EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Tuesday in Hazard, Kentucky his intent to sign a proposed rule change that he would withdraw the plan. But We Energies officials say they rule change doesn’t mean much change for how they conduct business and they will continue their effort to reduce carbon emissions.
“Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers,” he said.
According to the Clean Power Plan Repeal Proposal, Obama’s plan “exceeds the EPA’s Statutory authority and would be repealed.” Further, the document pointed to the practice of setting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a “particular source” and would have mandated that the utilities shift their energy portfolios by using solar or wind energy.
“This raised substantial concerns that the CPP would necessitate changes to a State’s energy policy, such as a grid-wide shift from coal-fired to natural gas-fired generation, and from fossil fuel-fired generation to renewable generation,” according to the proposal.
Federal decision means status quo for We Energies
We Energies operates the Oak Creek Power Plant, the largest coal-fired power plant in the state. The plant sits on the border of Milwaukee and Racine County. The implementation of the Clean Power Plan would have required We Energies to use alternative energy sources.
“In short, we do not see a change in our plans as a result of the latest news about the Clean Power Plan,” said Amy Jahns, spokesperson for We Energies. “We continue to monitor laws, regulations, and orders surrounding greenhouse gas emissions and we will comply with any government requirements related to regulating greenhouse gas emissions.”
Meanwhile, a number of neighbors are still in mediation with We Energies over complaints relating to health issues, decreases in their property values, and noise from increased train traffic. For years a number of neighbors have also complained about the presence of coal dust and fly ash on their property and inside their homes. And over the years, the utility has purchased over 25 properties around the area to create a buffer zone. A number of neighbors have also recently put their homes on the market in anticipation of We Energies buying them.
The Clean Power Plan would have required We Energies to invest in transmission, renewable energy, and natural gas-fueled power plants to meet those requirements, according to the utility’s 2015 WEC Corporate Responsibility Report.
Tom Rutkowski, the chair of the executive committee of the Southeast Sierra Gateway Group, wrote in a letter to the editor this summer that they were starting a campaign to put pressure on We Energies to convert to alternative forms of energy.
“It might be hard to see the actual generating plant, but its presence continues to loom large in our area. If you live close to the plant, you’re likely paying the highest of prices for this plant in adverse effects on your family’s health,” he wrote.
We Energies To Focus on System-wide Reductions
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.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan would have required states to cut carbon dioxide emission rates by 41 percent of 2012 levels by 2030, according to We Energies’ 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report.
We Energies spokesperson Cathy Schulze said this spring that the utility plans to continue focusing on reducing carbon emissions.
“Our goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is a system-wide goal,” Schulze said. “We don’t have a breakdown on specific power plants. We continue to evaluate various approaches to achieve our goal. Already, we have reduced carbon intensity more than 20 percent since 2005.”
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 in 2015.
But with the Oak Creek Power Plant, We Energies’ numbers around carbon emissions and its production levels tell a different story.
As a result of the increased power production, the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant produced 11.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015, a 5.3 million or 87 percent increase compared to 2012. The power plant produced 11,142 GWH of power in 2015, an increase of 5,478 GWH or 97 percent by adding two generating units, according to We Energies’ 2015 Environmental Performance Report.
Despite the increase in carbon emissions, We Energies officials say they will continue working with industry partners, environmental groups to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
“Our objective is to balance the delivery of safe reliable and affordable energy with a commitment to protecting the environment,” Jahns said. “As we make future decisions about our electric generation fleet, we have three criteria: 1)Reduce costs to customers 2) Reduce carbon emissions 3) Maintain a reasonable fuel mix.”
Read more about what’s coming out of the stacks.