October 3, 2018 - This week, the EPA held a listening session on the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule – its proposed replacement for the prior administration’s costly Clean Power Plan (CPP). The message delivered by the National Mining Association (NMA) and others who care about the reliability and affordability of the grid was clear: the ACE rule is a dramatic step in the right direction.
The CPP – which thankfully was never implemented due to a stay from the Supreme Court – was an unprecedented attempt to illegally transform the electric utility industry. It came with a potentially crushing price tag for negligible environmental benefits. The CPP shrugged off 45 years of Clean Air Act (CAA) interpretation to justify wholesale changes to the nation’s power mix. Its acronym could have just as easily stood for “coal punishment plan” and, if enacted, consumers would have felt the full bite of its heavy-handed overreach.
In stark contrast, the ACE rule is defined by restraint and a return to a lawful framework for regulation of power plant emissions. Instead of aiming to overhaul the nation’s power mix through forced fuel switching, the ACE rule is targeting improvements at existing, individual facilities. The rule leans on heat rate improvements (HRI) as the best system of emissions reduction because HRI technologies are both adequately demonstrated and achievable at individual sources. Improving the efficiency of the coal fleet is low-hanging fruit that can attain considerable environmental gains while also preserving the baseload power and the fuel diversity that are so critical to the nation’s electricity mix.
Focusing on individual sources to reduce emissions – as opposed to pushing for fuel switching – is not only a sound reading of the powers provided to the EPA under the CAA but it’s also effective. The ACE rule is expected to cut emissions by more than a third below 2005 levels by 2030. And there’s precedent for using technology to cut emissions at coal plants.
Consider that emissions per kilowatt-hour of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from the U.S. coal fleet were reduced by more than 93 percent between 1970 and 2017. Increasing the efficiency of a coal plant by just 1 percent using existing, readily deployable high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) technologies reduces carbon emissions by 2 to 3 percent. As the World Coal Association has reported, improving the efficiency rate of the global coal fleet from 33 to 40 percent could cut CO2 emissions equivalent to all of India’s annual carbon emissions.
The opportunity to cut emissions and still provide a balanced, reliable and affordable energy mix is within reach. It’s possible to advance environmental goals without doing irreparable damage to our economy. Avoiding the crushing, regressive burden presented by the CPP was a near miss for every American but especially for those who simply can’t afford to pay more for the electricity that keeps the lights on and homes comfortable during scorching summers and bitter winters.
The ACE rule’s compliance burden is expected to be $400 million per year less in comparison to the CPP. Recall that by one analysis the CPP was projected to cost consumers as much as an additional $214 billion for electricity between 2022 and 2030. More than 40 states would have faced double-digit increases in the cost of wholesale electricity. According to the Energy Information Administration’s analysis of reduced demand for coal under the plan, coal-related employment would have fallen by 127,000 high-wage jobs by 2040.
The ACE rule is a welcome return to a legal proposal to achieve emissions reductions. It leans on American innovation to upgrade existing plants and provides an important path forward to maintaining the fuel mix diversity that is so important to ensure the reliability, resiliency and affordability of the nation's electricity supply.