PowerSource Voice: New EPA rules present a wealth of opportunities

Driving the turnpike between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, travelers can see a billboard with a giant photo of a clown. The message reads, “I still believe in global warming, do you?” Another sign bears the message, “Would you take energy advice from the woman who broke up The Beatles?” beside a picture of Yoko Ono.

Humorous perhaps, yet these billboards represent an ideology that is increasingly out of step with the American people. A recent poll by Republican firm Perception Insight and Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan has shown solid support, both nationally and locally, for strengthening air pollution standards.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released draft rules aimed at reducing carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants. The national goal is 30 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2030. EPA’s proposal calculates an emissions target for each state based on its generation mix. The EPA has set the targets but it is up to each state to decide what carbon reduction options they wish to employ to meet the targets.

The reduction options used by the EPA consist of four “building blocks”: making existing coal plants more efficient; using natural gas plants more effectively; increasing generation from renewables and nuclear plants; and increasing energy efficiency in homes and other end uses.

Under these rules, renewable energy will form a greater part of our energy mix, but so will natural gas and nuclear. The Clean Power Plan, as this legislation has been dubbed, will accelerate employment and growth in all of these local industries and represents real economic opportunity for Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

According to America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the new rules could boost natural gas demand by as much as 10 billion cubic feet per day by 2020. That’s about as much gas as all of the Marcellus formation produced in 2013.

Pennsylvania’s wind industry, which represents an investment of about $2.7 billion, has nearly 30 facilities that manufacture products for the wind industry and ranks 11th in the nation for wind-related jobs. Pittsburgh has become a cleantech center, with jobs and investment in energy storage, efficiency, and nuclear power.

Wind energy is already reducing carbon in the electric sector by almost 127 million tons per year, or 5 percent of electric sector emissions. And natural gas generation emits 50 percent less carbon than coal-fired power. The U.S. Department of Energy and private economic analysts have found that wind energy is second only to combined cycle natural gas plants in terms of the lowest cost resource for new electric generation.

Wind and natural gas are perfectly suited to lead Pennsylvania and the nation toward a cleaner affordable energy mix while strengthening these locally based industries.

What about coal? The EPA rules will promote greater use of natural gas and renewables while recognizing the importance of older technologies. While coal’s market share for electric generation has fallen from about 50 percent to 40 percent in the last 10 years (due to a host of market forces, not just EPA regulation), there has never been a more robust export market.

Under EPA’s economic analysis, coal will still power more than 30 percent of our electric generation in 2030 even with the carbon limitations in place. Despite claims of a “war on coal,” coal-fired generation will continue to be a major source of electricity powering homes and businesses.

We have a unique opportunity to make a real difference in the future of our region and our country. Let’s come together to support a cleaner, sustainable future and not be swayed by apocalyptic rhetoric or ads featuring a clown.

James Spencer is founder and CEO of EverPower, a utility-scale wind energy development company headquartered in Pittsburgh.

To contribute to PowerSource Voice, a regular feature offering insight and opinion on energy subjects, contact Associate Business Editor Teresa F. Lindeman at tlindeman@post-gazette.com

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