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We Can Do Better: The Unintended Consequences of EPA's "Clean Power Plan"

October 16, 2014

This article was originally published on Renewable Energy World.

Most people agree that it is time to seriously reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). EPA is actually required by law to reduce power and industrial GHG emissions in the U.S., and they certainly deserve an “E” for effort so far. But effort without good outcomes doesn’t really count. Sadly, the EPA’s rule as proposed would create unintended consequences that will prevent essential long-term carbon reductions in the U.S. power sector.

Here’s why: the rule’s main approach to reducing emissions is — not renewables, not energy efficiency, not even carbon capture or nuclear, but — switching practically overnight from coal to natural gas-fired electricity. This is like a binge diet to lose weight in two weeks (a really bad idea) by switching from donuts to bagels (an even worse one).

We all know binge diets avoid the balanced nutrition and long term program needed for healthy, sustained weight loss. In the same manner, the EPA’s sudden shut down of coal plants will put reliability and affordable power at risk, leaving massive amounts of new gas-fired power as the only answer to keep the lights on and electric bills tolerable.  

And just like bagels are a really high carb replacement for donuts, natural gas is a high carbon replacement for coal. And what about renewables, the “vegetable” of a balanced diet? Once our power markets are saturated with new natural gas plants, there will be no room left for new, zero carbon power, no matter how cheap it becomes. When you’re full of bagels, who has room for vegetables? 

NRG sees renewables, carbon capture, and innovative distributed energy technologies as the foundation of a clean energy economy that can thrive without risking catastrophic climate change. We’ve already begun our own carbon reduction regime by building one of the largest renewable energy fleets in the country. And we believe that the U.S. will benefit from rapid clean energy growth, helping stave off the worst of climate change, while demonstrating the commercial success of clean technologies.

We are concerned that the EPA’s rule, as proposed, is poised to create a new “dash to gas,” locking in decades of yet another carbon-dense fossil fuel, while locking out the increasingly economical clean energy sources the world needs.

The good news is that simple revisions to EPA’s rule can easily be addressed to result in greater overall emissions reductions at a lower cost. To see how, we encourage you to read NRG’s recommendations to the EPA in our “Glide Paths Instead of Cliffs” white paper.  

This topic will be discussed during a mega-session at Renewable Energy World Conference, North America, which takes place in Orlando, Florida December 9-11, 2014. For more information about the mega-session, Potential Impact of Greenhouse Gas Regulation on the Future of the Electric Power Industry, click here.

Steve Corneli is NRG Energy’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Strategy.

Photo via Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution license for commercial use.

Tags:

EPA , Coal and Clean energy

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