Energy Experts: WSJ Wrong, EPA Climate Plan Will Keep The Lights On

The Wall Street Journal is calling on states to “revolt” against the EPA's Clean Power Plan, claiming that “virtually everyone who understands the electric grid” is warning that the plan will threaten grid reliability and could lead to rolling blackouts. In reality, nonpartisan energy experts say the EPA's proposal will not affect Americans' access to electricity.

Wall Street Journal Fear-Mongers About Reliability In Editorial Calling On States To Revolt Against EPA

EPA: Clean Power Plan Built To Ensure “Reliable, Affordable Electricity.” In a post on the Environmental Protection Agency leadership's official blog, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe spelled out the different ways the agency worked to ensure that the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would set the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, can be implemented “without interfering with the country's reliable and affordable supply of electricity.” McCabe noted that “there has never been an instance in which Clean Air Act standards have caused the lights to go out,” and said that the EPA incorporated input from the utility sector by crafting a plan that provides utilities with “enough time” and “a wide range of options” to reduce carbon pollution. [EPA Connect, 1/6/15]

WSJ Editorial Claimed “Virtually Everyone Who Understands The Electric Grid” Believes EPA's Plan Will Threaten Reliability. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial on April 10 calling for a “mass state-by-state boycott” of the CPP, which represents the biggest step the U.S. has ever taken to fight climate change. The Journal claimed that “apolitical organizations” universally agree that the plan could lead to “brownouts or cascading blackouts”:

Virtually everyone who understands the electric grid, from state utility commissions to the regional transmission operators, warns that the EPA's ambitions threaten reliability. These apolitical organizations think brownouts or cascading blackouts are possible. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/10/15]

Many Energy Experts Have Said EPA Plan Compliance Can Be Achieved Without Threatening Grid

The Brattle Group: EPA Plan Is “Unlikely To Materially Affect Reliability.” The Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm, published a report commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute responding to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's (NERC) “initial reliability review” of the Clean Power Plan, which expressed some reliability concerns that it suggested require further study. The Brattle Group determined that NERC did not consider the potential solutions to many of the concerns they raised, and concluded that “compliance with the CPP is unlikely to materially affect reliability”:

Following a review of the reliability concerns raised and the options for mitigating them, we find that compliance with the CPP is unlikely to materially affect reliability. The combination of the ongoing transformation of the power sector, the steps already taken by system operators, the large and expanding set of technological and operational tools available and the flexibility under the CPP are likely sufficient to ensure that compliance will not come at the cost of reliability. [Brattle Group, Assessing NERC's Initial Reliability Review, February 2015]

Analysis Group: Clean Power Plan “Will Not Jeopardize Or Compromise” Grid Reliability. A study released in February by energy experts at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm, found that the CPP “will not jeopardize or compromise the reliability of the U.S. power system.” From the study's press release:

The report demonstrates that “the industry, its reliability regulators, and the States have a wide variety of existing and modified tools at their disposal to help as they develop, formalize, and implement their respective State Plans.” In particular, it notes that, “These two responsibilities - assuring electric system reliability while taking the actions required under law to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants - are compatible, and need not be in tension with each other as long as parties act in timely ways.” [Analysis Group, 2/19/15]

State Utility Commissioners: Substantial Emission Reductions Can Be Achieved Quickly While Maintaining Grid Reliability. Utility commissioners and chairmen from seven of the states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) submitted a comment to the EPA expressing support for the Clean Power Plan and commending the agency for “providing states the flexibility requested to build individual plans based on the specific electricity profile of each state or region.” The comment letter, which was also signed by environmental and energy agency officials in the RGGI states, added: “Substantial CO2 emission reductions are possible over a relatively short time period, while supporting economic goals and maintaining grid reliability.” [Comment to EPA, 11/5/14

Top Officials At Major Electric Utilities Say EPA Plan Would Not Threaten Reliability:

  • Exelon Senior Vice President: “Industry Can Immediately Begin To Control Carbon Pollution While Maintaining Electric Reliability.” The Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs for Exelon, the nation's largest power generator, said: "[S]ome of our colleagues in the industry have argued that ... EPA is moving too quickly, and that Americans must confront a choice between protecting the environment for our children, on the one hand, and affordable and reliable electricity, on the other. ... The industry data developed over the last six months demonstrates that their doomsday predictions are simply not correct. Indeed, this new data released by the nation's grid operators has shown that the industry can immediately begin to control carbon pollution while maintaining electric reliability." [Kathleen Barrón, Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs and Wholesale Market Policy, comment to EPA, 12/1/14]
  • Calpine Director: Rule Would Encourage Use Of Cleaner Energy While “Ensuring The Reliability Of The U.S. Electric Grid.”  The director of Environmental Services at Calpine Corporation, which owns utilities in 18 states, said: “Calpine strongly supports EPA's development of the 'Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units' ... The Proposed Rule would incent the increased utilization of efficient and zero-emission generating resources, while ensuring the reliability of the U.S. electric grid.” [Barbara McBride, Director, Environmental Services comment to EPA, 12/19/14]
  • Iberdola USA CEO: EPA Plan Will Maintain “The Reliability Of The Electric Grid.” The CEO of Iberdola, which owns utilities that provide electricity for approximately five million customers in Maine and New York, said: “The Clean Power Plan encourages the development of compliance options that will allow states to reduce emissions in the most cost effective manner to minimize impacts on electric rates while maintaining the reliability of the electric grid.” [Robert Kump, CEO, comment to EPA, 12/1/14]

And Hundreds Of Utility Executives Have Expressed Support For The Clean Power Plan

Survey: Over 60% Of Utility Executives Support Clean Power Plan Or Think It Should Be “Even More Stringent.” Utility Dive's 2015 “State of the Electric Utility” survey, which surveyed 433 electric utility executives, found that most utilities already plan to transition to natural gas, wind, and utility-scale solar, and that over 60 percent of utility executives support the Clean Power Plan or want the EPA standards to be even stronger:

Most utilities predict they will increase the amount of natural gas, wind, and utility-scale solar in their fuel mix over the next 20 years. A whopping 84% of utilities predict that distributed energy resources will also increase as part of their overall fuel mix.

The industry's bullish take on natural gas, energy efficiency, and renewables likely stems from the Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30% nationwide by 2030.

In what is one of the biggest surprises in Utility Dive's State of the Electric Utility survey, utility executives do not oppose the Clean Power Plan in great numbers. In fact, over 60% think the emissions regulations are acceptable as is -- or should be even more stringent. [Utility Dive, 2015 State of the Electric Utility Survey Results, 1/27/15]

WSJ Cherry-Picked NY Company To Make Reliability Concerns Appear Universal

WSJ Highlighted New York Independent Systems Operators' Criticism Of The Clean Power Plan. In its editorial, The Wall Street Journal cited criticism of the Clean Power Plan by the New York Independent Systems Operator (NYISO), the not-for-profit company responsible for the city's transmission and power generators. The Journal quoted NYISO's claim that the EPA's proposed emissions reductions “cannot be sustained while maintaining reliable electric service”:

[T]he New York Independent Systems Operator now reports that the EPA's reductions “cannot be sustained while maintaining reliable electric service to New York City.” It calls the plan “inherently unreasonable” that “no amount of flexibility can fix.” This is not Texas talking. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/10/15]

But NY Public Service Commission Chair And Other Top Officials Disagree With NYISO's Assessment. In a comment letter to the EPA, the heads of New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation, Public Service Commission, and State Energy Research and Development Authority, along with top officials from other RGGI states, said that RGGI has proven that states can apply the Clean Power Plan's core strategies to substantially reduce carbon emissions while “maintaining grid reliability.” [Comment to EPA, 11/5/14]

NRDC Senior Attorney: NYISO Assessment Based On Incorrect Assumptions, Fails To Account For CPP's Flexibility. According to John Moore, Senior Attorney at the National Resources Defense Council, the NYISO reached “erroneous conclusions” about the CPP because it failed to take into account the wide range of options the state can take to meet reduction targets such as joining a regional trading group or improving energy efficiency:  

[NYISO] misunderstood how the Clean Power Plan works and applied the wrong assumptions to reach its erroneous conclusions. It didn't assume that New York could be part of a regional trading group to do regional emissions trading. It didn't take into account new generation. That could be in energy efficiency, that could be developed over the fifteen years of the Clean Power Plan compliance period. It was very overly conservative about the potential for new wind and energy efficiency and solar. So in other words, it misapplied the Clean Power Plan requirements to New York State's grid. That's why we've got [New York Public Service] Commissioner Zibelman and others saying that those predictions are based on faulty assumptions. [Phone Interview with Media Matters, 4/10/15]

Moore added that the NYISO focused on the potential to shut down the city's dual-fuel power plants, but failed to account for the flexibility that allows states to find alternative means of achieving their targets:  

[The CPP] doesn't actually require any single power plant to close. States are free, depending on their circumstances, to develop whatever compliance mechanisms they need to develop alone or with other states to protect reliability and make the Clean Power Plan affordable. So the Clean Power Plan's compliance flexibility protects reliability.


So if certain plants in the New York City region are needed to continue to operate for reliability reasons, fine, you ramp down other plants elsewhere in the state or you purchase carbon allowances to cover the need of operation. Most of those plants aren't run very much anyway, so they're not going to be putting out exceptionally high levels  -- high carbon pollution levels -- anyway. So there are ways to work around it, that's one of the flexibilities of the plan. It allows states to either alone or in combination with other states develop a market-based mechanism. Something you'd think that the Wall Street Journal would support, by the way.


Essentially, what we are finding in those grid operator studies that are the more alarmist of the studies, the major issue is that they fail to apply the flexibility of the Clean Power Plan to their modeling in coming up with these types of results. [Phone Interview with Media Matters, 4/10/15]

New York Is Already Making A Shift Towards Cleaner Energy. Moore added that the NYISO also failed to account for New York's Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, which aims to “promote more efficient use of energy, deeper penetration of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, wider deployment of  'distributed' energy resources, such as micro grids, on-site power supplies, and storage.” [New York State Department of Public Service, accessed on 4/13/15]