EPA blog slams Clean Power Plan’s ‘special-interest critics’ 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2015

U.S. EPA posted a defense on its website today of a draft rule for slashing carbon emissions from power plants that’s been criticized as a threat to grid reliability and affordability.

“As with anything EPA does, a handful of special-interest critics are automatically opposed,” spokesman Tom Reynolds said in the EPA blog.

“They claim the Clean Power Plan will threaten reliability because they benefit from maintaining the status quo. In fact, failing to take steps to modernize our electric grid is the costliest thing we could do.”

Reynolds, who managed communications for President Obama’s inaugural committee and presidential campaign, said reliability is a “top issue” for EPA.

“As always,” he wrote, “we are committed to working with stakeholders to make sure reliability is never threatened.”

An industry coalition, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC), warned this month that the EPA proposal could harm grid reliability. ERCC’s membership includes Ameren Corp., Arch Coal Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and DTE Energy Co. (Greenwire, Feb. 19).

And yesterday, the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market think tank headed by former Koch Industries Inc. lobbyist Thomas Pyle, released a report that cast the Clean Power Plan as a direct threat to grid reliability, along with tax incentives for wind generation and what the group cast as “anti-nuclear policies” at the state and federal levels. The rule would figure in the closure of 130 gigawatts of mostly coal-fired generation, according to IER.

“With this one regulation, EPA will be able to exercise unprecedented control over the electric grid. In turn, grid reliability will suffer because reliability is neither a priority for EPA nor one of EPA’s statutory obligations,” wrote Travis Fisher, an IER economist and a former staffer at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Clean energy advocates and “smart grid” companies have been pushing back against those warnings in their own reports, which Reynolds notes in his blog.

Early this month, a coalition of renewable energy, smart grid and energy technology companies with ties to billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer played down warnings from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. that the EPA proposal could threaten electric grid reliability. Steyer co-founded the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, which hired the Brattle Group, an energy-sector consulting firm, to write the report (EnergyWire, Feb. 12).

The Department of Energy, for example, Reynolds noted, found interstate natural gas pipelines could ramp up with few problems to comply with a national carbon policy.

Reynolds also highlighted a report from Boston’s Analysis Group that argues states have the tools to craft plans to safeguard the grid while making the emission reductions envisioned by EPA. Any disruption to power supply would be a failure of planning, not a result of the rule, that report says (Greenwire, Feb. 19).

Federal regulators and grid overseers have been attempting to cut through arguments over the EPA proposal to appreciate challenges to grid reliability.

FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur questioned state regulators, utility executives and other stakeholders at a regional conference in Denver held today about the possibility of the EPA building a “safety valve” or some other reliability mechanism into its final rule.

And EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees today that the agency is working to ensure the Clean Power Plan is implemented without affecting grid reliability, as was done with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (see related story).

“We always are designing our rules in a way that ensures that we won’t threaten reliability and affordability of the energy system,” McCarthy said. “And clearly the flexibility in this rule ensures that. We’ll take a look at the comments that come in, and if we need to make adjustments or work harder with DOE and FERC, we’ll do that.”