Texas Reliability Watchdogs Bash EPA’s “Impossible” and “Unprecedented” Timeline for Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

by William Yeatman on September 8, 2011

in Blog, Features

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In a previous post, I explained how the Environmental Protection Agency seems to have designed the recently finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to be uniquely onerous for Texas. I wrote,

Texas was excluded from the proposed [Cross-State] rule. In the final rule, however, Texas was included, due to the supposed need to slightly reduce emissions as monitored 500 miles away in Madison County, Ill.—a locale that meets the EPA air-quality standards in question. The EPA ordered the Lone Star State to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions 47 % within 6 months, despite the fact that it takes 3 years to install sulfur “scrubber” retrofits on coal-fired power plants.

Luminant, the largest merchant power producer in Texas, called the EPA’s timeline “unprecedented” and “impossible.” It suggested that the only way to achieve the reductions, and thereby avoid costly penalties, would be to shut down power production.

Luminant’s warning alarmed officials in Texas, which has been plagued by reliability concerns for the past few months. Due to the fact that there is barely enough power as is to accommodate existing demand, the potential loss of large electricity generating units due to the EPA’s regulatory fiat troubled state regulators tasked with keeping the lights on.

In order to better understand the possible reliability ramifications of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the Texas Public Utilities Commission asked the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT), a non-partisan, independent entity responsible for electricity infrastructure in the State, to investigate. On September 1, the Public Utilities Commission published the report (available here), and it is sobering.

According to each of the three scenarios considered by ERCOT, Texas would lose 1,200 megawatts to 1,400 megawatts of power during peak power months (i.e., the summer, when people use energy-intensive air conditioning). Regarding the most conservative scenario that it considered, ERCOT noted that, “had the [Cross-State Air Pollution Rule] taken effect in 2011 instead of 2012, ERCOT would have experienced rotating outages during days in August.”

ERCOT further intimated that such a power loss is inevitable. It wrote,

The implementation timeline [for the Cross State Air Pollution Rule] provides ERCOT an extremely truncated period in which to assess the reliability impacts of the rule, and no realistic opportunity to take steps that could even partially mitigate the substantial losses of available operating capacity described in the scenarios examined in this report. In short the [Cross-State Air Pollution Rule] implementation date does not provide ERCOT and its resource owners a meaningful window for taking steps to avoid the loss of thousands of megawatts of capacity and the attendant risks of outages for Texas power users.

And for what? Sadly, the EPA seems to have risked turning out the lights in Texas in order to settle petty political scores. As I explained in a previous blog,

The EPA’s treatment of Texas smacks of payback. Remember, Texas is one of three states (the other two are Virginia and Alabama) suing the EPA over its decision to regulate greenhouse gases. The EPA and Texas also have butted heads over permitting authority. Most conspicuously, Texas Governor Rick Perry was re-elected in 2010 on an anti-Inside-the-Beltway platform; he would frequently bash the EPA in his stump speeches. In light of this contentious recent history, I wonder whether the EPA is using the Cross-State Rule to settle scores.

Round Rock Electricity September 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Certainly “someone” is going to wake up and this order will be put to rest for now. It’s been a pretty tough summer in Texas with respect to electricity usage as it is now. We certainly would have been in a big mess with plants offline. But, hey,.. is THAT the plan? Force plants offline, let blackouts occur, then let the left-leaning folks ROAR that de-regulation is the cause… Hmmm..

BobRGeologist September 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm

The first thing we must do to preserve our energy dependent western civilization is to defund the EPA. These stupid people desire to curtail CO2 and other greenhouse gases as a pollutant in our air are so far off base scientifically it would be hilareous if it were not so dangerous. I have been stressing the geologic fact that we are still in an INTERGLACIAL PERIOD. The fifth respite from 100,000 year ice ages which have ravaged our Northern Hemisphere with glaciers as much as 2 miles in thickness, as far south as the 40th parallel of latitude. To illistrate the power of these juggernaughts
there was a quarry several miles west of Springfield, Illinois in a huge block of limestone sheared off a hilltop many miles to the north by the 4th glacial stage, the
“Illinoian.” Our planet has warmed only 4 deg C as measured in our tropics from what it was during the last glacial maximum 23,000 years ago. The facts controlling our climate are that our sun is so variable in output due to cosmos related factors that we are dependent on a robust greenhouse gas to keep our planet from becoming an ice ball, an event that occurred twice early in Earth’s history. Now I ask where is the logic in keeping our planet cool enough to retain ice in our polar regions when there is the probability for an eventual return of another ice age?

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