Pennsylvania Examines Emissions Options

By Legere, Laura | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 11, 2015 | Go to article overview

Pennsylvania Examines Emissions Options


Legere, Laura, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


In the days after President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency announced final rules for cutting the nation's carbon emissions from power plants, Rob Altenburg, the director of the environmental group PennFuture's Energy Center, did a few quick calculations to determine how close Pennsylvania is to meeting its final target, 15 years away.

Based on recent and planned coal-fired power plant retirements and existing state programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, "We're about halfway there," he said.

"What's it going to take to get the other half? There are a ton of options."

Pennsylvania is not among the states with either the hardest or the easiest paths to compliance with the new rule, which the Obama administration is calling the nation's most significant effort to curb emissions of the principal gas driving the world's changing climate.

An analysis by SNL Energy that compared projections of what each state's emissions rate would have been in 2020 without the Clean Power Plan to its goal in 2030 under the new rule found that Pennsylvania will have to cut its emissions rate by 26 percent from where business-as-usual behavior would put the commonwealth in 2020 in order to meet the EPA's target.

That puts Pennsylvania in a better position than neighboring Ohio or West Virginia, which will have to cut carbon emissions rates by 32 percent and 35 percent, respectively, from where they are expected to be in 2020 under current trends, the analysis showed. But it leaves Pennsylvania with a much harder task than neighboring New York, which is projected to be below its 2030 goal by 2020 by following through on practices that are already planned or in place.

"On the face of it, our target doesn't look that different" from the proposal EPA announced in June 2014, said Kevin Sunday, manager of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. But that doesn't mean Pennsylvania's path to compliance will be easy or that every option for meeting the EPA's target will be equal, he said.

"The question isn't really are we going to have less carbon emissions in the future. We're going that way anyway," he said. "The question is how painful and expensive is the government going to make it on ratepayers and industry."

Mr. Sunday said it is "reasonable to expect" that Gov. Tom Wolf's secretary of policy and planning, John Hanger, a former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary and a former president of PennFuture, will have a central role in developing the state's plan and is likely to pursue an aggressive strategy for adopting more sources of renewable energy.

"But renewables are the most expensive way to reduce carbon emissions," Mr. Sunday said. EPA's rule estimates that it will cost $23 for each ton of carbon dioxide reduced by running coal-fired power plants more efficiently; $24 per ton reduced by burning natural gas instead of coal in power plants; and $37 per ton reduced by adopting renewable power sources, like wind and solar. …

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