Energy exec says understanding new EPA rules ‘another level of hell’

by The City Wire staff ( 9 views 

A representative of the state’s largest electric utility on Wednesday compared the Environmental Protection Agency’s new far-reaching guidelines to reduce carbon emissions in Arkansas to Dante’s journey through hell in the epic Divine Comedy poem.

“This (EPA) rule is another level of hell, and I am talking about just trying to understand it,” joked Chuck Barlow, vice president of environmental policy and strategy for New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

Barlow made his humorous yet serious comments at the first meeting between nearly 20 stakeholder groups and state regulators from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Public Service Commission since the Obama Administration announced the proposed greenhouse gas guidelines on June 2.

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 supplying the lion’s share of the nation’s electricity needs.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Barlow’s comments stood out during the three-hour roundtable at the ADEQ headquarters where stakeholders began to explore options for complying with the newly proposal EPA regulations. Not only did the Entergy executive cite the complexity of the 645-page proposal, but complained that the EPA has since added an additional 500 pages of regulations to the mandate since announcing it in early June.

Entergy still has a lot of questions about the new EPA rules, Barlow said, and reiterated the utility giant’s previous public statements that the new proposals should be “legally defensible.” He also said that the EPA gives some consideration to utilities that include “nuclear megawatts” in their energy mix.

“We have been saying the same thing since this process started,” Barlow said of Entergy Corp., the parent of Entergy Arkansas. “We are approaching the (EPA) rule with a lot of caution because we are still trying to figure it out.”

Barlow also broached a subject that many stakeholders have said will be the most difficult to resolve — the possible shutdown of several of Arkansas’ older coal-fired power plants. “Let’s not pretend, we are talking about shutting retiring coal plants,” he said.

Coal-fired plants still supply nearly 53% of Arkansas’ electricity demand. As of Feb. 14, Arkansas ranked 29th among the 50 states in the amount of total carbon dioxide or “dirty air” emissions with 67 million metric tons. By comparison, Texas is ranked first with 656 metric tons of carbon emissions, while Vermont and the District of Columbia have the lowest emissions at three and six million metric tons.

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 one percent of the state’s power.

Besides Barlow, other stakeholder representatives at the meeting took a more positive approach to the proposed EPA regulations. Walter Bryant, division vice president of regional operations for CenterPoint Energy Inc., said the Houston-based natural gas utility sees the new rules as a chance for Arkansas to improve and diversify its electric generation and distribution system.

“Going forward, it is really important that we have a good mix,” said Centerpoint’s top Arkansas executive. “I have never been one to put all our eggs in one basket. We have a lot of natural gas in Arkansas and we ought to use it.”

Colette Honorable, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, told the stakeholders attending the meeting that she looked forward to working through the process and coming up with a solution that will benefit all Arkansas ratepayers.

“We have some thoughts about what we would like to see going forward,” Honorable said. “But we are glad to hear from stakeholders and get your input.”

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 in the process of preparing the necessary paperwork to seek the assistance of a meeting facilitator for future stakeholder meetings.

Also, the public comment period on the EPA docket began June 18 and must be received by federal regulators on or before Oct. 16, 2014.