No need for EPA’s Clean Power Plan

The 1,534Mw Sandow Station coal-fired electric power plant in Rockdale, Texas. Credit/author

Austin, October 21, 2014 — According to a government report released today, despite a 2.5 percent increase in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2013, the United States is on track to achieve the Administration’s goal for reducing CO2 emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, without approving the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan.

The annual “U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions” report for 2013 was released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The United States has reduced CO2 emissions by 10 percent since 2005. At the current pace the U.S. will reduce CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2029, one year ahead of the EPA’s proposed plan.

There is no need for a government mandated plan that will drive up electric rates for the average family when the proposed goal is already being met by the private sector.

U.S. carbon dioxide emission reductions

Despite a increase in 2013, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined 10 percent since 2005. Credit/EIA

Today’s report says an increase of 2.5 percent in overall CO2 emissions last year was “largely the result of colder weather leading to an increase in energy intensity”. The polar vortex and cold winter increased the number of heating degree days by 18.5 percent in 2013.

In addition to that, the price of natural gas to electric generators rose nearly $1 per million Btu (MMBtu) from $3.54/MMBtu in 2012 to $4.49/MMBtu in 2013. The cost of delivered coal declined slightly in 2013. That led to using more coal which increased CO2 emissions.

The sharp reduction of CO2 in 2009 was due to the recession. However, CO2 has decreased further below 2009 levels even though GDP has grown above its pre-recession level.

A commonly held misconception is “decarbonization” is a brand new concept and it’s something that countries need to pursue, but are not doing so now. Decarbonization simply means to remove carbon. Decarbonization, contrary to popular belief, has already been happening in a big way for over 100 years.

The most important form of decarbonization is reducing the amount of CO2-generating energy needed to power an economy. In other words, produce the same amount of goods and services with fewer carbon emissions.

According to today’s EIA report, in the last 65 years the United States has reduced the amount of CO2 emissions needed to produce $1 million worth of GDP, adjusted for inflation, from 1,099 metric tons to just 343 metric tons. That’s a whopping 69 percent drop since 1949!

In the $16 trillion dollar U.S. economy it amounts to 21 billion metric tons of decarbonization savings in 2013 alone. That’s about 22 times more than the 954 million metric tons promised in the Clean Power Plan by the year 2030.

Today’s report also includes this revealing graph. It shows the amount of real carbon dioxide emission reductions since 2005, shown in millions of metric tons.

What’s special is that it’s broken down into two reduction categories:

  1. “less carbon intensive fossil fuels”
  2. “non-carbon sources” like wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric

‘Less carbon intensive fossil fuels’ just means replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas ones. Plentiful natural gas is made possible because of the hydraulic fracturing revolution.

Since 2005 there has been 1,606 million metric tons of real carbon dioxide emission reductions. Natural gas has been responsible for 1,002 million of the total. That’s 62 percent of the savings.

Since 2005, non-carbon sources have actually lost ground to natural gas in the race to reduce CO2 emissions. And that is not even considering that nuclear and most hydroelectric are not considered renewable sources by federal and state governments.

Conclusions

The newest energy-related carbon dioxide emissions report released today by the EIA provides many insights into the current state of CO2 emissions in the United States.

As it turns out, the United States is already well on its way to meeting the goals of the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan without the plan. CO2 emissions are already 10 percent below 2005 levels and on schedule to meet the EPA’s proposed standard a year ahead of time.

Even without the Clean Power Plan, the EIA estimates that 40-60 Gw of coal-fired electric capacity will be retired between now and 2020. According to the EIA, most of it will be replaced with natural gas. Natural gas has already reduced CO2 emissions more than renewables and at a lower cost to consumers and taxpayers.

The Clean Power Plan, as proposed, will unnecessarily force early closure of hundreds of coal-fired electric power plants. It also forces states to create unique plans to meet mysteriously defined EPA carbon dioxide reduction amounts unique to each state. If states follow EPA’s recommendations, it will unnecessarily raise the electric bills for the average American, perhaps substantially in some states.

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