More than two dozen stakeholders in Arkansas electricity found some common ground Friday on what to consider in a state strategy for implementing the federal Clean Power Plan, but the impact on consumers remains unknown.
The Clean Power Plan is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule finalized and released Aug. 3. It mandates reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, particularly coal plants.
Nationally, power plants must reduce carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 emission levels. In Arkansas, that percentage is 36 -- lower than the 45 percent initially proposed by the EPA.
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality officials expect to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as much as 12.7 percent by 2020 without any Clean Power Plan-related controls.
The department, the Arkansas Public Service Commission and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission are hosting meetings every two months across the state among 26 different groups identified as stakeholders to help determine a state plan for reducing carbon emissions.
Friday's meeting was largely preliminary, establishing the stakeholder group's process and individual members' priorities.
"We don't have the answers," said Becky Keogh, Department of Environmental Quality director. "We just have questions right now."
The stakeholder process will consist of additional subgroups that will come up with recommendations and ideas for implementing the Clean Power Plan the state Department of Environmental Quality will consider going forward.
"Right now, this is a think tank," said Stuart Spencer, chief of the air division for the Department of Environmental Quality.
Before submitting a plan, the department must work with the Public Service Commission and the Economic Development Commission to compile reports assessing the environmental, ratepayer and economic impacts of the plan in accordance with Act 382 of 2015. That law mandated the state plan's approval by the governor or the Arkansas Legislative Council.
The state has until Sept. 6, 2016, to submit a state method for implementing the plan or to ask the EPA to extend that deadline to 2018. Most stakeholders at Friday's meeting asked the state hold off on a plan until 2018.
States must meet interim goals by 2022 and final goals by 2030.
Proponents of the rule argue it will help mitigate climate change and improve public health and the environment.
Glen Hooks, director of the Sierra Club in Arkansas, asked his colleagues on the stakeholder group consider public health and environmental improvements, along with the creation of jobs related to renewable energy projects, when determining the state plan's impact on consumers.
Other stakeholders contended that ratepayers' bills should be the foremost concern of the group.
The Clean Power Plan encourages increased use of natural gas and renewable sources in electricity generation and discourages the building of new, cleaner coal plants to supplement existing power plants.
Opponents of the rule say provisions within it exceed the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge joined other attorneys general in a lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan, which argues the EPA can regulate only emissions, not emissions sources.
At the beginning of Friday's meeting, Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas told the stakeholders he believed the process also needs to take into consideration advancements in technology.
"The utility business is changing rapidly," he said. He said energy-efficiency projects, electricity storage and the use of smart meters in electricity consumption should be considered.
Thomas argued the state needs to remove barriers concerning the electricity market, allowing the group's decisions to be made from a purely economic standpoint.
Most members of the utility, industry, environmental, economic and consumer groups agreed that energy efficiency should be a focus of their discussions, along with the cost to ratepayers. Energy-efficiency projects would reduce the amount of electricity needed by consumers, reducing costs and potentially carbon emissions over time.
Utilities also anticipate changes to current power plants and future investments in natural gas and renewable energy sources, based on regulations and current prices.
In response to a separate Clean Air Act provision, Entergy Arkansas has already proposed closing its 1,700-megawatt White Bluff coal plant near Redfield and replacing it with natural gas, solar and/or wind power.
Stakeholders on Friday said they hoped that proposal and any decision resulting from it would be considered during the state's Clean Power Plan process.
Also Friday, most stakeholders said they so far believed the state should pursue an approach to reducing emissions that would allow the trading of credits between facilities emitting too much carbon dioxide and those that are under their carbon dioxide allowances. Those trades could occur across state lines.
NW News on 10/12/2015