants that will be necessary to ensure reliability if the coal plants are forced to retire prematurely. This leaves coal-heavy regions, like the one covered by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, vulnerable to reliability problems in the near future,” Isaac Orr, a policy fellow for the Center of the American Experiment who specializes in grid analysis, told the DCNF. “The agency appears to be relying heavily on existing natural gas plants (which are not regulated under this set of regulations) and carbon capture and sequestration to keep the lights on when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. This is problematic because only a handful of U.S. coal facilities have signaled interest in CCS, and the short compliance deadline (2032) will be exceedingly difficult to meet at the scale EPA is suggesting.”

Officials within the Biden administration have voiced similar concerns about CCS’ readiness, with some describing it as a “prohibitively expensive” and inefficient technology that could “[exacerbate] grid reliability projections” if widely deployed before it has developed enough, according to internal administration documents released by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee in February.

Another concern emphasized by critics is that the agency is effectively reshaping America’s power grid over a period of time in which operators are anticipating major increases in electricity demand, driven by things like electric vehicles (EVs), new data centers and computer chip factories. Between 2023 and 2028, grid planners are anticipating national demand for electricity to jump by nearly 5%; in 2022, forecasts projected a 2.6% increase, according to a December 2023 report by Grid Strategies, a consulting firm focused on the power grid.

“I’m very worried about this rule’s shutdown of reliable electricity supplies amid a rapid increase in demand. The rule essentially forces power plant owners to either implement CCS, which is not ready for large-scale adoption, or to shut down,” Travis Fisher, director of energy and environmental policy studies for the Cato Institute, told the DCNF. “Many power plant owners will simply choose to shut down rather than take on the risk of pioneering an expensive and unproven CCS approach.”

“The EPA is misleading the American people about how much this rule will cost them,” Fischer continued. “Shackling existing coal and new natural gas power plants with CCS is a very expensive proposition, yet the EPA claims its rule will not cause retail electricity costs to increase. The EPA’s modeling is simply wrong and does not reflect reality.”

Meredith Angwin, an energy analyst and author who writes extensively about the power grid, believes that the CCS requirements will be more impactful in areas served by regional transmission organizations (RTOs). RTOs are structured in ways that make them less prepared than independent system operators (ISOs) to address the costs of new infrastructure or equipment, Angwin told the DCNF.

“In my opinion, the rules are a mashup of reasonable and totally unreasonable requirements. But carbon capture and storage is expensive at best or ineffective at worst,” Angwin told the DCNF. “Meanwhile, carbon capture and storage will cause reliability problems, especially RTO areas … In RTO areas, the gas and coal power plants with CCS will simply not be competitive. They will close down. In the RTO areas, the CCS mandates will hurt reliability.”

Some detractors have characterized the EPA’s newest plan as a de facto end run around the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in West Virginia v. EPA. In that case, the highest court ruled that the Obama EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” was illegal and that the EPA had overstepped its authority.

“The final rule differs from the EPA’s May 2023 proposed rule in minor ways; but the big picture remains the same—the rule establishes 90% carbon capture and storage requirements that will drive coal and gas generation out of the nation’s electricity mix,” Marlo Lewis Jr., a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said of the EPA’s rules. “This is the Clean Power Plan on steroids. The rule defies the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA.”

West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also compared the rules announced Thursday to the Obama-era “Clean Power Plan” in a statement ripping the new regulations. Capito pledged to spearhead a push to overturn the new regulations in the same statement.

For its part, the EPA disputed that CCS is an unproven technology, asserting that it has been “demonstrated for decades.”

“The power sector, which is responsible for a quarter of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, now has more tools than ever – including unprecedented financial support, efficient permitting, and long-term regulatory certainty – to reduce pollution and upgrade the grid to support more factories, electric vehicles, and other growing sources of electricity demand,” an agency spokesperson told the DCNF. “The secure transport and storage of CO2 has been demonstrated for decades,” the spokesperson continued, adding that “the EPA believes these rules are on firm legal ground.”

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