Gov. Scott Walker and other states are challenging President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan through a federal lawsuit against the EPA, but the rule changes come at a time when the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant has skyrocketed.
The We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant produced 11.27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014, a 73 percent increase compared to 2012 after it expanded the capacity on the site by 89 percent by adding two generating units. In total. Wisconsin had emissions of 38 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, but would be on track to produce 42.6 million tons by 2020.
The Clean Power Plan would require states to cut carbon dioxide emission rates by 41 percent of 2012 levels by 2030, according to We Energies’ 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report.
The pollution reduction list already includes arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions and tightening regulations on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide is expected to reduce the number of asthma, premature deaths, heart attacks and hospital visits, according to estimates released by the White House.
Given that a number of neighbors have claimed that they are getting sick from the power plant and We Energies is currently investigating their claims, how does this regulation shake out for the Oak Creek Power Plant?
“The impact of the CPP on any specific Wisconsin power plant is still uncertain,” said Brian Manthey, spokesman for We Energies. “Each state has an overall CO2 reduction target to reach by 2022 and 2030. States are required to submit a plan or ask for a one-year extension of that submittal by Sept 2016. If states do not submit a plan, they would be put under a federal plan.”
We Energies maintains that its new coal-fire units are among the most efficient in the U.S. and its older units are among the most efficient in the Midwest. Still, the amount of power the plant produces has increased to 11,148 gigawatts of power, an 89 percent increase compared to the amount generated in 2005.
“As a result they are emitting less CO2/unit of energy because of their efficiency,” Manthey said. “Additionally, since 2000 we have increased the generation capacity in our entire system by about 50 percent while cutting emissions (nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter) by more than 80 percent.”
A the Oak Creek Power Plant, nitrogen oxide decreased 96 percent, particulate matter decreased by 8 percent, volatile organic compounds decreased 25 percent and mercury decreased by 90 percent from 2014 to 2005, Manthey said.
The plant also burns on average 6,000 to 6,200 tons of coal daily at the plant. Coal dust, fly ash and bottom ash are known to have high amounts of arsenic and other heavy metals. Populations surrounding other power plants in the country have also seen “an accelerated rate of premature deaths and a large number of asthma cases among those who live closet,” according to a 2008 Harvard Study on coal plants in Massachusetts.
In an editorial for the Journal Sentinel, State Attorney General Brad Schimel said the Clean Power Plan could cost up to $13 billion, but We Energies CEO Gale Klappa told the Milwaukee Business Journal that it would cost We Energies up to $2.2 billion.
“The states are seeking to invalidate the rule, which effectively allows EPA to set state energy policy by manipulating the electricity market and controlling the electric grid, a role previously reserved for state regulators,” Schimel wrote. “The rule is an illegal expansion of EPA’s authority, beyond what is permitted by the Clean Air Act. The EPA is attempting to set energy policy for the states.”