FERC: EPA Rules Will Not Disrupt US Electric Reliability

Guest Blog | September 21, 2011 | Coal, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Nuclear, Utilities

Congressional supporters of dirty coal are running out of options. The coal-power industry is under pressure to finally clean up its act and efforts to argue that coal power is clean are not convincing. As a result, the coal industry has stooped to threats, claiming, among coal is dirtyother things, that compliance with human health and environmental safeguards will force power companies to turn off our lights. In the face of mounting evidence against that claim, Republicans on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power had a clever idea. They asked members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to testify about the grave consequences of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory agenda.

The sub-headline of a press release from the Republican-controlled Subcommittee gave an idea of the dire predictions that some Committee members expected from the FERC commissioners: “Witnesses Concerned Cumulative Effect of Rules Will Leave Americans In the Dark.” So what sort of terrible devastation should we expect? According to Republican FERC Commissioner Moeller: “I believe this nation can retire a significant amount of existing generation.” Ok, but Marc Spitzer, also a Republican Commissioner said this: “I suspect it will be a rare situation when a regulated entity. . . finds itself in a position of having to chose between one regulator’s [environmental] rules over another’s [electric reliability rules].”

Experts have been saying for some time that EPA rules would not leave us in the dark (for example, see this report from PJM, this report from the Bipartisan Policy Center and this report from Charles River Associates). Perhaps the Subcommittee’s leadership should have listened to the experts rather than utility talking points before inviting FERC to further discredit their scare tactics. (And the Subcommittee’s PR staff probably should have listened to the FERC testimony before drafting the press release mentioned above. Read the full release and notice that not a single Commissioner’s words support the Subcommittee’s dire assertion.)

Here is some more of what the commissioners had to say:

Commissioner Norris:

“Reliability of the electric grid can be adequately maintained as compliance with EPA’s regulations is achieved.”

“All of these studies [on reliability and EPA rules] reach the conclusion that there will be adequate resources available.”

“There are a number of factors, outside the EPA rules, that are changing the make-up of electric generation today. Largely driven by the market and largely driven by low natural gas prices…there is a transition occurring. Unlike you and I, we can handle being members of AARP but I’m not sure our electric fleet can.”

Commission Chairman Wellinghoff:

“The electric industry can plan to meet both its reliability and environmental obligations.”

Commissioner LaFleur:

“I do not support a blanket delay of EPA regulations.”

“I am confident that we as a nation can ensure that the EPA’s proposed air and water regulations do not adversely effect reliability…”

If you don’t trust the experts at FERC, maybe a major electricity generator with real experience will be more convincing. In remarks unrelated to the Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing, Joseph Dominguez, senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs at Exelon said:

“The rules have been in the works for about a decade and the electric utility industry is well-positioned to respond, with more than 60 percent of coal-fired power plants already equipped with pollution control.”

“Companies that have done little or nothing to improve or update ‘antiquated, inefficient plants’ should start planning for compliance now, instead of ‘lobbying for categorical extensions or legislative delays,” Dominguez said according to an article from Power Engineering.

You can watch a full video of the hearing here and find more analysis of the hearing here.

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