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Clean Air and Electricity Delivery

An independent analysis carried out by the Department of Energy confirms that the new clean air standards established by the Obama Administration will not compromise the nation's ability to provide safe and reliable electricity to American consumers

We can have clean air and reliable electricity at the same time. That’s the clear conclusion from a new report by the Department of Energy (DOE) released today. This confirms what the United States has always experienced in the 40 year history of the Clean Air Act – namely, the ability to safeguard public health without compromising the ability to keep the lights on in communities across the country.

Over the past few years, to build on four decades of success under the Clean Air Act, the Obama Administration has taken a series of historic actions to reduce harmful air pollution and promote public health. The new standards that we have established to slash mercury emissions, curb cross-state pollution, and make cars and trucks more efficient will result in enormous economic and health benefits to society. For example, the recently finalized cross-state air pollution rule alone is expected to prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths each year.

These are all appropriate and necessary steps to protect families and the environment that can and must be implemented in a way that maintains reliability of the electric grid. Historically speaking, the electric utility sector has a strong track record of providing both safe and reliable electricity to American consumers. Grid operators, states, generators, and federal agencies have developed tools, procedures, and technologies to ensure the continued reliable delivery of electricity to consumers.

Nonetheless, a few industry voices argue that the Administration’s new standards will undermine grid reliability. Many of those claims have been based on early or incomplete predictions about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules. That’s why the independent analysis carried out by DOE is so important. Their analysis modeled a “stress test” scenario that deliberately went well beyond the requirements of the new clean air standards being put into place by the EPA. The point of the analysis was to test whether even under extreme conditions there would be enough power generating capacity to meet peak electricity demand throughout the country. The result: the power grid passed with flying colors.

Additionally, the DOE report finds that the law allows enough time for utilities to upgrade their power plants or add new generation – and that in specific cases where localized issues do arise, the Clean Air Act already provides the tools and necessary flexibility to address those concerns on a plant-specific or local basis.

As DOE Assistant Secretary David Sandalow explained:

Our review, combined with several other studies, demonstrates that new EPA rules – which will provide extensive public health protections from an array of harmful pollutants – should not create resource adequacy issues.  Any local reliability challenges that could arise should be manageable with timely cooperation and effective coordination among all relevant stakeholders.  Working together, we can and will provide safe, reliable electricity to American consumers.

Here’s the bottom line: we can protect American families from harmful pollution and continue the long history of working together with all stakeholders to ensure the reliability of our electric power grid. The notion that EPA standards to limit pollution from power plants will somehow “turn off the lights” just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, even in a scenario that does not take into account the flexibility and technical assistance federal agencies provide to help utilities comply with clean air standards. This conclusion has been fortified by a number of other reports, testimony, and public statements on reliability, a few of which are included below:

Congressional Research Service

Recent reports by industry trade associations and others have discussed potential harm of EPA’s prospective regulations to U.S. electricity generating capacity, with emphasis on coal-fired generation…The EEI and other analyses discussed here generally predate EPA’s actual proposals and reflect assumptions about stringency and timing (especially for implementation) that differ significantly from what EPA actually may propose or has promulgated…The primary impacts of many of the rules will largely be on coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls. Many of these plants are inefficient and are being replaced by more efficient combined cycle natural gas plants, a development likely to be encouraged if the price of competing fuel—natural gas—continues to be low, almost regardless of EPA rules.

Bipartisan Policy Center

BPC analysis indicates that scenarios in which electric system reliability is broadly affected are unlikely to occur. Previous national assessments of the combined effects of EPA regulations reach different conclusions, in part because they make quite different assumptions about the stringency and timing of new requirements and about the availability and difficulty of implementing control technologies. In some cases these assumptions deviate from the specifics of EPA’s recent proposals in meaningful ways.

Letter to the Editor in the Wall Street Journal by Energy CEO’s

The electric sector has known that these rules were coming. Many companies, including ours, have already invested in modern air-pollution control technologies and cleaner and more efficient power plants. For over a decade, companies have recognized that the industry would need to install controls to comply with the act's air toxicity requirements, and the technology exists to cost effectively control such emissions, including mercury and acid gases.

Signed: Peter Darbee, chairman, president and CEO, PG&E Corp.; Jack Fusco, president and CEO, Calpine Corp.; Lewis Hay, chairman and CEO, NextEra Energy, Inc.; Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and CEO, Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc.; Thomas King, president, National Grid USA,; John Rowe, chairman and CEO, Exelon Corp.; Mayo Shattuck, chairman, president and CEO, Constellation Energy Group; Larry Weis, general manager, Austin Energy.