US Clean Power Plan opponents say it will make building fossil fuel plants ‘virtually impossible’

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Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan is under fire from more than 20 US states, from pro-coal industry groups and from electric utilities, with the government facing legal action for the proposed action on carbon emissions and other pollution.

The final version of the administration’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the US by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030 was put forward by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday and was immediately met with opposition. The plan also calls for 28% of electricity nationally to come from renewable sources, with states expected to comply with the plans by 2022.

Regional politicians including North Dakota senator John Hoeven and Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s attorney general, made statements against the measures, with Morrisey leading the filing of a petition in the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia circuit. Morrisey’s petition was signed by 23 other states, while Hoeven claimed to have united a “bipartisan group of senators” against them. Both men are Republicans however, and news sources including NBC News reported that “all but two of the states in the filing are led by Republicans”.

Utility Georgia Power complained that it would have to close 4,800MW of fossil fuel generation by 2030, saying the company was “firmly committed to protecting the investments made in its operations”. John Hoeven’s office made a statement which said North Dakota’s coal plants were being treated “unfairly” and said the plan “virtually ensures no new [coal] plants can be built”.

Coal industry groups have reacted negatively, with the US National Mining Association (NMA) claiming there was “growing concern with the immediate economic consequences” of the carbon reduction plan, which is to be implemented as part of EPA’s Clean Air Act. NMA claimed its own legal challenge could prevent the closure of 200 coal mines before the plan’s implementation even begins.

Government cites health and economic benefits

The government and EPA argue the benefits of the plan would include the prevention of 3,600 premature deaths a year and save the average consumer US$85 on their electricity bills in 2030, estimating net economic benefits of the plan to be as much as US$45 billion.

The plan is not without major backers either, including voices in the incumbent energy industry. The chairman of major utility E.On North America recently called on energy firms in the US to back the plan, stating that “there needs to be clear direction and clear policies in order to make a cleaner energy future possible”. Lynn Good, president and CEO of another big utility, Duke Energy, was among other backers of the plan when it was proposed in August.

Consequences for solar

In a blog for PV Tech in September, Laura E. Stern of Nautilus Solar said there was “no doubt” the plan would lead to increased solar capacity. Discussing varies aspects of what the measures might mean for solar, Stern argued that removal of the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) incentive for solar, planned at the end of 2016, could be a barrier to achieving the plan’s target. President Obama had also announced a number of new support mechanisms for solar to go along with the Clean Power Plan however, including making another US$1 billion available for loan guarantees.

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