Public Comment Period Closes for EPA’s Clean Power Plan, But There’s More Work to be Done

You can access previous SACE blogs on the Clean Power Plan by clicking the following links: May 28th, June 23rd, July 30th, and August 25th.  You can also access a recent SACE webinar that explains the specifics of the Clean Power Plan and opportunities for the Southeast here.

December 1st marked the end of the extended public comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic Clean Power Plan. SACE joined thousands of commenters in offering recommendations to EPA as it prepares to finalize the first-ever regulations to limit carbon emissions from our nation’s power sector.  SACE has been working over the last 6 months with EPA, state regulators, utilities, public service commissions and allies to understand implications of the proposed rule for the Southeast and inform decision makers on how to affordably decrease emissions through growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency.  In this blog, we sum up SACE’s own technical comments and give a preview of what’s to come now that the official public comment period has closed.

Since EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan in June, SACE staff read through the thousands of pages of documents EPA released along with the rule to understand exactly how EPA came up with each state’s goals.  (For further explanation of the rule, you can access several EPA fact sheets here). Through this work, it became clear that EPA significantly underestimated the potential growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency resources in the Southeast and overestimated the costs of these resources.  It was also clear to us that EPA underestimated the cost of using nuclear energy as a compliance tool under the Clean Power Plan, creating a false assumption that the cost of nuclear is on par with other cleaner generation sources.

Below, we highlight a few key recommendations in our comments related to energy efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear energy.  You can access SACE’s full technical comments here.

Energy Efficiency

  • Increase annual incremental energy efficiency growth rate to .25% per year, ramping up to an annual efficiency goal of 2% of electricity sales annually.
  • Include all energy efficiency programs as eligible for use in state compliance plans, including building energy codes, appliance standards, behavioral education programs and combined heat and power (CHP).
  • EPA must provide guidance to states on the proper Energy, Measurement and Valuation (EM&V) approach to quantifying carbon emission reductions from energy efficiency.
  • EPA should credit electricity savings and accompanying carbon emission reductions to the state in which those energy savings occur.

Renewable Energy

  • Incorporate SACE technical analysis demonstrating that increased renewable generation could be incorporated in the Southeast without compromising the economic and reliability requirements of the utility industry.
  • Replace the current cost and performance inputs for wind and solar, which are materially inaccurate with current industry experience, with updated and accurate inputs.
  • EPA should adopt an approach similar to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ ”Demonstrated Growth Approach” that is a more realistic renewable energy option and consistent with wind and solar market industry trends already occurring in the Southeast region.

Nuclear Energy

  • Remove nuclear energy from the Clean Power Plan as it does not fit the requirements of the “Best System of Emission Reduction” under the Clean Air Act.
  • Accurately reflect the true costs of under construction nuclear reactors, given the common situation of significant cost increases and scheduling delays experienced at all five under-construction nuclear reactors (located in TN, SC and GA).
  • Include non-air quality impacts, like water quality/quantity and public health and safety impacts, in EPA’s analysis of the total impacts of including nuclear energy in the Clean Power Plan.

Now that the public comment period for the Clean Power Plan has come and gone, many may be curious about what’s next on the path to reducing our nation’s carbon emissions. EPA will begin to read through the myriad comments they received and will eventually post these on a public website for those who want to review them. We will update you when these become publicly available, so that you can check out what your states and utilities had to say about the proposed rule. After EPA finishes reviewing the comments, they will begin crafting the final rule, which is set to be released on June 2, 2015.

With all of the debate around the Clean Power Plan, it is likely that the final rule will be legally challenged. It remains to be seen if the final rule will be stayed during any legal challenges or if the timeline for compliance will continue to run as the courts decide the merits of these cases.  Assuming the rule proceeds on schedule, states will have to submit their complete compliance plans to EPA by June 30, 2016. Each state must hold a public hearing before it submits a compliance plan to EPA.

States may request a two-year extension for this deadline if they are entering into a multi-state compliance plan or a one-year extension if they need additional time to complete their compliance plan (assuming they submitted an initial plan by the June 30, 2016 deadline).  EPA has one year after a state’s compliance plan is submitted to review and either approve the plan or reject the plan and create a federal compliance plan (or “FIP” – Federal Implementation Plan ) for the state.  Ultimately, the compliance period for states will begin in 2020 and end with the final state emission reduction goal in 2030.

As we move into the next phase of advocacy around the Clean Power Plan, stay tuned to keep updated about how you can get more involved in pushing your state to embrace energy efficiency and renewable energy as compliance options and help grow our Southeastern clean energy economy!

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