EPA's emissions plan could hurt Texas power supply, ERCOT claims

A decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to curtail emissions from coal-fired power plants starting Jan. 1 could jeopardize adequate supplies of electricity in Texas, the head of the state's power grid said Tuesday.

Noting that coal plants generated 40 percent of the state's power last year, Trip Doggett, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said in a statement that the mandated cut in emissions "is unreasonable because it does not allow enough time to implement operational responses to ensure reliability."

Doggett said that while ERCOT does not advocate for or against public policy, "it is our role to voice our concern that Texas could face a shortage of generation necessary to keep the lights on in Texas within a few years" if the EPA plan goes into effect as written.

The EPA's new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which applies to 27 states, aims to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog, soot and acid rain. It was issued July 7.

In response, EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement that "Texas power plants will be able to cut their pollution without jeopardizing reliable electricity service for Texans." She said 42 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions covered by the new rule comes from three plants that together account for 13 percent of the state's electricity generation.

"The balance of Texas power generation is already relatively clean and will not face a heavy compliance burden under this rule," McCarthy's statement said.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, of Public Citizen, said ERCOT "is blowing smoke" with its warning.

Smith said the EPA ruling is just one in a string of federal decisions cracking down on coal emissions, and he predicted that it will likely result in an extension of the deadline in exchange for power generators' agreements to cut emissions by installing pollution-control equipment or retiring their worst polluters. He said that has already happened in Oklahoma.

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