reliability of the electric grid covering the
United States, most of Canada and the
Mexican state of Baja California Norte—
predicts a worst-case scenario of environmental regulations could force coal plants
generating up to 54,000 MW of additional power to shut their doors by 2018.
New power plants could offset this
loss, with natural gas taking center
stage. The National Energy Technology
Laboratory—a branch of the U.S.
Department of Energy focused on
advancing national, economic and energy
security—predicts 20,000 MW of natural
gas facilities will start operating this year,
with another 28,000 MW proposed for
2013. A strong breeze from wind project
proposals may add 42,000 MW this year
and 28,000 MW in 2013—but only if federal production tax credits continue.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall,
co-ops have taken action. During the
last decade, power supply co-ops have
invested $3.4 billion to boost plant performance and limit emissions. In fact, since
1990, power plant emissions of nitrogen
oxides and sulfur dioxides—compounds
formed by burning fossil fuels—dropped
at least 67 percent nationally, even as electricity use climbed 38 percent.
The large-scale expenditure is not finished. Another $4 billion has been slated
for upgrades through 2021, with the bulk
of the money—$2.18 billion—marked for
work this year and next.
NERC’s 2011 Long-Term Reliability
Assessment reports that “environmental
regulations are shown to be the number one risk to (maintaining electric)
reliability over the next one to five years.”
Why the concern? Steps required by
EPA rules have the potential to cost the
industry billions of dollars and do not
provide enough time to comply.
“Regulation on top of regulation, and
court decision on top of court decision,
have compounded the situation to the
point that we now have contradictory
regulations and court decisions that don’t
make any sense,” says NRECA CEO
NRECA has actively urged EPA through
comments, testimony and litigation to
consider the negative impacts of increased
electric power costs on consumers as it
moves forward with its rulemakings.
“Our nation needs to adopt a balanced,
common-sense approach to environmental protection that factors in electric reliability and affordability,” English says.
Shifting Fuel Focus
While about half of the nation’s electricity comes from burning coal, co-ops
outside the Northwest rely more heavily
on it—about 80 percent. Why the difference? Most co-op coal power plants were
built between 1975 and 1986, when using
natural gas was prohibited by the federal
Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act.
Now, a series of U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency regulations impacting
cooling water intake structures, coal ash
disposal, interstate transport of air pollutants and hazardous air pollutants such as
mercury are affecting all electric utilities.
In most cases, co-ops will need to retrofit coal-fired plants with costly pollution control equipment; in others, co-ops
could opt for early plant retirements.
“Time is tight,” says Kirk Johnson,
senior vice president of government
relations for the National Rural Electric
Cooperative Association, the service
organization for the nation’s 900-plus
electric cooperatives. “Improvements take
time and new technologies have to be
tested before going mainstream.
“We’re deeply concerned that EPA’s
strategy to require significant change
within very compressed timelines may
be unachievable and could damage the
economy of rural America and affect service reliability.”
U.S. Average: 11.5¢ per k Wh
V T: 15.6¢ NH: 16. 3¢ MA: 14.6¢ RI: 15. 9¢ C T: 19. 3¢
NJ: 16.6¢ DE: 13.8¢ MD: 14. 3¢ DC: 14.0¢
9. 9¢ LA
Average Prices for Residential Electricity 2010 ;gures, in cents per k Wh
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Numbers rounded to nearest tenth of a cent
Updated January 2012
Residential Average Price
(cents per kilowatt-hour)
9¢ to 12¢
Although the Pacific Northwest continues to have among the lowest electric rates in the nation, prices have
climbed slightly in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana from 2009 figures. The same is true
for Arizona. Prices have fallen slightly in Alaska and Nevada.