By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Given their complexity and potential impact in coal-dependent states like Kentucky, there’s considerable confusion about new carbon emission regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Here are some highlights:
Actually, there are two separate sets of carbon emission regulations: the first set was issued in January and applies only to new electrical power plants. Those regulations are more stringent than the second set which applies to existing plants.
“NEW SOURCE REGULATIONS”
Regulations issued in January for new power plants limit CO2 emissions to no more than 1,100 pounds for each megawatt of electrical power generated. That’s a significant, and some say impossible, limit. Kentucky produces 93 percent of its electricity from coal-fired generators that emit on average 2,166 pounds of CO2 for each megawatt hour.
The new source regulation “will essentially eliminate any possibility of a coal-fired, electrical generating unit being built again,” according to John Lyons, assistant secretary for climate policy with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
The EPA argues new coal-fired plants can be built using carbon capture and sequestration technology, but Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters said technology doesn’t yet exist to make carbon capture and storage economically feasible. Peters also estimates that about one-third of the state’s electrical generating units will have to be replaced by 2030 and around half by 2040.
“EXISTING SOURCE REGULATIONS”
These are the regulations issued last week that caused such a storm. But they actually pose less upheaval for Kentucky than the earlier set of regulations.
The goal is to reduce carbon emissions nationally from existing power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. But that is a cumulative, national goal; it doesn’t mean every state and every power plant must reduce CO2 by 30 percent. Partly because of efforts by Peters, Lyons and Gov. Steve Beshear, EPA set flexible, individual goals for each state which add up to the 30 percent national goal.
Kentucky must reduce its CO2 emission rate by only 18 percent while some states like New York must reduce theirs by as much as 40 percent. Unlike a proposal by the National Resources Defense Fund, which wanted a strict 30 percent reduction at each power plant, the EPA regulations will allow a “fleet-wide” calculation of reductions. Kentucky can average reductions from non-coal generating sources with emission levels of coal plants.
Finally, states can count greenhouse gas reductions they’ve already accomplished over a 2012 baseline. That means reductions already underway from converting some coal-fired units to natural gas, idling other plants, and lower CO2 emissions from alternative energy sources can be counted toward the 18 percent reduction. Some estimate Kentucky is already about half to its goal without additional action.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.