Carbon Reductions Cheaper When States Collaborate, Analysis Shows

Power Source

By Anya Litvak

Meeting federal carbon emission targets will be a lot cheaper if Pennsylvania teams up with other states, a new analysis by the nation’s largest grid operator found.

PJM Interconnection — the Valley Forge, Pa., organization that manages the flow of electricity in 13 northeastern states and the District of Columbia — released preliminary results of the study showing how much it would cost its constituent states to comply with the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year.

The EPA standards aim to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. States get to decide how they want to meet their individual targets and whether they would do it independently or as part of a regional cluster.

PJM’s analysis suggests the latter approach might be the way to go.

“The really big lesson out of this is taking some form of regional approach is likely to be much more cost-effective,” said Rob Altenburg, senior energy analyst with PennFuture, a Pennsylvania environmental advocacy nonprofit.

The upcoming crew change in Harrisburg will play a role in whether that happens. Gov.-elect Tom Wolf said during his campaign that he would have Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon dioxide budget trading program among nine New England states.

Initially, Pennsylvania was supposed to be part of the group but it stepped back to an “observer” status after concerns that it would face a disproportionate burden because of its heavy reliance on coal for power generation, Mr. Altenburg said.

Under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Pennsylvania’s carbon emission reduction target is a 32 percent drop from 2012 levels.

But with all the coal plant retirements announced between 2012 and now, the state will already be below its 2020 target without moving an extra muscle, PJM’s review showed.

From there, it may only need another 6 percent or so to meet the 2030 goal.

The cost of making that goal will depend on whether Pennsylvania joins hands with neighboring states. “There’s a reason why we have regional dispatch, regional planning — we get economies of scale,” said Paul Sotkiewicz, chief economist at PJM.

“State-by-state compliance ends up being more expensive and leads to more units at risk [of retirement],” he said.

PJM is also in the middle of a separate study analyzing how meeting the proposed EPA targets would impact reliability on the power grid supplying homes and businesses. It expects to be done with that by early December.

The EPA’s extended comment period on the Clean Power Plan ends Dec. 1.

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