The Times West Virginian

Local News

July 16, 2014

Mapping the nation’s energy future

Forum discusses reducing state’s carbon emissions

MORGANTOWN — The nation’s energy future and efforts to reduce carbon emissions were the focus of a public forum Tuesday evening in Morgantown.

The West Virginia University Sierra Club Student Coalition, League of Women Voters of Morgantown-Monongalia, and Monongahela Group of the West Virginia Sierra Club came together to sponsor the event at WVU’s Engineering Sciences Building. During the forum, titled “West Virginia at the Crossroads: EPA’s New Carbon Limits and What They Mean for West Virginia,” speakers offered their analysis on the Clean Power Plan, which is the first standard to reduce carbon pollution from electric power plants, and discussed its impact on the state.

James Van Nostrand, associate professor and director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the WVU College of Law, explained that in January 2014, the EPA proposed uniform national performance standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new fossil power plants.

Then in June of this year, the agency proposed the Clean Power Plan, which set state-specific performance targets for carbon dioxide emissions for existing fossil power plants. The EPA published a proposed rule requiring each state to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and providing the tools to help the states reach those standards, he said.

There is a 120-day comment period, and the agency will release its final rule in June of next year. In June 2016, the states will develop and submit their plans to the EPA. The years 2020 to 2029 mark the interim compliance period, and the final compliance period is 2030 and thereafter.

There are four building blocks that the states can use to reduce carbon emissions, including making fossil fuel power plants more efficient, using low-emitting power sources more, using more zero and low-emitting power sources, and using electricity more efficiently.

By 2030, West Virginia is expected to achieve a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which is lower than the requirement set for many other states,Van Nostrand said.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for developing and submitting state plans under the Clean Power Plan. The state Public Service Commission has the job of assuring that reasonably priced and reliable utility service is available to West Virginia customers and of reviewing utility resource planning, approving energy efficiency programs and setting retail electric rates.

Van Nostrand said it’s important that these agencies stay in contact so the state can achieve the emissions target set by the EPA at the lowest cost to consumers. West Virginia must also consider adopting an Energy Efficient Resource Standard, revisit the state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, and adopt robust Integrated Resource Planning requirements.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the Clean Power Plan is surrounded by lots of discussion, concern, information and misinformation. She explained that the proposed emission rate goals are not directed at individual power plants.

The Sierra Club believes that in the state, ramping up energy efficiency is a great way to meet the Clean Power Plan standards and save consumers money because of the huge potential to lower electric bills. Plus, these practices will help West Virginia to catch up with the energy efficiency of a lot of its neighboring states and create jobs, Hitt saud.

She said the organization believes that West Virginia has an obligation to do something about these greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate pollution and posing a threat to public health. The states will play a vital role in the Clean Power Plan efforts, and the Sierra Club intends to work hard to make sure that the plans focus on clean energy and energy efficiency.

“From the Sierra Club’s perspective ... it is an opportunity and it’s going to be as strong as we can make it based on advocacy and our involvement,” Hitt said.

She added that the EPA’s proposed rule for reducing greenhouse gas emissions has a long way to go before it is finalized, as it must go through the hands of Congress and the president and could possibly make its way to the Supreme Court in the end. But in the meantime, the states will continue to work on making their own plans.

The EPA has given every state a goal to hit for carbon reductions, which is based on the energy mix available in the particular state. West Virginia could reach its target by ramping up wind, solar and energy efficiency, and lesson its contribution to climate change as a result.

Hitt stressed that this isn’t a zero-coal plan, but is a way to decrease carbon emissions between now and 2030 and shape the nation’s energy future.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.

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