The Arkansas Public Service Commission and Department of Environmental Quality say they’re working on a plan to abide by a final federal rule on reducing carbon emissions at the state’s power plants. They say its “less stringent” than a previously proposed rule.
ADEQ director Becky Keogh and Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas spoke at a joint news conference where they outlined a strategy for addressing the 1,500 page Environmental Protection Agency rule, known as 111(d). Keogh said the state is now in a good position to comply.
“Like many states, Arkansas has dedicated a significant amount of work since the initial proposals were announced some months ago,” she said
In addition to the two agencies, Keogh said stakeholders and rate-payers will continue to be integral to the process. “Meaningful environmental measures can and must coexist with policies that promote job growth and economic development,” she said.
Under the rule Arkansas must reduce carbon emissions at 19 of its power plants. The final emissions target is a 36 percent reduction by 2030. That's a significantly lower percentage compared to last year's proposed target of 44 percent. Many utilities and ratepayers had predicted electricity rates would skyrocket as a result. Now a lower target and a deadline extension may ease some of those concerns. The new target in part reflects the EPA's revision of the state's baseline emissions measurements from 2012. Keogh said that will help Arkansas meet the goal.
“In fact, EPA and [U.S. Energy and Information Administration] estimates suggest that we may reach a reduction of 12.8 percent from the 2012 baseline by 2020 before any measures under the Clean Power Plan would take effect,” Keogh said.
Carbon Emissions Baseline (2012) Rate: 1,779 lb/Net MWh
Emissions projection without Clean Power Plan: 1,551 lb/Net Mwh
Interim Period (2022-2029) Target: 1304 lb/MWh
Final (2030) Target: 1130 lb/MWh
lb = pounds of carbon. MWh = Megawatt hours of electricity. (Information provided by ADEQ)
The impact of the recently built John W. Turk, Jr. coal power plant in southwest Arkansas, fitted with some of the latest clean burning technologies, had some impact on that baseline revision, said the APSC's Ted Thomas. There are two ways the state can choose for meeting the emissions target, Thomas said: mass-based or rate-based carbon reductions.
“We want to make sure there's a natural gas option. Seems to me on initial read of the rule that rased-based compliance plan is more friendly to new natural gas than is a mass-based. But we're going to model all of this. We're going to study all of this,” he said.
Thomas said mass-based compliance takes into account the total sum of carbon emitted from the state. A rate-based compliance method measures CO2 per megawhat hour of electricity generated. The state is currently involved in a legal challenge of the rule.
He added that the threat of litigation by several states against the EPA also played a role in changing the dynamics surrounding the initial proposal.
“Unit of emission per unit of generation, we had the worst target in the country,” Thomas said. “If there were only four or five states that were hit really hard, we would have been among them. And there might not have been the political push-back to take off some of the most onerous parts of the rule.”
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has joined 14 other states in asking a federal judge to stay implementation of the rule. But the ADEQ's Becky Keogh says her agency and the APSC will continue to find a way to comply despite the legal challenges.
“It's not uncommon for us at ADEQ...to see environmental laws challenged at the federal level. So we're moving forward as we would under any process,” she said.
Thomas credited that kind of unceasing plan-making at last year's rounds of stakeholder meetings with putting the state in a better spot.
“We didn't just say 'no' and pound the table. There are elements we don't like but we stayed engaged to work through it and we think that helped our state in terms of the final rule,” he said.
Stakeholder meetings between utilities, environmental groups and business interests are to resume on October 9 to discuss the state's options. Arkansas must still decide how exactly to go comply with the rule. Shifting more electricity generation to natural gas and emissions-free renewables and away from coal are options on the table. Another “building block” is improving efficiency at existing coal plants. Coal plants currently provide the state more than half of its electricity according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. After extending deadlines by two years, the EPA says the state will have to submit a plan by September of 2016, with a compliance period to begin in 2022.
Responding to the Keogh's and Thomas' remarks, the Sierra Club of Arkansas released the following statement from Director Glen Hooks:
The Sierra Club commends the ADEQ and PSC for moving forward on carbon reduction planning. While some national political figures are urging states to simply ignore the Clean Power Plan, Director Keogh and Chairman Thomas are showing responsible, nonpartisan leadership that is good for Arkansas. By working together with all stakeholders, Arkansas can take charge of writing its own plan that will dramatically improve our health, our environment, and our economy.
While it is unfortunate that Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is still pursuing what will ultimately be another failed legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan, Sierra Club looks forward to working closely with those who are committed to cleaning up our air and our energy supply. By working together, we can create thousands of new clean energy jobs here in our state, all while improving our air quality and protecting the health of Arkansans.