A plan proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut carbon emissions from power plants, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, is poised to go into effect next year, and could bring a welcome change to the way electricity is generated in the country. The plan is intended to cut the overall carbon pollution from the U.S. electricity sector by 30% below the levels of 2005 over the next 15 years.
First proposed in June of 2014, the Clean Power Plan is described as a "commonsense" approach to cleaner power in the U.S., and is meant to keep the country's energy system affordable and reliable, while at the same time cutting back on the amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and pollution being released into the atmosphere in order to protect both human health and the environment. Some (namely the coal industry) call it a war on coal, while others are in support of the proposals as being integral in the fight against climate change.
The plan, which aims to drastically cut CO2 emissions from existing power plants fueled by fossil fuels, has come under fire from states that are primarily reliant on coal-fired power plants, saying the regulations will "kill jobs and lead to higher electricity costs for consumers." This flies in the face of what the Union of Concerned Scientists states, which is that those states have already closed (or are planning to close) dirty coal plants and enacted clean energy initiatives that work toward the Clean Power Plan goals.
According to Climate Central, based on an analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are four major ways that the Clean Power Plan will change the way electricity is generated in the U.S. The first is that we will see increasing diversity in the sources of electricity, moving away from the predominant use of coal and toward more natural gas, solar, and wind energy. The energy mix ratio will vary depending on the individual states, based upon the feasibility of the different cleaner energy sources available to them.
The second effect of the Clean Power Plan will be to greatly curtail the use of coal for electricity generation, away from the figures of the year 2000, when coal generated more than half of the electricity in the U.S., to a much more conservative 26% of the nation's electricity by 2040.
The third way that the Clean Power Plan will change the U.S. electricity sector is the expected rapid growth of renewables such as solar and wind energy, which could grow to meet 25% of the country's electricity generation by 2030, up from about 14% today, only 6% of which is solar and wind (hydropower makes up the other 9%).
The fourth influence of the plan will be to reduce the amount of electricity coming from nuclear plants, down to about 16% by 2040 from the current 20%. While there will still be a few new nuclear plants to begin operating in the next several years (the first new nuclear plants to go online in about three decades), the overall amount of electricity generated by nuclear plants is expected to drop slightly, partly because of the addition of renewable energy and natural gas power plants.
Image by Roland Peschetz (some rights reserved)