While Washington state is said to be leading among states in developing green and renewable energy supplies, it’s still got a lot of work to do to comply with a new Clean Power Plan rule announced last month by the Environmental Protection Agency, industry and regulatory observers say.
Bruce Howard, Avista Corp. director of environmental affairs, attended the state’s first status conference on the new rule two weeks ago.
“It’s too early to know what the state is going to do,” Howard says of the rule. “It’s 1,500 pages of formal rule and another 5,000 pages of supporting technical documents. They’re still figuring their way through this.”
The goal of the Clean Power Plan is to reduce total carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to the EPA rule, which was announced Aug. 3.
The rule directs each state to develop its own compliance plan.
The Obama administration contends other nations will follow the U.S. lead on carbon emission limits, the Wall Street Journal recently reported, adding that U.S. power plants contribute an estimated 5 percent of global carbon emissions.
A consensus of the international scientific community ranks carbon emissions as a major contributor to global climate change.
The state’s first conference on the new rule, called a listening session, was led in Olympia by the Washington state Department of Ecology, the state Department of Commerce, and the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.
Camille St. Onge, Ecology’s Lacy, Wash.-based climate communications manager, who helped arrange the conference, says, “Washington is doing all the right things. We’ve been ahead of the curve in working on clean and renewable energy for a while.”
St. Onge says each state will create its own plan with its own goals, and Washington’s carbon emission-reduction goal reaches higher than the national goal.
“Our goal is 37.2 percent,” she says. “We have a lot of work to do to figure out how to get there.”
Ecology currently is seeking public involvement in the state’s planning process, St. Onge says.
An initial state plan is due in September 2016, and a final plan is due two years later, she says.
The Clean Power Plan compliance period starts in 2022, and each state is required to meet its carbon reduction goals within the following eight years.
Ten power plants within Washington state will be affected directly by the Clean Power Plan, Ecology’s website shows.
All of the affected plants are on the west side of the state, including the Centralia Generating Complex, which has two coal-burning steam generators that together make up the largest baseload power source in the state. The coal units contribute more carbon emissions than the nine affected natural gas-fired generation plants combined, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.
Combined, the coal and natural gas plants in Washington state discharged 13.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide while producing 18.1 million megawatts of electricity in 2014, roughly even with 2005 levels for both electricity production and carbon dioxide emissions, DOE data show.
Phased plans to halt coal-power production in Centralia, though, could help Washington meet its carbon-reduction goal.
Canada-based TransAlta USA Inc., which operates the Centralia complex, says on its website that it’s scheduled to retire one of the coal units in 2020 and the other in 2025 to comply with Washington state’s TransAlta Energy Transition Act of 2011.
In 2014 alone, the Centralia complex released 8.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, DOE data show.
Closer to home, about 98 percent of the power obtained by Inland Power & Light Co. is carbon free, says Jennifer Lutz, spokeswoman for the Spokane-based electrical cooperative.
“We haven’t heard of any impacts yet,” she says of the new EPA rule.
Inland Power, the second largest Spokane-area electricity provider, currently obtains all of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration.
The BPA is a federal nonprofit agency that markets electricity generated by 31 federal hydro projects in the Columbia River basin, one nuclear power plant, and several other small nonfederal power plants.
Of Inland Power’s total power, 88 percent is derived from hydropower and nearly 10 percent is from a nuclear source, Lutz says.
Joel Scruggs, a Portland-based BPA spokesman, says the Pacific Northwest likely will be affected less than other regions around the country by the Clean Power Plan.
“The Northwest is in pretty good shape compared to other regions, because of the federal hydro system,” Scruggs says.
He doesn’t expect that the Clean Power Plan will lead to more competition for BPA power from utilities outside of its current market, although BPA occasionally sells excess power on the market.
“We serve 142 Northwest electric utilities,” he says. “Our primary responsibility is to serve our core power customers.”
Avista owns and operates eight hydroelectric facilities on the Spokane and Clark Fork rivers.
Howard says hydropower is Avista’s largest single source of electricity at 48 percent, followed by natural gas, at 35 percent; coal, at 9 percent; wind at 6 percent; and biomass, at 2 percent.
Howard says Avista has two generation plants directly subject to the new EPA rule, although neither is located in Washington.
One is the Coyote Springs natural gas facility in Boardman, Ore., where Avista owns one of two generation units. The other plant is a coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Mont., in which Avista is a minority owner.
“Our generation facilities all contribute to serve customers in Idaho and Washington,” Howard says.
Under the Clean Power Plan, it’s unlikely that any new coal generation will be developed nationwide, he says, adding that Washington state already prohibits adding new power from coal plants to its current load.
Howard says Avista hopes the Clean Power Plan will allow utility companies credit for energy conservation efforts already under way.
“We’ve been a leader for many years implementing conservation and efficiency programs with customers,” he says. “That’s shown up in huge energy savings over the years. We’ve invested in hydro plants and met the goals of I-937 in Washington.”
I-937 is an initiative passed by Washington voters in 2006 that requires large electrical utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and biomass, by 2020. Established hydroelectric generation doesn’t count toward meeting the 15 percent threshold, since the initiative focused on new capacity, but utilities get credit for projects that boost the generating efficiency of dams.
While Washington state doesn’t count hydropower as renewable in regard to I-937 compliance, the EPA looks on hydropower more favorably in its Clean Power Plan, Howard asserts.
“EPA treats hydropower the same as solar or wind in terms of guidelines it gives states for compliance,” he says. “Incremental new generation, such as that brought about by new technology or efficiencies at existing hydroelectric plants, counts as renewable.”
Avista doesn’t expect to build any new hydropower facilities, Howard says, adding, however, “We’re always looking for potential to upgrade existing facilities.”
It’s far too soon to estimate what the Clean Power Plan will mean for power bills, he says.
“Everything will impact rates,” he says. “It’s too early to tell when and how much.”
Avista is completing its 2015 electrical integrated resources plan, which includes a 20-year forecast for electrical demand and resources.
“At some point in the next 20 years, we’re likely going to need to develop new natural gas generation to meet customer load,” he says.
The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, though, strongly encourages renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power, rather than natural gas plants to replace coal plants.
While skeptics warn that the Clean Power Plan will drive up power rates and slow the economy, the administration contends the emphasis on renewable power, energy efficiency, and conservation will drive household utility bills down after an initial increase in rates.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee strongly supports the Clean Power Plan, although attorneys general representing at least 15 other states plan to band together to file a lawsuit challenging the EPA rule, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
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