On June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Clean Power Plan, which sparked discussions all across the power generation industry. With so many opinions out there, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what the plan says.
If you visit the EPA website, you’ll learn that the plan is just a recommendation. One that was drafted by the EPA after a year of consulting with state governments, utility companies, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations, consumer groups, and members of the general public. The goal was learn what people around the country are already doing to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and to then share some of the most effective strategies in the Clean Power Plan.
The EPA took on this project because “[p]ower plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” The Clean Power Plan is a call for a more organized discussion about how states, which are already leading the way in reducing CO2 emissions, can work together to “cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels” nationwide by 2030.
As such, the Clean Power Plan has two main parts: a section on setting goals for states and then guidelines to help states reach the goals they set. The idea is that states will then develop plans that suit their economies and the ways of life of the people who reside in them. To quote the EPA website, states can:
- Look broadly across the power sector for strategies that get reductions
- Invest in existing energy efficiency programs – or create new ones
- Consider market trends toward improved energy efficiency and a greater reliance on lower-emitting power sources
- Expand renewable energy generation capacity
- Tap into investments already being made to upgrade aging infrastructure
- Integrate their plans into existing power sector planning processes
- Design plans that use innovative, cost-effective regulatory strategies
- Develop a state-only plan or collaborate with each other to develop plans on a multi-state basis
In other words, there are a lot of options.
Now we aren’t really involved in setting state policy, but we do participate rather heavily in two areas that the EPA cites could contribute to a state plan to reduce carbon emissions: plant emissions reductions and renewable energy generation.
Plant Emissions Reductions
The EPA cites two main ways that power plants can tackle emissions reductions:
- Improve equipment and processes to get as much electricity as possible from each unit of fuel
- Using less fossil fuel to create the same amount of electricity means less carbon pollution.
Both our air handling and fuel handing solutions are geared toward optimizing fuel consumption so that the most energy can be extracted and then converted to electricity. Because burning fuel is a process that also expends energy, our solutions also aim to reduce the amount of energy needed to produce electricity, minimizing plants’ net energy expenditure and making them more efficient overall in the process.
As far as using less fossil fuel is concerned, we specialize in biomass systems, which can be engineered to supplement, retrofit, or replace coal systems. Many coal plants can be set up to co-fire biomass or burn biomass exclusively, which are ways to preserve existing infrastructure and keep plants active.
Renewable Energy Generation
Burning biomass also addresses another strategy the EPA earmarks for reducing carbon emissions: more reliance on renewables.
The most visible renewable energy sources used for power generation are solar and wind. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, solar claims only 0.23 percent of the energy market with wind at 4.13 percent. The less-visible biomass is somewhere in the middle at 1.48 percent.
Meanwhile, coal claims 39 percent of the energy market while also being the biggest source of carbon emissions, according to the EPA. As mentioned above, biomass is a relatively easy transition for a coal plant. Coal to biomass conversion projects means both using less fossil fuel and increasing the proportion of renewables in the energy market.
We recently did a complete coal to biomass conversion at the Fort Drum Black River Generation Facility, transitioning the 60-megawatt coal plant at the Fort Drum military base to burn biomass exclusively. ReEnergy Holdings LLC, which owns the facility, sells the surplus electricity to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) per New York state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, one of the state programs already in effect that will help inform the outcome of the EPA Clean Power Plan.
Of course, the EPA plan isn’t just about making existing equipment more efficient and using more renewables. There are all sorts of other recommendations that cover everything from getting individuals to use less electricity to monitoring the grid so that lower-emission power plants are used more often to meet demand. It’s a big puzzle that’s going to require a lot of discussion and collaboration to figure out, which is why we prefer to focus on the parts we’re familiar with. If you’d like to talk to us about plant emissions reductions or biomass generation, you’re welcome to call us anytime at 1-888-663-2028.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to read the EPA Clean Power Plan for yourself, you can access it here. The plan is open for feedback through December 1, 2014. If you’d like to comment, use this link.