Arizona sees end to coal by 2020 under Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan has some unrealistic assumptions, including that basically all coal-fired generation would be switched over to gas-fired generation by 2020, said Henry Darwin, Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

The House Energy and Power Subcommittee, which is under the Energy and Commerce Committee, is due to hold a hearing Sept. 9 to get perspectives from several state officials on the CO2-reducing Clean Power Plan, unveiled by EPA in June. Darwin’s written testimony for that hearing was posted to the committee’s website prior to the hearing.

“I must first caveat my remarks by saying that as an environmental lawyer with almost 20 years of experience, I do not believe the Clean Air Act provides EPA with the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as it proposes to do so in its Clean Power Rule,” Darwin wrote. “With that said, I believe it is in the best interest of Arizona to work with EPA to develop a final rule that results in energy reliability, achievable goals, and adequate flexibility.”

Despite EPA’s efforts in drawing up this state-by-state proposal, the Clean Power Plan still presents three key challenges for Arizona, Darwin noted:

  • When compared to baseline levels in 2012, Arizona must achieve almost a 52% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030; this is the second most stringent reduction target in the country.
  • To comply with the interim goal by 2020, more than 75% of Arizona’s total reductions must occur by 2020.
  • The energy needed to deliver Colorado River water to central Arizona is generated on the Navajo Reservation where there is currently no proposed rule or goals.

“By our calculations, switching from coal to natural gas by 2020 is the only ‘building block’ available to Arizona for meeting EPA’s proposed goal,” Darwin wrote. “As we have explained to EPA, this implementation issue is at odds with their stated intent that States be provided flexibility amongst the building blocks in achievingthe goals. Furthermore, committing to achieve over 75 percent of the second most stringent, final goal in the nation by 2020 would be putting Arizona’s energy reliability and public health at risk, which EPA also clearly does not intend by its proposed rule.”

Darwin noted that one issue with basically switching all coal-fired generation to gas-fired plants by 2020 is that many of the state’s gas-fired plants are peakers, not baseload generators. “Arizona has already reached out to EPA to explain how energy flows into and out of Arizona, and that it is most appropriate to consider peak demand when determining whether an existing facility is truly under-utilized. After all, electricity generated at a facility in the winter cannot offset the need for electricity during the peak demands experienced in the middle of the summer.”

On Aug. 22, Arizona officials provided EPA with a technical demonstration that Arizona’s goals do not provide sufficient flexibility. “My staff has informed me that EPA is looking through the data and is planning to discuss the problem later this week,” said Darwin. “It is also my understanding that EPA will soon propose a rule for power plants located on tribal land. Because our energy needs are so intertwined, Arizona and the Navajo Nation have a great interest in working together to develop a multi-jurisdictional plan that will work for both areas. We look forward to their proposal.”

Darwin warned that if Arizona officials can’t work out their issues with EPA, litigation is likely. “Where some have chosen to immediately issue legal challenges to EPA’s proposal, Arizona is acting to collaborate with those stakeholders in Arizona who will be impacted by the rule, our governor’s Energy Office, the state’s public utility commission and EPA tofind an outcome that is workable for the state’s current and future energy needs,” he said. 

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.