A cottage industry that grew up around U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan now must rethink how to be useful to states and companies still looking to cut power-sector carbon emissions.
Think tanks and other groups around the country for the past few years have convened officials and run modeling looking at how states could comply with the federal climate standards.
As the Clean Power Plan dies a slow death under the Trump administration, those organizers turn their focus to the contemporary questions states face as they navigate a still-changing electricity system.
Tim Profeta, director Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said his group's work "on climate policy and clean energy extends beyond a single policy."
"Ultimately, power sector planning does not occur in four- or even eight-year increments," he said.
Profeta's institute will continue to work with states on a host of challenges, including potential nuclear plant closures, issues integrating renewable power and general planning while the details of federal climate policy remain largely uncertain.
He said unprecedented analysis and engagement under the Clean Power Plan advanced the dialogue on climate and energy issues and promoted peer learning across state borders. That means officials better understand the electricity system, trends affecting it and ways to keep the grid reliable, he said.
Another organization, the Minnesota-based Great Plains Institute, had worked with the Nicholas Institute and states within the PJM grid region, as well as the Bipartisan Policy Center and states that are part of the Midcontinent States Environmental and Energy Regulators (MSEER) group.
Those groups didn't take a position on the rule but instead focused on how to comply with it if it moved forward. That meant states for and against the Clean Power Plan were able to participate, said Doug Scott, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Great Plains Institute.
The process brought together states with differing opinions, helped environmental and energy regulators work together often for the first time and let policymakers look at power-sector issues through a regional lens, Scott said.
"The modeling work that was done in conjunction with the groups provided state regulators with a great deal of information about their state and region, and how a variety of energy trends and policies (not just the CPP) impact their state and region," Scott said. "All of this information will serve the states as they approach energy/environmental issues going forward."
Scott said the various regional groups will continue, focusing on energy trends and issues that may affect their states and regions, rather than one specific regulation.
Grid groups foresee more decarbonization
Regional grid organizations will still be helping states crunch the numbers for that work.
"As far as CPP, we don't have a position on it as it is not our role," said Paula DuPont, spokeswoman for the PJM Interconnection, the nation's largest grid operator.
At the request of regulators in the states it serves, PJM's role was to "provide them with independent, neutral information," she said.
"We're always ready to assist states in the region with independent information analysis about electric reliability and wholesale electricity markets," she said.
In September, for example, PJM produced an analysis that found that power plants in its jurisdiction could comply without spiking electricity costs.
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator said it will continue to monitor the external landscape and decisions that might affect the region.
A MISO spokesman emphasized that economics play a major role in which fuels are used to generate electricity.
"Over the past eight years, MISO's generation fleet evolved from a primarily coal-based fleet to a more balanced mix of coal, natural gas, and renewables," said Jay Hermacinski, a corporate communications officer for MISO. "We expect that trend to continue regardless of how the Administration moves on the CPP.
"It comes down to economics. With natural gas prices as low as they are, it may be difficult for coal to survive," he said.
Ken Colburn, a former state air regulator with the Regulatory Assistance Project, said, "If anything, the Clean Power Plan is not the cause" of changes sweeping the power markets.
"What you're already seeing is a power sector transformation operating in such a way that it's actually cleaning up the grid anyway," a phenomenon that appears to be occurring "even earlier that we expected," he said.
Meanwhile, Northeastern states continue to debate what level of carbon emissions reductions to pursue within the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state, cap-and-trade program.
Those states today postponed a webinar planned for tomorrow as part of an ongoing program review. RGGI had been considering how to tweak its program to comply with the Clean Power Plan, although it was already poised to meet the mandated carbon levels.
Laurie Burt, a former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection who has been working on analyses about RGGI states and companies, said RGGI has never done its work in a bubble and will keep looking at what other states may or may not pursue.
"I think the Clean Power Plan was able to give a wonderful backlight to what states were discussing anyway," Burt said. "All states face these same issues. It's just not an East Coast/West Coast thing."
Chris Van Atten, a senior vice president for the firm M.J. Bradley & Associates, helped provide states and utilities with a tool for calculating how to reach Clean Power Plan goals.
He said states will continue to consider future supply options, despite the change in administration, and they will need power-sector analysis to make those evaluations.
This week, the Senate votes on the nomination of former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to run the State Department. On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head EPA (E&E News PM, Jan. 27).
In case you missed it
- Even before the final death knell, the Clean Power Plan is history (Climatewire, Jan. 24).
- Air regulators in Minnesota, one of the few states still planning for the Clean Power Plan, signaled a stakeholder meeting in February will likely be their last (Climatewire, Jan. 26).
- Across the Midwest, clean energy advocates vow to continue their push under Trump (Energywire, Jan. 23).
- In responses to senators, Pruitt questioned the impacts of global warming (Climatewire, Jan. 26).
- Pruitt also acknowledged to senators that he raised money for a super political action committee that has raked in big-dollar contributions from coal, oil and gas interests (Energywire, Jan. 27).
- Pruitt sought to kill a Clean Line power line project from Oklahoma to Tennessee (Energywire, Jan. 27).