This column, by Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, originally appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
One Expensive Energy Diet
By Tim Echols
Much has been made about the new Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule regulating greenhouse gases. Everyone agrees it is complex, controversial and impactful. To better understand its negative impact on Georgia, one need only compare it to a “diet.”
First, think about the EPA rule as a way to lose carbon dioxide—what we’ll call the “fat” for the purposes of this illustration. Each state’s fossil fuel plants’s output is totaled up, and the EPA assigns a “reduction” that has to be attained by 2030. Sounds simple and fair, right? Not so fast. The devil is in the details.
To a skinny person, a diet is no big deal. But this is not just any diet. There is a personal trainer in Washington DC (the EPA) setting the “goal weight” and Georgia, along with a few other states, has been deemed very fat—in fact, we are obese by their standards.
Now if you have ever been overweight, you know how difficult weight loss can be. There are many ways to lose weight—eating less, eating better, exercise and even some unhealthy options. While the EPA doesn’t mandate exactly how we are to lose all this CO2 weight, their chief trainer at the EPA has a stick and is prepared to use it.
Let’s start with eating less—in this case, using less energy. I am all for better efficiency, but this EPA dietary rule doesn’t allow for economic development. Have you ever been on a workout plan where things were going well—you were exercising furiously, burning calories, and losing weight ? You see your caloric intake go up, but it doesn’t matter because you are burning far more than you take in. The EPA rule in question doesn’t allow for economic growth and development—something all of us in Georgia work hard to increase each and every day. We are “open for business” in our state, and we want to attract more companies like Caterpillar, Baxter and other heavy energy users. Any rule requiring economic stagnation is not good for Georgia or the country.
“Eating better” is an important part of any diet, and Georgia has been doing that for years. Unfortunately, our EPA “trainer” in Washington is asking for more. We have cut pollutants like Nitrous Oxide, Sulfur and Mercury by huge amounts by spending billions on our existing coal plants and converting units to natural gas, which has about half the greenhouse gas of coal. Now the trainer is changing the dietary rules again making us wonder why we spent money cleaning those coal plants in the first place. And in this case, our ratepayers are being punished with the prospects of stranding billions in plant assets.
Exercise is a critical component in any diet, and in my illustration Georgia has exercised an option to build new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle. This is a bold step—like running a marathon or half-marathon, or doing an Iron-Man competition. If you have ever attempted such a feat, you know that it requires miles and miles of weekly training. Imagine being 200 pounds overweight and setting a goal to lose those pounds with a crowning achievement of running the Boston Marathon. Your trainer in Washington, however, says that because you planned to run the race and paid your registration fee before her dietary regiment was created, you can’t count the weight loss that will occur as a result of that training. That is what has happened in Georgia. We set out to build a new state-of-the-art nuclear power plant and we are about half way done. But the EPA trainer in Washington is assuming that the carbon reduction achieved by the plant is already in place. You can see how demoralizing such a calculation would be.
This entire rule is a bit like being required to become a vegetarian forever when all that was required to lose weight was cutting back on red meat, or just eating more grilled chicken. Georgia needs the fuel diversity in our energy production, and the EPA rule greatly limits our food choices. Georgia’s leaders are pleading with the EPA to revise its rule and make it fairer to our state. In the meantime, get out your check book. If you think the down payment for this re-work of our energy plan is expensive, wait till you see the monthly installments.