02.28.2014 1

Virginia Congressman warns EPA regs could cause brownouts

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By Robert Romano

“There is the possibility of some brownouts.”

That was U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith’s (R-Va.) take on the impact of recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations against coal burning power plants in a brief conversation with Americans for Limited Government on February 27.

Rep. Griffith said in his district alone based in southwestern rural Virginia, Appalachian Power Co. was closing two coal-burning power plants, only one of which would be replaced by a natural gas facility.  But with a big downside — it would not produce as much electricity as the coal plant once did.

Griffith’s story in Virginia is emblematic of what is happening nationally to America’s shrinking electric grid.

Consider that coal as a percent of the net electricity generation has dropped from 49 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2012, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). For now, this is being partially offset by increases in natural gas.

But, that actually represents a smaller piece of a smaller pie, EIA data shows. While natural gas has increased electricity production by 330 billion kilowatthours (kWh) to 1.132 trillion kWh a year in 2012, coal production has dropped by 498 billion kWh to 1.5 trillion kWh.

Largely as a result of the coal plant closures, overall electricity generation in the U.S. has dropped from 4.005 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2007 to 3.89 trillion kWh in 2012 meanwhile end use has only decreased from 3.89 trillion kWh in to just 3.832 trillion kWh.

The difference between electricity generation and end use, or implied spare capacity, has dropped from 115 billion kWh to 58 billion kWh from 2007 to 2012.

That’s a whopping decrease of 49.5 percent — leading to worries that very soon the ability to keep up with demand could be compromised and brownouts could be on the horizon.

Griffith echoed the concern, but, he said, “when that is, we don’t know.” He noted that if future winters are as cold as 2014 has been in the continental U.S., the odds of power shortages would go up, with more warnings from providers to curb usage.

According to americaspower.org, an industry group, the number of coal-burning power plants closing or converting on account of EPA regulation was 330 as of January, up from 285 in May 2013.

According to an American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity analysis, the hardest hit states by EPA policy are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana. Nationwide, the number of actual plant closures is five times greater than EPA predicted would occur because of its regulations.

So, which regulations are harming this vital industry?

Perhaps the biggest one is the EPA’s 2009 carbon endangerment finding, which ruled that carbon dioxide, a biological gas necessary for the very existence of life, is a “harmful pollutant” under the terms of the Clean Air Act.

But then there’s also the regional haze rule, carbon restrictions on new and existing power plants, and the “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants” that restricts mercury emissions from plants.

Sue-and-settle arrangements the agency enters with organizations are a problem, too. This is where a group sues demanding that the EPA enforce the law in a new, expanded way and the agency enters into a consent decree with the party, which is signed by a judge. This leaves the agency with new powers under the Clean Air and Water Acts.

No agency possesses the power to make law, and yet that is precisely what the EPA has done by placing itself above Congress on all matters relating to energy production and consumption.

And until Congress does something about it by defunding the agency’s implementation of these regulations, or federal courts rein in this rogue entity, it appears all but certain that there will be brownouts.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government. 

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