Wake Forest, NC— The new proposed EPA carbon dioxide limits for new coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act has gotten lots of recent media coverage.
In an earlier post, we discussed Wake Electric’s transition, primarily in response to North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks rules developed a decade ago to reduce traditional air pollution, to a generation portfolio that includes only about 20% from coal-based resources. As you might expect, that makes the implications of new EPA rules much less severe for us than for a typical Midwestern electric utility that may be 90 percent coal-based.
The rationale for regulating carbon dioxide emissions under theClean Air Act in the U.S. is based on the concern that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (now 400 parts per million or 0.04 percent) may increase the risk of severe global warming as predicted by climate models. Also, while nearly everyone accepts that we’ve seen about a 1.3 degree rise in average global temperature since we started keeping records about 130 years ago and that 0.5 degree of the change since 1960 is unusual, the scientific debate is about how much of the 0.5 degree increase since 1960 is due to carbon dioxide emissions and how much is due to natural climate cycles. That debate has become more complicated by an absence of any global warming in the past 15 years.
Unfortunately, much of the debate lately has been more about politics than anything else. More liberal or progressive groups look at the data and are convinced that additional environmental compliance regulations are needed and are worth the additional cost, even if it doubles the cost of electricity in some regions. More conservative groups look at the same data and are very skeptical of the potential benefits of increased governmental involvement in the energy sector of the national economy.
As the debate has become more political, even the terms have changed. “Carbon dioxide” has become “carbon pollution” and is sometimes described as “dirty”, “toxic” or “unhealthy” when it has none of those characteristics. Carbon dioxide could prove to be a big problem for long-term global warming, which should be more than enough to warrant our attention. Calling it something that it’s clearly not makes understanding this important and complicated issue nearly impossible.
In the meanwhile, Wake Electric’s target energy mix for 2016 of 60 percent nuclear, 20 percent coal and 20 percent natural gas to generate electricity is a diverse portfolio that is well positioned to provide members with reliable and affordable electricity. It’s also a balanced portfolio that is relatively low in carbon dioxide emissions.
Do you have a question or comment about carbon dioxide and EPA regulations? Suggestions for future topics? Please submit them to MAC@wemc.com.