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Advocates see few benefits for Ohio in Clean Power Plan repeal

Advocates see few benefits for Ohio in Clean Power Plan repeal

Despite Scott Pruitt’s claim that “the war on coal is over,” clean energy advocates say repeal of the Clean Power Plan is unlikely to bring back coal jobs to Ohio or revitalize the state’s coal-fired power plants.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, talks to a reporter after announcing a plan on October 9 to repeal the Clean Power Plan.  AP Photo / Adam Beam

Source: Midwest Energy News

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Trump efforts to repeal Clean Power Plan won’t stop Ohio coal power plant closings |

The Trump administration is no fan of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which, in part, addresses emissions from power plants.

The president’s efforts this week to begin killing the program, however, are not expected to breathe life into Ohio coal-fired power plants that are scheduled to be closed.

Without exception, energy companies that have made such decisions say their plans are not likely to shift. The reasons are tied to market forces, as coal has become more expensive than other fuels.

“Our long-term strategy for our (power) generation fleet will not change with changes in the Clean Power Plan,” said Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman for Columbus-based American Electric Power.

But that doesn’t mean AEP and other energy generators support the Clean Power Plan. The regulations have many critics in the energy business, who had asked for major revisions.

Energy analysts note, however, that changes in the electricity market have made the plan much less relevant than it was just a few years ago.

“The Clean Power Plan is a good idea whose usefulness has been bypassed by technological innovation in wind, solar and natural-gas production,” said Jim Lazar, a consultant to utility regulators who is based in Washington State.

“If you’re thinking about something new, you’re going to build wind or solar or gas. You’re not going to build coal,” he said.

The innovation has meant a reduction in costs to build new wind farms and solar arrays, and the ability to extract large amounts of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing.

“I definitely don’t see any new coal generation,” said Andrew Bischof, an equity analyst who covers utilities for Morningstar.

This dynamic is in action in Ohio’s current coal-fired power plants.

There are 10, excluding some small ones operated by local governments or non-energy companies.

Two of the plants — J.M. Stuart and Killen Station — are scheduled to close next year. Both are owned by a power-plant subsidiary that is affiliated with Dayton Power & Light, a utility.

The state’s largest coal-fired plant changed hands last year. An AEP subsidiary sold the General James M. Gavin plant to a partnership of private-equity firms, Lightstone Generation.

Gavin, located near Cheshire in southwestern Ohio, has capacity of 2,600 megawatts, and is running nearly constantly, having generated more than 10 million megawatt-hours from January to July, according to the Energy Information Administration.

At a coal plant, a megawatt can provide for the needs of about 1,000 houses. But the federal data show that many of Ohio’s coal plants are operating at much less than full capacity.

The state’s second-largest coal-fired plant is Cardinal, operated by an AEP subsidiary and located near Brilliant in eastern Ohio. AEP has said it continues to review its power plant portfolio, which could end with a sale or closing of plants.

Akron-based FirstEnergy also is looking to divest its Ohio power plants, which includes the W.H. Sammis plant in eastern Ohio.

“A repeal of the Clean Power Plan does not change FirstEnergy’s decision to exit competitive generation, which is based on challenges of operating in a competitive market,” said Stephanie Walton, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman.

The coal industry had argued the Clean Power Plan part of an anti-coal agenda and downplayed the role of market forces in harming the industry. The repeal now will become part of the complex regulatory process that already was handling the implementation of the rules.

The repeal “will greatly benefit ratepayers in the state,” said the Ohio Coal Association in a statement this week, noting that coal is used to generate more electricity in the state than any other fuel.

In the long run, however, coal producers will need to see new coal-fired plants built to replace the ones that are closing to replace lost revenue, and there are few signs of that happening.

Meanwhile, several natural gas, wind and solar projects are in various stages of planning and construction across the state.


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Beacon Journal editorial board: Why the Clean Power Plan matters

Scott Pruitt declared “the war on coal is over.” The administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency did so during a visit to a coal equipment company in Kentucky last week, where he launched the repeal of the Clean Power Plan of the Obama White House.

Candidate Donald Trump often promised he would do as much, the plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, with a focus on the pollution from coal-fired power plants. That the plan has yet to take effect, delayed by court challenges, reveals that it has no role in the decline of coal production the past decade, the part of earlier emissions control also overblown. The coal slump has more to do with the attractive price of natural gas and the increasingly competitive presence of wind and solar power.

The steady decline in coal mining jobs, 4,000 today in Ohio, reflects automation in large part.

FirstEnergy and other power companies have been closing coal plants, roughly half of the 500 or more shut down since 2010. The plants have struggled to compete.

Pruitt argues that the repeal effort stems from listening to businesses outline their needs. Yet many businesses already have embraced a clean energy future. Many are at the front in either developing or using new technologies. Listen even to Chuck Jones, the chief executive of FirstEnergy, and he sees the steady turn to green.

Part of that spirit goes to the Clean Power Plan, and to the investments sparked by the stimulus package, even if some flopped. The plan involves setting a framework for the country beginning to address the severe challenge of climate change. It establishes a first objective, still inadequate to the problem yet something upon which to build.

In that way, the plan mirrors the Paris climate accord, a galvanizing mechanism, the global community taking a necessary step.

Which gets to the shame in President Trump seeking to abandon both. The Clean Power Plan not only is a concrete effort to deal with a problem, giving each state flexibility in crafting its response. It is driven by scientific study and analysis, plus compliance with federal law. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the obligation of the EPA to limit carbon emissions.

That hasn’t changed. The president, Scott Pruitt and others face the same duty. What they have neglected is a candid cost-benefit assessment. Pruitt offered no hint of the benefits. He also makes too little of the costs evident now in battered Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston, in northern California, climate change adding to the intensity of forest fires, hurricanes and other such catastrophes.

Fortunately, the unraveling of regulations requires a rigor equivalent to their creation. A president cannot just cast aside rules. The process involves extensive public comment. Opponents must make a credible case according to the law, science and economics.

That isn’t to say the president will fail. Rather, the opportunity is there to emphasize the stakes. The country already is likely to achieve a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the end of the next decade, the current momentum probably enough. The important question is: What next?

That is where the Clean Power Plan has so much value, as a tool to propel things forward in curbing climate change. The setback resides in the president and his EPA administrator neglecting to see it.

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