Regulating carbon dioxide emissions

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The new carbon pollution rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are expected to reduce our nation’s reliance on coal while increasing the use of natural gas and renewable energy. With increased use, natural gas prices are likely to increase, stimulating more fracking for it.

The new regulations should also benefit energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

As a draft proposal, the EPA will take public comment on the rules and release the final rule in June 2015.

The proposal calls for a 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels of carbon dioxide levels by 2030, placing emissions at 1987 levels.

By choosing reductions from the 2005 levels, it is estimated that utilities have already achieved half of the required reductions and will have 15 years to achieve the other half of the mandated cuts. However, this rule alone will not prevent further climate change.

The rule places the responsibility for designing ways to meet the new carbon emissions standards at the state level. It allows for various approaches to meeting the desired reductions.

States heavily dependent on coal-fired generation are expected to resist the new rules, as they will bear the highest costs of cutting carbon emissions.

In Illinois, with nearly half of its power from nuclear sources, about 46 percent from coal and natural gas and 4 percent from wind, we can anticipate some spirited battles over how to reduce our carbon emissions.

The proposed rules provide an opportunity for nuclear power plant operators to collect revenue for clean energy credits, as the reactors do not generate carbon dioxide.

Exelon, which owns six nuclear plants, has already threatened to close plants by the end of this year if they do not secure economic relief from the lower cost competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources. The firm opposed the extension of the federal tax credit for wind generation, and there are indications they intend to oppose extension of the federal tax credit for solar energy, which ends in 2016.

Other energy interests in the state are expected to impact the new rules. Dynegy owns coal plants in the state, as does NRG resources; they could choose to close down some plants, or switch to natural gas to cut carbon emissions.

Switching to natural gas could generate pressure to accelerate fracking within the state. Fortunately, an effort to weaken state fracking standards was recently blocked.

Some environmental interests have expressed concern that opportunities to continue efforts to improve energy efficiency efforts and expand renewable energy installations could lose momentum as coal, gas and nuclear interests make their concerns known to political leaders and state officials.

While the potential new rules will cut carbon emissions, some acrimonious battles can be expected over what the new rules should be — both on the national and state levels.

If Illinois were to meet its existing goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy, we would be well on our way to meeting the state’s needed reductions in carbon emissions. Passing the new legislation requiring the Illinois Power Agency to procure $30 million of solar-generated electricity through a competitive auction process provides another means to meet state carbon standards.

The new carbon dioxide rules are a step in the right direction, but we still need to move further.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the June 11-17, 2014, issue

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