Last September, Dominion Power announced it would shut down a coal-fired power plant in Chesapeake, Virginia that will take 638 megawatts of affordable and reliable electricity off the grid. Unfortunately for the state, this is the first of many power plants forced to retire early due to increasingly stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Power plant closures, the ensuing higher electricity rates and job losses in the tens of thousands are just some of the impacts the state will experience.
The EPA has begun a war on Virginia’s ability to generate affordable and reliable energy. During the past couple of years, the Agency has undertaken the most expansive regulatory assault on energy in history. With 30 major regulations and more than 170 policy rules still being finalized in the next few years, the extent of EPA actions could surpass its entire 40 year history of regulation. A recently released report, Economy Derailed: State-by-State Impacts of the EPA Regulatory Train Wreck, has found Virginia will take a significant economic hit from the regulatory onslaught which President Obama has admitted aims to eliminate the coal industry.
At least five major power plants across Virginia may be shut down early, and estimates show a dangerous amount of electricity generation could go off line in the next few years – more than 2,643 megawatts, enough energy to power nearly two million homes.
Across the nation, electricity rates are expected to rise about 10 percent on average as power plants shift away from coal, generally the most affordable source of electricity generation. Estimates show it could be worse in Virginia, where increases up to 15 percent are possible.
As energy is the lifeblood of the economy, an increase in electric rates impacts all sectors and all citizens in the state. Factories and businesses will pass cost increases onto consumers or go out of business. A hospital that sees a spike in the cost of electricity will integrate that cost into the bill the next time a patient visits the doctor. Eliminating one of the most affordable sources of electricity will threaten the state’s recovery from one of the deepest recessions the country has seen in decades and hurt struggling families across the state.
While many of the EPA regulations are causing coal-fired power plants to be shut down before the end of their useful life, a recently proposed carbon dioxide standard also makes the construction of any new coal-fired power plants prohibitively expensive, preventing such plants from ever being built in the future. The EPA’s proposal essentially eliminates coal from the choices that electric utilities can provide to electric customers.
In addition, an ever expanding EPA is threatening the state’s ability to create new jobs and keep jobs that already exist. Indirect and direct job losses due to power plant closures could total more than 11,000. EPA’s Boiler MACT rule could affect more than 80 boilers which provide heat and electricity to factories, pulp and paper mills and other facilities. This regulation puts nearly 10,000 jobs at risk. In sum, about 21,000 jobs are at risk in the state.
Of course, proponents of the EPA will say that these regulations are needed to rein in pollution, a misleading narrative that underestimates the progress already made through technological advancements. Mercury, carbon monoxide, ozone, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulates, fine particulates and sulfur dioxide emissions have all decreased significantly over the past decade, prompting EPA’s Air Quality Index (a metric for declaring certain days unhealthy for sensitive populations) to decline by 63 percent from 1999 to 2008. Our air is clean and it is getting cleaner every day, and the recent regulations will impose substantial costs without significantly advancing these environmental goals, all of which technological improvements are already accomplishing.
|Change in National Average Ambient Levels and Emissions 1980-2008|
|Carbon Monoxide (CO)|
|Particulates (PM10), 1985-2008|
|Fine Particulates (PM2.5) 1985-2008|
Virginia cannot afford expensive, job-killing regulations based on little more than an obsession with renewable energy and hostility for affordable and reliable energy sources. Unless the state fights back, Virginia will be feeling the impact of the EPA for years to come as higher energy prices will strangle the opportunity for economic growth.
(Todd Wynn is the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s largest non-partisan association of state legislators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )