Experts outline state's path to compliance with EPA Clean Power Plan

West Virginia can comply with the Clean Power Plan while developing new jobs and tax revenues in the natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency sectors.

WVU Law EPA Clean Power Plan

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- While the federal Clean Power Plan, and its impact on reducing use of coal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants presents a double whammy for West Virginia, a new report suggests the impact can be lessened if policymakers take advantage of the state's unique circumstances and leverage its strengths.

"West Virginia is fortunate in that it has tremendous energy resources in addition to coal, and these other resources —including natural gas, renewable energy (wind, solar, hydropower), and energy efficiency – are relatively untapped," says the report from the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law and Downstream Strategies LLC.

"Implementing the legislative and regulatory policy recommendations in this report would create a climate that promotes new investment in renewable and distributed generation technologies, energy efficiency, and natural gas-fired generation," the report said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency EPA issued its Clean Power Plan last August. The rule identifies a series of pollution reduction measures to lower carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Existing power plants in West Virginia would be required to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions by 37 percent in 2030 compared to 2012 levels or, if West Virginia elects to rely on a statewide aggregate emissions cap, by 29 percent from 2012 levels. The rule provides states considerable flexibility in choosing how to meet their emission reduction responsibilities, including the option of engaging in emissions trading programs with other states, improving the operating efficiency of coal plants, building new natural gas-fired power plants, increasing the use of renewable energy resources, and scaling up end-use energy efficiency programs.

The report, entitled “Expanding Economic Opportunities for West Virginia under the Clean Power Plan,” demonstrates how West Virginia can comply with the Clean Power Plan while developing new jobs and tax revenues in the natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency sectors. It was funded by a grant from the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation.

"West Virginia is uniquely positioned to adapt to these changes and meet the many challenges facing the Mountain State. While West Virginia power plants must reduce coal consumption to comply with the Clean Power Plan, the state’s utilities can at the same time make new investments in other energy resources developed in West Virginia." the report says.

The report offers eight basic recommendations:

  • Remove legislative restrictions on state plan development.
  • Issue revised integrated resource planning requirements for electric utilities.
  • Adopt an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard.
  • Adopt a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.
  • Encourage greater use of the state’s natural gas resources.
  • Adopt policies that encourage investment in clean distributed generation resources.
  • Explore options to partner with neighboring states to develop a multi-state plan with emissions trading.
  • Support integrated regional economic development initiatives.

“Although there is some uncertainty about the legality of the Clean Power Plan, the nation is moving forward to de-carbonize the power sector through increased reliance on low-cost natural gas and renewable resources such as solar and wind, largely driven by economics rather than environmental regulation,” said Center Director James Van Nostrand.

“These trends are apparent in West Virginia as well, and will help the state achieve compliance with the Clean Power Plan and reduce carbon emissions. Appalachian Power, for example, has shown how wind and solar resources, along with energy efficiency, are already cost-effective elements of a utility’s resource mix, irrespective of the Clean Power Plan,” he said.

West Virginia led a group of 28 states that responded to the Clean Power Plan by filing a lawsuit challenging EPA’s authority. On Feb. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay, and oral argument in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for September, with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court likely thereafter.

In the meantime, many states and the utility industry are moving forward with developing compliance strategies.

“Meeting these challenges requires leadership from the local, state, and federal government to support the development of all of West Virginia’s energy resources on a level playing field," said Downstream Strategies President Evan Hanson. This would put West Virginia on a path to lower our carbon pollution to meet our Clean Power Plan obligations, while fostering additional job growth and new economic opportunities.”

The report presents two scenarios that illustrate how the state can achieve compliance by integrating natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency into its energy mix.

“The state would be well-served to take advantage of the flexibility afforded by the rule," Hansen said. "An ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy would provide long-term economic, social, and environmental benefits in West Virginia.”

The report is available from either the Center’s website at  energy.law.wvu.edu/research_publications or Downstream Strategies’ website at www.downstreamstrategies.com/projects.html.

About the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development 

The Center for Energy and Sustainable Development is an energy and environmental public policy and research organization founded at the WVU College of Law in 2011. The Center focuses on promoting practices that will balance the continuing demand for energy resources—and the associated economic benefits—alongside the need to reduce the environmental impacts of developing the earth’s natural resources. The Center’s 2014 annual national energy conference examined the impacts of regulation of power plant CO2 emissions on coal-dependent states and highlighted options for those states moving forward, and its 2016 conference examined the impact of the current transition in the energy industry on coal mining communities in West Virginia.

About Downstream Strategies

Downstream Strategies has more than 18 years of experience building capacity for sustainability through its Energy, Water, and Land program areas. Its Energy Program analyzes energy markets and the impacts of energy development on economies and the environment. The firm supports strategic approaches to energy and climate change by developing plans, policies, and projects that are grounded in economic and policy analyses.

About the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation

The Appalachian Stewardship Foundation was created as a result of a settlement with Longview Power that set up a mitigation fund to correct the damage to the environment caused by the mining and burning of coal. ASF’s vision is for environmental values to lead our energy future—clean streams, clear skies and a stable climate, with the least amount of energy necessary to provide the goods and services we need. ASF seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to protect freshwater streams and tributaries against the effects of pollution from energy development and use.



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