Cutting Carbon Emissions by 30 percent by 2030

By Collin Shepard

photo of the SART Roundtable breakfast meeting
The SART Roundtable Panel Discussion in Atlanta was well attended on Friday, July 11, 2014.

Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable (SART) Breakfast Meeting by Southface
July 11, 2014
Topic: “Getting to 30” Panel Discussion

  • Moderator: Shan Arora – Policy Programs Manager, Southface
  • Panelist: Keith Bentley – Air Protection Branch Chief, Georgia Environmental Protection Division
  • Panelist: Kevin Kelly – Policy Advisor, Southface
  • Panelist: Mandy Mahoney – President, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed historic regulations that will cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. Nearly one-third of all carbon emissions in the United States are produced by electricity generation. According to the EPA, the proposed regulation would have the same impact on carbon reduction as taking two-thirds of all cars and trucks off the road.

The EPA proposal gives state administrators a variety of options for meeting carbon reduction goals. If the proposal is approved, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) will be responsible for overseeing Georgia’s carbon cutting plan.

Join us to discuss the policy surrounding this issue, to explore how the proposal could alter the EPD’s regulatory framework and to examine potential opportunities for energy-efficient solutions that would push Georgia towards its carbon reduction goal.”

Essentially, this panelist discussion revolved exclusively around the EPA ruling on CO2 emissions, as discussed in the event description. This initiative was granted under the Clean Air Act, Section 111-D, which gives authority to the EPA to regulate CO2 for existing power plants. The exact stipulations for new power plants to be constructed is being discussed, however there is no current and formal ruling on the CO2 emissions for new plants being built.

With this authority, the EPA is to determine the best system of CO2 reduction from power plants. To reach this goal on a national level, the EPA plants to help states build upon 4 key building blocks that they prioritized as having the highest potential impact. These building blocks were:

  • Run coal plants more efficiently (improve the heat rate by 6%)
  • Use low-emitting power sources in place of high-emitting sources (essentially, “cleaner” natural gas over coal fired plants)
  • Use zero/low-emitting power sources more (i.e. incentivize renewable energy programs, nuclear power plants, etc.)
  • States to use energy/electricity more efficiently (demand side energy maintenance and end-side generation)

The EPA used a 2012 snapshot to apply the same 4 building blocks to each of the 50 states uniformly. However, given the unique nature of each state and its energy programs and challenges, each state’s goals have and will continue to evolve differently based on emerging technology, funding and budgeting, and programs that either pass or fail. States can really do whatever they want under this initiative to reach the 30% reduction goal (or 30% increased productivity, depending on how you look at it) by 2030. This reduction is based on the 2005 baseline of power generation and has focused on increasing natural gas utilization rates for Georgia by over 70% in 2030. As of the 2012 Summer electricity Capacity for Georgia, compiled by Southface on their Georgia Energy data site, the following data was produced spelling out energy production sources and generation:

  • Natural Gas: 15907.9 MW
  • Coal: 12,737.1 MW
  • Nuclear: 4,061 MW
  • Hydro: 3,901.1 MW
  • Petroleum: 1,220 MW
  • Biomass: 648.8 MW
  • Solar: 111.42 MW
  • Wind: 0.0207 MW

photo of carbon emissionsGeorgia has no coal mines and clearly the EPA regulations are inadvertently promoting natural gas over coal because of its lower emissions, higher efficiency, and less polluting nature. This initiative definitely places its emphasis and authority on utility companies as they affect government offices/operations, businesses, industry, and residential areas. The Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of Georgia speaker reported the complexity of a multi-state approach and also if approved by the EPA, how much scope and authority the EPD will have to enforce initiatives to meet the 30% goal by 2030.

Mandy Mahoney, president of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA), which is a division of the national Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), focused on the cost effective solutions associated with energy efficiency programs and incentives. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy reported that most effective energy efficient projects can cost utility companies 2.8¢ per KW/hr.

SEEA predicts a 1.5% savings overall from energy reduction (0.2% on annual average) and Georgia with its 8 certified energy efficiency programs should be at a 0.4% annual savings mark. She stressed that energy efficiency programs are the most cost-effective, and can be accomplished through tax incentives, and programs like Southface’s “Better Building” program. For those skeptical about this CO2 emissions pushing back on the economy , slowing growth, and eliminating jobs, this initiative is projected to supply over 9,000 clean energy jobs added, with 50% relating to energy efficiency. Companies clearly respond rapidly to these sort of incentives, and human ingenuity matched with exponential technological advancements ever on the horizon will undoubtedly solve these naysayer woes.

My Questions:

  1. If the EPA is going to endorse the switch from coal to natural gas, are there any stipulations or considerations in this plan relating to best/sustainable practices for drilling, fracking, extracting, and processing this “cleaner” natural gas?
  2. The EPA is clearly limiting the generation of coal-powered energy for good reasons (air pollution, high CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, environmentally degrading mining practices, etc.) and highly discouraging any new coal fired plants from being built. It does not specifically deal with coal mining, though, and if the USA buys less and less of its coal every year, one might be able to predict that coal mining and distributing companies will simply ship their coal to places like China and India, where coal use is at its highest, there is little regulation, and it currently dominates a very large share of each of their markets. Will this unconsciously put American coal producers in more contact with the insatiable developing economies of India and China, driving production and transportation of this coal and ultimately CO2 emissions if not in America, but in our global atmosphere?

Further Reading and References:

  • New release from EPA upon releasing the Clean Power Plan: “EPA Proposes First Guidelines to Cut Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants.” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), click here
  • EPA Carbon Pollution Standards, click here.
  • Data on Georgia’s energy production and power sources: “Georgia Energy Data,” click here.
  • Site that allows users to compare different clean energy economies: Southeast Clean Energy Industry Census, click here.
  • “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Analysis of Natural Gas Extraction & Delivery in the United States.” National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), click here.
  • “Life Cycle Assessment of Natural Gas Extraction, Delivery and Electricity Production.” NETL, click here.
  • “Life Cycle Assessment of a Natural Gas Combined-Cycle Power Generation System.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), click here.
  • Simple explanation on how a combined-cycle natural gas power plant works: “How a Combined-Cycle Plant Works.” General Electric (GE), click here.