The Clean Power Plan Explained by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy
In an effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the Obama administration recently finalized the Clean Power Plan, a strategy to determine carbon dioxide (CO) emission performance rates, outline specific goals related to those performance rates and implement state plans to establish standards. This plan now compels each state to implement methods of CO reduction. As each state attempts to lower carbon emissions, they are determining the reliance on gas fired generators.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is urging every state to utilize natural gas in place of coal power as well as erect zero-emission energy options such as, solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear. Although the plan does not promote or discourage constructing new natural gas generators, several environmental groups are opposed to their use stating that this will slow the process of eliminating carbon in energy generation altogether. But, energy company executives prefer new natural gas generators due to its low cost which leads to increased profits.
Despite some objection to natural gas, the American electric grid needs this fossil fuel now more than ever for several reasons:
Gas competes directly with coal in most energy markets and not with renewable sources. This is due to a marginal cost pricing structure. Renewable increments of energy are automatically dispatched to the collective energy grid due to zero fuel prices which takes precedent over the non-zero fuel price of fossil fuels.
Gas generators can accommodate more renewable power on the grid than coal because the output can be adjusted.
With modern technology, gas combined-cycle power plants release only half the carbon dioxide as compared to coal fired power plants. Combined with gas reserves, renewable energy can continue to grow and replace the outdated coal operations.
The future mix of energy will be determined by price competition. Currently, gas generators are the most cost-effective method of complementing renewable energy. As gas consumption continues to increase at a higher rate, renewable will be an excellent back-up option.