story by Wesley Brown
A Washington, D.C.-based energy efficiency advocate told Arkansas regulators and others on Thursday that the state could see huge economic growth, save billions of dollars in power costs and create thousands of new jobs by reducing demand for electricity from the nation’s power grid.
“Arkansas must adopt as much of an energy efficiency policy as possible, which will allow you to manage future costs of electricity in the state,” said Neal Elliott, associate director of research for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “It just makes good economic sense for the state.”
Elliott was the guest speaker at a luncheon sponsored by the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation (AAEF) at Heifer Village in downtown Little Rock. Elliott told the overflow crowd that Arkansas has a great opportunity to use energy efficiency policies to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently proposed guidelines to cut so-called dirty air emissions at coal-fired power plants.
Elliott’s comments also served as a backdrop to the second meeting later this month between nearly 20 stakeholder groups and state regulators from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) to discuss the EPA’s proposed rules. In fact, many of the attendees at the AAEF luncheon included state regulators and stakeholders who will take part in the Aug. 28 meeting at the ADEQ headquarters.
The PSC and ADEQ have been tasked by Gov. Mike Beebe to oversee the process of developing new rules to meet the EPA mandate in Arkansas. ADEQ is currently in the process of preparing the necessary paperwork to seek the assistance of a meeting facilitator for future stakeholder meetings.
President Obama’s proposal, called the Clean Power Plan, mandates a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 2030 from 2005 levels, mainly targeting the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired plants that currently supply the lion’s share of the nation’s electricity needs. The public comment period on the EPA docket began June 18 and must be received by federal regulators on or before Oct. 16, 2014.
Overall, coal-fired power represents 44.5% of Arkansas’ annual net electric generation. Natural gas-fired generation is second at 23.2% and nuclear energy is next at 19.4%. Renewable energy generates about 6.4% of the state’s power needs, and hydroelectric fills the remaining 5.4% of the state’s electric capacity. Petroleum-fired fuel, once a staple for heating oil, now generates less than 1% of the state’s power.
The EPA target for the state of Arkansas is a 47% reduction in carbon emissions. Elliott said Arkansas can meet 40% of that goal if it adopts a plan that includes energy efficiency measures.
“But you shouldn’t wait to see what the EPA will do,” he warned.
Nationwide, Elliott said energy efficiency policies and programs already in use in other states are projected to reduce electricity demand by 25% or more, and cut carbon emissions by 26%. In a best-case scenario where the nation invests $47 billion in energy efficiency policies by 2030, the net benefit would include a $17.2 billion increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the addition of more than 611,000 new jobs, he said.
In Arkansas, Elliott said the state would see the addition of nearly 5,000 new jobs by 2030, an increase of $446 million in Gross State Product (GSP), and total energy savings of $3.8 billion. Currently, only half of the state’s electricity power load is covered by energy efficiency programs.
“You need to start doing something now,” Elliott said. “It can contribute to economic growth in Arkansas because it will keep energy dollars local.”
The Washington, D.C.-based researcher closed his hour-long presentation by challenging Arkansas regulators and energy stakeholders to take a long look at adopting energy efficiency policies as part of the state’s discussion to comply with the EPA guidelines to cut carbon emissions.
“It will minimize the cost of compliance, reduce energy bills for all customers and grow the economy and create jobs,” he said. “Energy efficiency makes sense even without the EPA climate rules.”