Pa. could cut emissions 21% with existing policies — report

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

By harnessing existing policies and infrastructure, Pennsylvania could cut its power sector emissions 21 percent by 2020, according to a new analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Those reductions would put the Keystone State well on its way to meeting new carbon pollution rules proposed by U.S. EPA, the report notes. Rules covering carbon emissions from future power plants were announced last month, while standards for existing plants are expected to be proposed in 2014.

Situated between the Northeast’s regional carbon market and the Midwest coal belt, Pennsylvania’s energy mix has a little bit of everything. Coal and nuclear power provide the bulk of its current generation, while natural gas has been the fuel of choice for most reactors built over the past decade. Renewable energy makes up a small fraction of electrical generation.

But despite the prevalence of fossil fuels in its energy mix, the state also has a fairly ambitious set of climate targets, said Michael Obeiter, senior associate in WRI’s Climate and Energy Program and lead author of the report.

“Under their existing policies, they’re on track to meet or exceed moderately ambitious EPA power plant emission standards,” he said. “It’s also possible that they could find even deeper reductions if they expand or extend those policies.”

The Pennsylvania report is the fourth in a series of 10 state profiles WRI will issue this year.

Climate isn’t only reason to save energy

Like in many states, energy efficiency represents the “low-hanging fruit” of Pennsylvania’s energy savings plan. The state’s current efficiency standard, enacted in 2008, directs large utilities to cut energy sales over eight years. Since then, utilities have responded with a variety of strategies including low-income home energy audits and load management services.

Were it to continue the trend by ramping up electricity savings 2 percent a year, the WRI report notes, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission could cut power sector emissions by 11 percent by 2020.

Pennsylvania is also one of 30 states to have a renewable portfolio standard, which in its case mandates that 8 percent of electricity sold in the state come from renewable sources by 2021. If realized, this would result in an additional 4 percent decrease in emissions.

The remaining 6 percent of emissions reductions could come from improvements to existing power plants and a stronger reliance on natural gas, the report notes.

Substantial progress, but more may be needed

While the majority of power plants built in Pennsylvania in recent years have been gas-fired, coal is proportionally over-represented in the production of electricity. Given the more advanced age of most coal-fired power plants, a certain amount of fuel switching from coal to gas makes sense even without the need for emissions reductions, Obeiter said.

“The vast majority of Pennsylvania coal generation is over 30 years old — there’s been next to no new coal generation built since 1980,” he said. “The picture is similar when you look across the country. There are lots of good reasons to move away from coal and towards cleaner sources of electricity, and we are.”

Existing natural-gas-fired power plants currently run at 53 percent capacity. Raising that rate to 75 percent would cut emissions by 3 more percent from a 2011 base-line level, according to the report. Additional combined heat and power, as well as efficiency improvements to existing coal plants, would make up the remainder of the reductions.

While the cumulative emissions reductions proposed in the WRI report would put Pennsylvania on track to meet EPA’s upcoming carbon targets, it might take even deeper reductions to achieve the national target of 17 percent emissions reduction proposed under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Obeiter said.

“The EPA probably won’t impose standards uniformly, on all states across the board,” he said. “Some states are going to have to do more than others.”