The United States’ grid reliability authority issued a report this month cautiously detailing the potential problems with the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
In short, there are potential flaws in the EPA’s carbon rule which may render it workable in its current form.
In June, the EPA released its Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plant 30 percent by 2030. The plan requires states to make emissions cuts based on far-reaching assumptions, which the U.S. grid authority says may create more problems than they solve.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) says the EPA’s plan could harm grid reliability if the agency’s assumptions about the power market prove to be flimsy — which has been in the case with past power plant rules.
NERC warns that forcing more coal-fired power plants to retire and increasing reliance on natural gas-fire plants and green energy sources. The reliability regulator said the “number of estimated retirements identified in the EPA’s proposed rule may be conservative if the assumptions prove to be unachievable.”
“Developing suitable replacement generation resources to maintain adequate reserve margin levels may represent a significant reliability challenge, given the constrained time period for implementation,” NERC noted.
“Increased dependence on renewable energy generation will require additional transmission to access areas that have higher-grade wind and solar resources,” NERC added. “Increased natural gas use will require pipeline expansion to maintain a reliable source of fuel… Pipeline constraints and growing gas and electric interdependency challenges impede the electric industry’s ability to obtain needed natural gas services, especially during high-use horizons.”
Not only that, but reliability could also be harmed by the fact that new energy sources being put onto the grid (aka green energy) will have different power flows than retiring power systems, which requires “changes to operations and expected behaviors of the system; therefore, more transmission and new operating procedures may be needed to maintain reliability,” according to NERC.
NERC also noted that EPA’s goal of a 6 percent heat-rate (the amount of power used to generate electricity) improvement at coal plants may be wrong since power plants already have an incentive to operate as efficiently as possible.
The “assumed improvements may not be realized across the entire generation fleet since many plant efficiencies have already been realized and economic heat rate improvements have been achieved,” NERC said. “Multiple incentives are in place to operate units at peak efficiency, and periodic turbine overhauls are already a best practice.”
Assumptions about energy efficiency could also prove perilous for the EPA’s plan since poor estimates in this case could mean that more coal-fired power plants would have to be retired to make up for the lag in energy efficiency gains.
But probably the strongest criticism from NERC, which has also been expressed by states, is that there may not be enough time for utilities and states to comply with the EPA’s plan. NERC says that state and regional plans “must be approved by the EPA, which is anticipated to require up to one year, leaving as little as six months to two years to implement the approved plan.”
“Constructing the resource additions, as well as the expected transmission enhancements, may represent a significant reliability challenge given the constrained time period for implementation,” NERC said.
The EPA’s CPP is probably the most contentious agency rule in recent history and will likely result in the closing of more coal-fired power plants. Republicans, power companies and states have expressed concerns over the plan’s feasibility as well as its necessity since there has been no global warming for more than 18 years.
But the EPA argues that its plan is solid and will help fight global warming while boosting the U.S. economy. The agency said it also paid special attention to the effects its plan could have on the reliability of the electric grid.
“During the development of the proposed rule, EPA devoted significant attention to ensuring that the Clean Power Plan’s public health and environmental protections are achieved without interfering with a reliable supply of electricity,’ an agency spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “EPA’s analysis finds that the proposal would not raise significant concerns over regional resource adequacy or raise the potential for interregional grid problems.”
“Any remaining local issues would be managed, as they are today, through standard reliability planning processes,” the EPA spokeswoman said.
Republicans and opponents of the EPA’s plan have warned that the agency’s global warming rule could lead to power outages, especially in times of bad weather. Last winter, some areas of the U.S. were on the brink of losing power and had to rely on coal plants set for retirement to keep the lights on.
The EPA says that power plant outages mostly occur in bad weather, which will be exacerbated by global warming. Curbing global warming will curb the chances of extreme weather harming the electric grid.
But the EPA’s plan will do little to actually stem global warming. It aims to cut 30 carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030, but even if the U.S. stopped emitting carbon dioxide altogether only between 0.083 degrees Celsius and 0.173 degrees Celsius of warming would be averted by 2100.
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