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Former Regulators: Carbon Rules Don't Threaten Power Grid Reliability

PHOTO: The nation's methods of electricity generation are already moving rapidly away from coal, the fuel that emits the most carbon. Photo credit: Evan Hansen.
PHOTO: The nation's methods of electricity generation are already moving rapidly away from coal, the fuel that emits the most carbon. Photo credit: Evan Hansen.
February 23, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Cutting carbon pollution from power plants shouldn't threaten electrical reliability according to the folks whose job it was to keep the grid humming in past years.

Critics of the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to cut existing power plant greenhouse gas emissions warn it could cause rolling blackouts. But a number of former grid regulators say the nation's electrical system has proven very adaptable.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Marc Spitzer says the current commission knows better than to mix politics with what is really a complex technical question.

"Politics in this country, we are polarized," Spitzer says. "The people who are responsible for the grid in terms of reliability, affordability and proper environmental outcomes, feel a little bit put upon by the rival political factions."

Spitzer says the politics bear little relation to principles of electrical engineering. Under the proposed EPA requirements, West Virginia would cut about 30 percent of carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030.

At least three separate studies have said the grid should be able to shift to cleaner power sources without threatening reliability. Cheryl Roberto, with the Environmental Defense Fund and a former member of Ohio's Public Utilities Commission, says the industry is already evolving just as it has in the past.

"The system's transforming, with or without these requirements," says Roberto. "We have system operators who have been extremely successful over the past transitions. And they have more tools to do it now."

Roberto and others point to the flexibility the EPA plan gives states and utilities to find their own ways to meet the requirements.

One of those studies is by consulting firm the Analysis Group. Senior Advisor Susan Tierney says grid operators, power companies and regulators can coordinate, just as they always do, to keep the lights on.

"We have an electric industry that is so mission-oriented that it's just a false premise to think they're going to stand around and let the problem happen," says Tierney. "They're going to do something ahead of time."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV