Michigan carbon emissions to decrease under Clean Power Plan

By: Kevin Bunch | C&G Newspapers | Published August 16, 2015


METRO DETROIT — President Barack Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan on Aug. 3, tasking the Environmental Protection Agency with setting goals for carbon emission reduction from power plants and leaving the states to figure out how to reach those targets.

With the reductions, the president hopes to slow carbon pollution into the atmosphere and reduce the severity of global warming in the long term.

“Levels of carbon dioxide, which heats up our atmosphere, are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years; 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record,” Obama said during a press conference. “And we’ve been setting a lot of records in terms of warmest years over the last decade. One year doesn’t make a trend, but 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have fallen within the first 15 years of this century.”

Obama said that while the U.S. has made major strides on carbon pollution over the past few years thanks to greater fuel economy in cars, a greater mix of renewable energy sources, and coal’s gradual decline as an energy source in favor of natural gas and renewables, more work needs to be done. With power plants accounting for a third of the nation’s carbon emissions, he said putting limits on how much carbon they can emit is a next step.

“As one of America’s governors has said, ‘We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,’” Obama said. “That’s why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.”

Under the Clean Power Plan, states can use either a goal of emission rates per megawatt hour or by the mass of their carbon emissions per year, measured in short tons. As of 2012, the EPA reported that Michigan had carbon dioxide rate emissions of 1,928 pounds per megawatt hour, or roughly 69,860,454 short tons a year.

Both of those numbers are expected to drop by 2020, before the Clean Power Plan goes into force. The EPA projects Michigan’s emission rate to fall to 1,588 pounds by that time, or 54,837,037 short tons of carbon.

The EPA has set Michigan’s goal as being either an emission rate of 1,169 pounds, or an annual emission mass of 47,544,064 short tons. The EPA considers Michigan’s goals to be moderate ones that the state should be able to achieve gradually.

Skiles Boyd, vice president of DTE Energy’s environmental management and resources division, said in a statement that his company would be working alongside state leaders and stakeholders to come up with a plan in consumers’ best interests.

“Over the next 15 years, DTE Energy and other utilities across the state will retire 60 percent of today’s coal-fired generation due to the Clean Power Plan, other environmental regulations and the age of our plants,” Boyd said in the statement. “The Clean Power Plan will drive a transition of our generation fleet to a lower carbon-emitting fleet, including renewables and cleaner natural-gas-based generation. Some of the fleet transition would occur regardless of the rule.”

The three major ways the EPA lists that states can take to reduce emissions is to replace coal-burning plants with natural gas ones, improve the efficiency of coal-burning plants, and add more zero-emission power sources like wind and solar power.

States can also “trade” emissions to each other to meet the overall national goal of reducing power plant emissions by a third compared to 2005 levels.

The Michigan Agency for Energy issued a statement that it — alongside other state agencies like the Department of Environmental Quality and the Public Service Commission — currently is reviewing the new EPA rules and hopes to complete that task by Labor Day. Executive Director Valerie Brader said that in the interim, the agency also will be discussing the rules with legislators and stakeholders for creating an energy future that is “adaptable, affordable, reliable and environmentally protective.”

“If, after this multi-agency review, we believe it is likely Michigan can find a reasonable path to compliance, we will engage a wide range of stakeholders and offer the public a chance to participate in the development of that plan,” Brader said in her statement.

Gov. Rick Snyder put forth his own energy proposal for Michigan in March that said that even without this EPA rule, the state’s energy mix would be moving away from coal due to aging plants and regulations. He said between 30 and 40 percent of the state’s power could come from renewables and energy waste reductions by 2025.

The federal plan does have higher-end goals for states that have not already started to reduce emissions; Ohio nearly doubled Michigan’s annual emissions in short tons in 2012 — emitting more than 100 million tons — and if that state uses the annual mass of emissions as its goal, it would still end up with about 70 million tons per year. That is still a larger gap than Michigan’s goal.

Not everyone is a fan of the final draft. Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, declared his opposition to the new rules, claiming that they will cause the price of electricity to increase and put jobs at risk.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon called the Clean Power Plan “the most important public health initiative in decades” and said that Michigan should not spend time fighting the rules.

Boyd said that DTE Energy is estimating that the company will spend $8 billion over the next 15 years to reach Michigan’s energy goal. The company has already spent $2 billion investing in renewable energy since 2008, he said.

EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe said in an EPA website post that state goals are based on the “performance rate” for coal and natural gas weighted against that specific state’s number of coal and gas power plants.

“Because some states’ power plant fleet includes more coal plants, some states’ 2030 goals appear more stringent than others,” McCabe wrote in the post. “Some states have adopted policies or seen changes in their energy markets that have already put them on a path to lower emissions in 2030. These states’ reduction requirements are relatively smaller.”

Obama said in his remarks that the EPA anticipates that the average American would see an average annual savings of $85 on their energy bill. He called complaints about the potential impact on business “scaremongering tactics.”