EPA rule gives short shrift to renewable potential — scientists

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan underestimates states’ capacity to ramp up renewable energy in the coming years and assigns them inappropriately easy carbon reduction targets as a result, a science advocacy group says.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today arguing that EPA’s June 2 proposal leaves money on the table when it comes to encouraging states to make the most of their clean energy potential.

By basing its assumptions on an average of regional renewable energy policies, the agency has written a draft that offers an “average” rather than a “best” system of emissions reduction — as the Clean Air Act prescribes, the report states.

“We think that that should be a national minimum floor that every state should be capable of meeting,” UCS President Kenneth Kimmell said in an interview with E&ETV. States that now draw very little energy from renewables are assigned very modest targets under the draft — though those are higher in regions with ambitious state policies.

But UCS wants states that fall below that floor to be given until 2020 to attain that degree of renewable energy use, then ramp it up by 1 percent a year after that.

The revised rule would consider gains in renewable energy deployment over the last five years, and UCS recommends that EPA revisit state goals in 2025 with a view to tightening them further. The group predicts that solar, wind and other technologies will have gained greater levels of market penetration by that time.

Economic factors have had a hand in boosting renewable energy as well as state policies, the report notes. The cost of renewable energy components has decreased, and state renewable energy standards have paved the way for greater deployment of renewables, making it possible for EPA to finalize a rule next year that would curb the sector’s emissions by 40 percent by 2030, instead of the 30 percent that would be achieved by the draft.

But many states say EPA’s current assumptions about renewable energy deployment are too ambitious, especially in regions like the Northeast where states with a very high renewable energy standard (RES) have pushed the regional averages upward.

Vinson Hellwig, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality air quality division chief, said at a panel hosted by Resources for the Future today that his state is concerned carbon reductions made this decade as a result of its RES might not be credited toward the rule’s 2020 interim goal.

The state’s 10 percent target peaks and sunsets in 2015, and the state Legislature is weighing whether to expand and extend it. But lawmakers might allow the target to lapse, Hellwig said, if EPA signals that those reductions would not make it easier for Michigan to meet the near-term standard — and might in fact put the state on the hook for more emissions reductions after 2020.

The UCS report also asks EPA to clarify what state would receive credit for renewable energy projects as a way to ensure they are not counted twice — once by the state that generates the power and again by a state that uses it. In questions submitted to EPA, North Dakota asked the same thing.

“North Dakota has significant wind capacity,” the state wrote in a document posted to the draft rule’s docket. “However, much of North Dakota’s generation capacity has been contracted to out-of-state utilities.”

But Minnesota has said it expects to receive credit from North Dakotan wind, because much of it was built to satisfy demand created by Minnesota’s RES of 25 percent by 2025.