EPA plan met with opposition

Published 4:06 pm Sunday, August 30, 2015

AHOSKIE – While an effort is welcomed to ensure clean water and clean air for future generations, some believe recently approved rules at the federal level fall short of realizing the economic impact these regulations will have on consumers of electricity.

And perhaps nowhere will that impact be felt more than in rural America, where electric cooperatives operate in some of the most economically disadvantaged areas of the country.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafted a “Clean Power Plan” regulating the emission of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases from existing power plants. Electric cooperatives believe the EPA plan goes well beyond the agency’s legal authority and will have a disproportionate impact on rural co-op consumer-members, raising the cost of electricity and eliminating jobs.

Those economic issues were part of the program when members of Roanoke Electric Cooperative met this past Saturday in Ahoskie for their 77th annual meeting.

Featured on the dais was Julie Barkemeyer, Senior Legislative Affairs representative of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

She noted that on Aug. 3, regulations to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that will dramatically reshape how America generates and uses electricity were finalized by the EPA. Barkemeyer noted that electric cooperatives are local businesses; their employees and directors live in the communities they serve and they care about members at the end of the line who will be footing the bill to comply with these regulations.

“The EPA finalized their plan earlier this month, requiring existing power producing plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent from the levels used in 2005,” Barkemeyer said.  “Unfortunately, these rules are very complicated, and they do not make a significant impact on our climate as well as likely increasing electricity costs for many Americans.

“We understand the importance of clean air and clean water, but we feel a more balanced approach is needed for federal regulations,” she added.

The “bottom line” numbers are staggering, Barkemeyer observed, saying that a 10 percent increase in electricity prices, according to NRECA research, will cost co-op service territory 360,000 jobs annually between 2020 and 2040. The cumulative loss of GDP will reach $1 trillion by 2040.

Jo Ann Emerson, who serves as CEO of the NRECA, went into more detail about the EPA’s plan in a press release sent earlier this month.

“Any increase in the cost of electricity most dramatically impacts those who can least afford it, and the fallout from the EPA’s rule will cascade across the nation for years to come,” she said.

“While we appreciate the efforts intended to help offset the financial burden of rising electricity prices and jobs lost due to prematurely shuttered power plants, the final rule still appears to reflect the fundamental flaws of the original proposal,” Emerson added. “It exceeds the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act, and it will raise electricity rates for our country’s most vulnerable populations while challenging the reliability of the grid.”

The NRECA pointed out that according to the EPA’s own estimate, the rule would prematurely shut down more than one quarter of electric co-ops’ coal-fired generation capacity. The burden of paying off the remaining debt on those plants and paying for electricity from other sources would fall to the member-consumers, not shareholders.

In her Ahoskie presentation, Barkemeyer said co-ops have steadily reduced the environmental impact of their power plants, reducing emissions, adding natural gas and nuclear generation, and developing renewable resources. And co-ops have been engaged in energy efficiency and demand response programs for decades, working to keep consumers’ electricity bills affordable. She mentioned Roanoke Electric’s “Upgrade To Save” program, one designed to perform an energy audit of members’ homes to see if repairs made to the residence are capable of making a significant impact on energy efficiency.

Barkemeyer also thanked the Roanoke Electric members for actively engaging in a grassroots (ACRE) effort to contact the EPA and offer comments about their new rules.

“Co-ops across the nation submitted more than 1.2 million comments to the EPA, urging the rule be withdrawn and substantially changed,” she said. “Roanoke Electric members sent 1,200 of those comments.

“ACRE is bipartisan; it doesn’t consider political affiliation, it works very closely with statewide organizations. What happens in Washington impacts us here at home. ACRE is important in helping us. If you’re not a member of ACRE, I would encourage you to join this grassroots effort that can help co-ops like Roanoke Electric keep affordable energy rates,” Barkemeyer said in closing her presentation.

NRECA, and co-ops across the country, will examine changes made to the Clean Power Plan, and stack those changes up against suggestions made throughout the process. They promise to continue to monitor the EPA’s current actions and encourage electric cooperative members from across the nation, especially those in rural areas, to become involved in ACRE.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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