The Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee passed legislation (S. 1234) to repeal Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) on Wednesday, August 5. The CPP requires states to adopt rate-based or mass-based measures to reduce emissions from power plants by 2030. This was a dramatic response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement of the final regulation on August 3, and the Senate EPW Democrats walked out of the hearing.
For Alaska, the EPA ruled there is not enough information on feasible emission reductions due to the isolated energy infrastructure and limited grid system. Senate EPW Republicans were strongly opposed to the CPP because they argued it will lead to higher electricity rates and strain the reliability of the grid. These points were also used by the Alaska Congressional Delegation and Governor to ensure no emission reductions goals were set for Alaska.
Below are some points about how the CPP would have impacted coal plants in Alaska, if not for the exemption:
- If the CPP were to put emissions regulations on Alaskan coal plants, it would impact 60 percent of the power supply in Fairbanks.
- It is unclear how the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ power plant would be impacted. Spokesperson Marmian Grimes said the coal plant, which is undergoing a replacement, has typically been exempted from regulations due to its small size and because it doesn’t fall under the federal definition of an electric utility because it doesn’t sell its electricity.
The EPA said there was not enough information about how much carbon the 200 small utilities that are excluded from a large regional power grid in Alaska would be able to cut out using the means outlined in the final rule.
Governor Bill Walker commented on Alaska’s limited power grid on the railbelt:
- He said requiring Alaska to abide by a one-size-fits-all standard could increase energy costs for Alaskans, which are already the highest in the nation.
- He said is looking forward to working with EPA officials to set goals for Alaska and other islanded states. The EPA did not set a deadline for accomplishing this task.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stated the rule would impact the reliability of electricity and grids across the country:
- Technical analysis failed to evaluate the application of the rule to the entire state of Alaska. The analysis was not applied to Alaska because their grid system greatly differs from other states. Because Alaska’s electricity sector is not connected to any other grid, and the size and scope is so vast, it is difficult to compare Alaska to other states.
- “Alaska has 5 [utility] facilities, one of which is coal. There is no level of flexibility to make [the CPP] work in a state like Alaska,” she said in a hearing earlier this year – see TAR 7th edition. She said Alaska should not be bound by the CPP due to the unique needs of Alaska, limited options for cost effective compliance, and the lack of interconnection.
- As Sen. Murkowski chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Interior, with jurisdiction over the EPA, she recounted from a conversation with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy what it might mean for bringing Alaska in later down the road. McCarthy repeated several times she did not think it was possible because of Alaska’s unique situation.
- Murkowski also commented on the national implications of the rule. “This is an important part of my job. Not only am I representing Alaska, but I’m trying to set energy policy for the country through our work on the Energy Committee, so I have to look at this plan for broader application.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) strongly opposed the CPP due to the potential severe impacts on interior Alaska, on communities such as Fairbanks that pay high energy costs.