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3 Reasons Why the EPA Should Do More to Reduce Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

Curbing climate change in the United States requires action in the power sector. U.S. power plants emit more carbon pollution than all but four countries, and they’re responsible for a full one-third of national emissions.

Encouragingly, the EPA has proposed standards to limit power sector emissions, which, once adopted, are expected to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 25 percent by 2020. But as we recently noted in our public comment on the proposal, increasingly cost-effective efficiency and renewable energy opportunities mean that the EPA can and should require even greater emissions reductions.

Here are three reasons why the EPA should strengthen its power plant emissions standards:

1) States can build on the progress they've made to date.

The current standards allow states flexibility in how they comply, so they can reduce emissions throughout the entire power sector rather than at each individual power plant. WRI’s analysis of 12 states indicates that they’re already in a good position to meet or even exceed the emissions-reduction targets in EPA’s proposal simply by taking advantage of existing infrastructure opportunities, like using more natural gas, and complying with existing clean energy policies, like renewable portfolio standards. So reducing emissions even more than the proposed standards call for would not be a huge lift for many states.

2) It’s in states’ best interests to go further.

For states without existing clean energy policies, there are a number of positive examples that show how renewables and efficiency can reduce electricity costs for businesses and consumers without negatively impacting reliability. For example:

  • Ohio’s energy efficiency standard has the potential to save consumers up to $5 billion through 2020.

  • Xcel Energy found that the benefits from meeting Colorado’s efficiency standard outweighed the costs by over $200 million per year since 2009.

  • North Carolina’s renewable energy standard is not projected to have an appreciable impact on electricity rates through 2026, after which it will lead to $173 million in annual cost savings.

In short, states can not only go further with their emissions reductions, in many cases, it’s in their best interests to do so.

3) Renewables and efficiency can play a bigger role

A recent WRI study highlights a variety of cost-effective emissions-reduction opportunities available that EPA’s modeling may not have fully internalized when the agency was designing the standards.

The EPA’s proposed standards call for annual electricity demand reductions of 1.5 percent. This target is not only achievable, but could be strengthened given the vast array of efficiency options now available to many states. Energy efficiency remains the cheapest source of new electricity generation, with considerable opportunity remaining for reducing electricity demand from appliances and buildings.

And on renewables, the EPA should consider the recent improvements in technologies and rapidly declining costs when determining the level of renewable generation each state could potentially generate in complying with the standards. Wind and solar are increasingly cost-competitive with coal in many parts of the country, and even with natural gas in some cases. The costs of solar photovoltaic panels have fallen by 80 percent since 2008, while new wind turbine designs open up vast new areas to cost-competitive wind power. If these trends continue, as expected, more and more utilities will choose to use more renewable energy on a strictly economic basis.

EPA Can Do More

Ultimately, if the United States is to meet its climate goals and be a leader for other nations to follow, we’ll need to make significant cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions. The power sector is our national low-hanging fruit—it’s not just the largest source of those emissions, but the greatest potential source of emissions reductions. Strengthening power sector emissions standards for states can help set the country on a path to the deeper reductions needed in the years and decades to come.

  • LEARN MORE: Read WRI's full comment on the proposed power plant standards.

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