Rural cooperatives find reliability ‘safety valve’ inadequate in Clean Power Plan

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saying that the “limited safety valve” provision in EPA’s Clean Power Plan is not adequate to ensure grid reliability.

“Because the public was not provided any opportunity to review and comment on EPA’s new limited safety valve provision, and because this issue is of central and critical relevance to the workability of the Final Rule and the reliable operation of the electric grid, EPA should grant NRECA’s petition for reconsideration and accept public comment on this issue,” according to the rural cooperative association.

NRECA Environmental Counsel Rae Cronmiller filed the petition with EPA on Dec. 21. In August 2015, EPA announced issuance of its final Clean Power Plan rule. The rule requires states to decrease power sector emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) 32% by 2030 was then published in the Federal Register on Oct. 23.

NRECA is already one of the parties challenging the legality of the Clean Power Plan before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

NRECA is also asking EPA directly for reconsideration of the final rule because “EPA did not include a reliability safety valve in the proposed rule, and NRECA and its members thus have had no opportunity to comment on the unduly limited reliability safety valve provision that EPA adopted in the Final Rule,” according to the cooperatives’ petition.

It’s not clear what would trigger 90-day ‘safety valve,’ association says

The new safety valve provision is unduly restrictive, allowing for only a single 90-day period in which the affected electric generating unit (EGU) is permitted to meet a standard other than the emission standard set for its state plan, NRECA said.

This safety valve, proposed in the Clean Power Plan, is triggered by “an emergency situation that threatens reliability,” NRECA said. The association goes on to add that the “phrase is not defined, and it is not entirely clear what kind of event would qualify as such an emergency.”

“EPA also adopted myriad requirements that must be met before the new reliability safety valve is triggered,” NRECA said. The state must notify EPA within 48 hours of an incident. “That notification must inform EPA of the emergency situation being addressed, identify the affected EGU or EGUs that are reliability-critical, and specify the modified emission standards at which the affected EGU or EGUs will operate.”

EPA will then consider that notice as a short-term modification to the state plan. A follow-up notification must be submitted to EPA seven days later with more detailed information.

After that 90-day period, however, if the emergency continues, the state is required to revise its plan to accommodate and offset the increased emissions in excess of the applicable state goals or performance rates, NRECA said.

Triggering events should include (but not be limited to) large changes in available electric generation or transmission capabilities; fuel shortages or costs that impair the ability to acquire fuel, including fuel transportation shortfalls; extreme weather events; natural disasters; acts of war; or changes in the laws, regulations, and rules affecting the availability of electric generation, transmission capabilities, or fuel, according to NRECA.

NRECA also said that EPA included “robust reliability safety valve provisions in other rulemakings” such as the Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rule.

The petition was filed in connection with EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.