by James A. Bacon
I may be like the proverbial three-year-old playing with matches with this blog post, but as I decipher the Clean Power Plan, Virginia’s final CO2 emission goals should be fairly easy to attain — far easier than anyone was anticipating based upon the draft goals published last year.
According to the EPA’s “State at a Glance” document for Virginia, the Old Dominion can pick from one of two ways to determine its CO2 emission goals — pounds of CO2 emitted per megawatt of electric power generated or total tons of CO2 released by the electric power system. Let’s look at each in turn.
First, pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt of energy produced:
Virginia is already on track for major CO2 reductions thanks to the retirement of several coal- and oil-fired power plants implemented in response to the EPA’s previous mandated reductions of toxic emissions. As the EPA “State at a Glance” profile of Virginia indicates, the state is projected to cut CO2 emissions from 1,477 pounds in 2012 to 959 pounds per megawatt-hour generated in 2020. That reduction exceeds EPA goals through 2029, and it falls short of the final 2030 goal by only 25 pounds, or 2.6%!
In other words, assuming they stay on their current course, Virginia’s power companies will have another ten years to devise a 2.6% reduction in carbon intensity over what they’re already planning.
Second, total CO2 emissions (in short tons):
These goals would not require Virginia to make any changes at all. Indeed, the final 2030 goal for CO2 emissions is the same as the 2012 level! If Virginia’s power companies hew to current projections, they will exceed the final 2030 goal without any changes! If Virginia adopts this metric, the state won’t have to modify its electricity policy at all. So much for pushing through scads of new solar and wind plants!
I think it’s safe to say that a lot of key players in the Virginia debate got caught flat-footed. An hour after President Obama formally rolled out the plan, General Assembly Republicans issued a statement citing a $6 billion State Corporation Commission cost estimate, based upon the cost of achieving the far tougher draft goals, in criticism of the plan. Stated House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford:
The E.P.A. rule released today is not only another example of an overreaching federal government, but more importantly it will drive up energy costs for hardworking Virginians and further damage our already struggling economy.
Environmentalists seemed to be caught equally off guard. The Southern Environmental Law Center issued a press release just before Obama’s speech praising the plan for forcing CO2 cuts nationally. Senior Attorney Frank Rambo, leader of the organization’s Clean Energy and Air program, released the following statement regarding the regional impact:
The release of the Clean Power Plan today is a milestone event for the country, but for states in the Southeast the real work now begins. We need to make smart choices about how we can meet these targets, which will improve public health by reducing pollution while also providing the opportunity for new jobs through clean energy investments.
Real work? What real work?
Even today, environmentalists had not absorbed the significance of the new target. In a fund-raising letter, the League of Conservation Voters referred to the Clean Air Act as “good news here in Virginia.”
I can’t imagine that Virginia environmentalists will be happy when it sinks in that modified targets lock the status quo into place.
The big question at this point is which metric does Virginia choose? I’m not sure who does the choosing, but I would expect environmental groups to lobby for the “rate” metric, which requires at least modicum of additional tightening for Virginia, and I would expect the McAuliffe administration, which has a stated goal of fighting climate change, to go along because it will cause little economic pain. However, unless closer analysis by the experts finds otherwise — and I’m totally open to the possibility that I may be overlooking something — it appears that Virginia has enacted nearly all of the changes it needs.
Update: I stand corrected. The final CO2 emission targets represent a 37% reduction for Virginia. For details, see “Yes, Virginia, the EPA Is Still Cracking Down on You.” I also take back the snarky things I said about Bill Howell’s quote and Frank Rambo’s quote. Sorry, guys, I was wrong.