Proposed Repeal of Clean Power Plan Triggers Debate About Energy Reliability

State & Regional

Supporters of the coal industry in Texas are praising the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which was part of the Obama Administration’s goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

“What that actually meant in effect was it was going to put coal-powered plants basically out of business,” Drew White, senior federal policy analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said. “If you’re a Texan and you enjoy reliable, safe energy, the rescinding of the Clean Power Plan is going to keep that in place.”

White said the promise of coal is that it can be stored.

“You can store it up to 30, 60 or 90 days,” he said. “Coal-powered plants are able to have reserves on site to get energy and power back up.”

However, advocates for curbing climate change in Texas, like Luke Metzger with Environment Texas, argue new technology is increasing ways renewable energy can be stored as well.

“As we’re moving forward to a point where we’re getting more and more clean energy online, we will need more storage of electricity,” he said. “In fact, there have been major advances in battery technology to make it even more cost effective to store that energy until we need it.”

Texas energy use (KXAN Photo)
Texas energy use (Nexstar Photo)

Metzger says the state has about 40 megawatts of battery storage. He calls the EPA’s announcement “a big step backwards.”

“It’s really a missed opportunity both in terms of selling cleaner energy and in terms of public health impacts,” he said.

However, experts at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin said the debate over reliability of energy goes well beyond storage.

Michael Webber, deputy director at the Energy Institute, said fuel and technology options are at the mercy of weather or logistical situations. Webber also noted one of the challenges facing the coal industry is that it’s cheaper to use natural gas.

An analysis by the Rhodium Group also notes “different states have different power fleets, different energy markets and different policy regimes.”

“Under our scenarios, we find that at most, with the highest renewable energy and natural gas prices analyzed, 21 states would have had to do more to comply with the CPP than what they were already on track to achieve in absence of the rule,” analysts at the Rhodium Group wrote.

The analysis put Texas as one of the top five states.

In another note, analysts stated “of all the major power disruptions, nationwide over the past five years, only 0.0007 percent were due to fuel supply problems.” Data cited in the note show more than 90 percent of customer-hours disrupted each year between 2012-16 was due to severe weather.

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which represents a majority of the state, in 2016, nearly half of the energy used came from natural-gas fired plants. More than a quarter came from coal-fired plants, with 15 percent of energy use coming from wind.

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