Engaging on Energy: The Clean Power Plan – A New Opportunity for Clean Energy in the Southeast

Guest Blog | October 1, 2015 | Climate Change, Energy Policy
At the Clean Power Plan rally in Atlanta, GA on August 5, 2015.

In August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever rules to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. In addition to reducing carbon emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, the rule incentivizes the early adoption of renewable energy like solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency programs that benefit low-income communities.

Benefits of the Clean Power Plan

The benefits of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) go beyond mitigating the effects of climate change. Pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to four of the top five causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Regulating emissions from dirty, carbon-emitting power plants will result in myriad health benefits. EPA estimates that in 2030, the CPP will prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children, 3,600 premature deaths, and 1,700 hospital visits for heart- and lung-related illnesses.

There are clear economic upsides to the CPP as well. The health benefits achieved by reduced pollution are projected to save anywhere between $12 billion and $34 billion, and EPA also estimates that the CPP will generate $20 billion worth of climate benefits. Electric bills are expected to drop by about $7 per month by 2030 due to increased use of energy efficiency.

The reduced cost of energy coupled with the health benefits of reduced pollution exposure will be particularly beneficial for low income and minority families, who tend to live closer to power plants and suffer the most health problems as a result. The CPP is good news for the job market, too; investments in solar have already added jobs in the solar industry ten times faster than the rest of the economy. A recent study of clean energy jobs in Tennessee showed that clean energy jobs have increased by 6.3 percent, compared to overall state job growth of just 2.2 percent.

There are many treasured places to protect in the Southeast.

What SACE is doing

With its extensive coastline and warm weather, the Southeast is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts like sea level rise and rising temperatures, making it critical that our states develop thoughtful implementation plans. SACE is working to educate key stakeholders on the importance and effectiveness of renewable energy and energy efficiency as compliance tools. We will convene a stakeholder meeting with utilities, regulators and other decision makers this fall, and we are sharing the benefits of the CPP with the public and the media through blogswebinars, and opportunities for engagement.

We are currently developing the SACE Energy Information System (SENFO), a Southeast-specific database that will pull together knowledge and expertise gained through decades of engagement in utility planning processes across our region. With SENFO, SACE will be able to recommend least-cost implementation plan options that emphasize renewable energy and energy efficiency as compliance tools to our Southeastern states and utilities.

We are already beginning to demonstrate that Southeastern utilities can use clean energy resources to comply with the CPP without causing a notable increase in electric bills. On July 30, 2015, we released a case study on Southern Company that shows how incorporating renewable energy into long-term planning is more cost effective than relying on natural gas alone. Through our engagement in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), we have stressed that compliance need not be an uphill battle and TVA’s final IRP shows that the utility is on track to comply with the CPP.

EPA’s final rule extended the compliance timeline by two years, allowing states more time to plan, and includes a Clean Energy Incentive Program that rewards early adoption of renewable energy and demand-side energy efficiency that benefits low-income communities. We plan to use this incentive program to build on our existing work to promote on-bill financing for energy efficiency in low-income communities.

We are excited about the opportunity presented by the CPP to further push Southeastern utilities to rely on clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind. We are optimistic that our advocacy and technical expertise will better help states and utilities appreciate the importance of utilizing renewable energy and energy efficiency to combat the effects of climate change and air pollution on our region’s economy and public health.

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