Guest Post: Tim Echols And Georgia’s Expensive “Energy Diet”

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.

22 comments

  1. blakeage80 says:

    The next presidential nominee could probably win by saying, “I don’t care if I sign a single bill into law in my time as President. My goal is to sift through every federal agency and repeal or reform harmful regulations in order to bring an end to the dysfunction and economic retardation caused by the bureaucratic arm of this government.”

  2. Boredatwork says:

    Mr. Echols, was this post written by an industry lobbyist? It has all of the usual talking points. Using the phrase ‘economic development’ when you really mean granting exemptions to the worst polluters. Using a an analogy the “working man” can comprehend, even though it masks the actual issues.

    Get. Real. Climate change is a huge problem; ignoring it makes us look like idiots.

    Also, if we’re talking fat and skinny people and dieting, it’s far easier for a “fat” person to lose 30% of their body weight than a “skinny” person. The skinny person is already leading a healthy lifestyle, and simply does not have 30% extra body weight to lose. If you’re going to use a ridiculous analogy, at least make it accurate.

    Acting like asking Georgia to cut carbon by more than a state that operates far more efficiently is non-sensical, dishonest, and designed to create a hometown sense of victim-hood.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      My 2010 vote for “Masters Shakedown” Echols as one of only two Republicans on the ballot I cast was a mistake, but I think Georgia not getting any credit (if that’s the case) for less carbon for a not yet producing Plant Vogtle that is connected with the shuttering of a large coal-burning Plant Branch, and shuttering coal units at other plants needs more consideration.

  3. timechols says:

    Thanks for the suggestion on the analogy. I guess any analogy eventually breaks down. I did write the piece…as I do all my op-eds, if you read the Atlanta Business Chronicle where most of them appear. Happy to sit down and go over the rule with you over coffee if you like. I think I can convince you that it is unfair to our state and others who are building new nuclear. Anyway, let me know if you would like to get together.

  4. Ga-Engineer says:

    The key point here is that you should expect problems trying to apply global generic solutions to specific more local problems. BoredatWork the reality of climate change needs to be coupled with the reality of the provision of electric power. False hopes and misundenderstandings around how power can be provided in an economically, reliably and environmentally sound manner do not aid in combatting climate change despite the good intentions of those who may push such measures.

    Power supply is a complicated topic driven by local concerns and is greatly impacted by the current mix of resources and load demands. Good intentions and aggressive ambitious renewables programs resulted in high cost and high carbon output for Germany. Neither the intentions or false hopes helped. The whole time the renewables were propped up by dirty coal from Eastern Europe. Now Germany is building their own coal plants to bring some balance and try to save their economy.
    I’m glad Commisioner Echols is concerned about effects and not just intentions.

  5. jameshrust says:

    This is a great posting by Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols pointing out increased costs for electricity for Georgia’s citizens due to unreasonable policies of the EPA with their Clean Power Plan.

    The EPA’s Clean Power Plan requires a national average reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation of 30 percent by the year 2030. The EPA calls carbon dioxide pollution due to their false premise carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use is causing catastrophic global warming. Books have been written showing hundreds of thousands of years of global temperature data indicate carbon dioxide changes has a negligible effect on global warming in comparison to natural influences. Carbon dioxide is an airborne fertilizer that increases plant growth, larger plant roots systems that makes plants more drought resistant, and reduces plant’s expiration of water that also makes plants more drought resistant. Carbon dioxide that is necessary for life on the planet is called pollution by the EPA.

    The EPA uses climate computer modeling to justify their actions. The computer models don’t work as shown by the pause in global warming the past 16 years; while models predict increasing global temperatures. Even the computer models predict a negligible change in global warming by implementing the Clean Power Plan.

    The Clean Power Plan is unfairly applied to Georgia–a state that produces 3 percent of the nation’s electricity is required to provide 3.65 percent of the carbon dioxide reductions.

    Back up Commissioner Echols warning about EPA excesses and contact your Congress person to rein in EPA activities or the state will have a failed economy.
    James H. Rust, Professor of nuclear engineering (ret.GA Tech)

  6. Yellowjacket96 says:

    Anyone that peels back the EPA rule a bit will see Echols is right about the total lack of sensibility of the proposal. Regardless of individual opinions about climate change, we can probably all agree that lowering emissions from power plants is a good thing, but in the EPA proposal aimed at CO2 reductions, there is really no room or much mention of encouraging more hydro or nuclear, the 2 largest sources of CO2 free power. If the EPA’s plan was truly about carbon intensity, they would not be penalizing GA for building new nuclear. The proposal will not work, both in terms of economics and emissions reductions.

  7. jameshrust says:

    In fairness to Commission Echols the negative comments made in comments 2 and 3 are wrong.

    Stopping unfair EPA regulations benefits the ratepayers in the state. Southern Company will comply with the regulations and simply pass on their costs to the ratepayers.

    EPA’s regulations the past 6 years are part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan which is to stop use of fossil fuels, period. They plan to use uneconomical, unreliable, and vast land requiring renewable energy sources of wind, solar, and biofuels. Carbon dioxide emissions from using fossil fuels benefits the planet and has negligible affect on climate. The Climate Action Plan permits the government to have total control of our citizens activities with a decent into poverty.

    James H. Rust, Professor

    • Andrew C. Pope says:

      CO2 emissions benefit the planet? Pardon me for asking, but what clown college employs you to instruct students and/or conduct research?

      To carry Commissioner Echols’s analogy further, in his (and Southern Company’s) ideal world, Georgia would ignore the dietary recommendations of well-meaning experts and continue to stuff it’s face with McDonalds and buckets of butter. Tim Echols just said the EPA regulations are unfair because they actually require states like Georgia to do something about emissions. I mean who cares if we’re 800 pounds and suffering from type-8 diabetes? Being a fat, irresponsible slob now is way more important than making sure we have a future, amiright? The sun is going to expand and consume us all anyway, so why are we so worried about the environment?

      States like Minnesota are embracing new technology and sources of energy and, as a result, seeing job growth and lower utility rates. As long as the best answer the PSC can produce is “durr… let me check with the com team at Southern Company,” Georgia will continue to lag behind the “skinny people.”

      Last ranty rambling: if the chair of the PSC doesn’t think climate change is a serious issue, then I am gravely concerned about his qualifications for the job.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        He signed himself as a retired Georgia Tech professor of nuclear engineering, so I certainly respect his knowledge in that realm. Climate science and the environment though, not as much.

      • Ga-Engineer says:

        I’m no expert on Minnesota and was very intrigued by the idea that they were seeing job growth and lower rates through new sourcs of energy and technology. Could you point me towards anything that confirms that, rather than just implies it. I could find evidence that they had won awards (but that only means their efforts have been judged at least somewhat more effective than what others have achieved.) I’m sure there are jobs connected with the subsidies, but net jobs? And by rates, do you mean for some or for all consumers? The last is a critical distinction. Utility sponsored and supported efficiency and renewable programs work to transfer benefits from less affluent consumers to more affluent consumers. More affluent consumers have the means to take advantage of such programs, I for one do not want Georgia Power making a return on investment on a program that transfers dollars from Bankhead to subsidize Buckhead. That would be nothing to brag about.

      • Ga-Engineer says:

        Im no expert on the Chair of the PSC, but in this forum I did not understand him to say anything even implying that he did not see Climate Change as a serious problem. If you are concluding that based solely on his being critical of a proposed solution or set of solutions, then perhaps you are more deserving of the derision you showed toward the Professor and clown colleges.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          Yeah, but the flip side is true—Echols didn’t at all acknowledge that carbon emissions or climate change could be a serious problem either.

          • Ga-Engineer says:

            Dave – you are picking up on something I have observed. It does seem that if you say anything critical towards any renewable technology no matter how trivial the comment, how technical the discussion, or how indisputably true it is – you have to, almost like a loyalty oath, add the clarification that you believe global warming is a serious problem. Do you think that’s a good thing?

            • Dave Bearse says:

              Generally of course not—it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I do think global warning is a serious problem however and there are significant numbers of people that disagree. Thus on the other hand, yes a short acknowledgement that it’s a serious problem at the beginning of a lengthy or technical discussion is relevant for me, because I don’t have as much time to devote to the arguments of climate change deniers (other than the tiny minority of climate change experts that are deniers).

              Echols’ post discussed carbon emission regulation. I don’t recollect criticism of renewable technology though. Climate change was woven in the thread by others.

              The flip of not mentioning climate change is relevant because an important consideration in regulation is the cost-benefit ratio. I don’t have as much time for the cost arguments of climate change deniers as arguments by others because deniers are critical of any regulation whatsoever, for any trivial reason, because they judge it infinite cost to benefit—it’s more likely to be a weak and trivial argument.

              • Ga-Engineer says:

                Thanks for the response Dave. I don’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth, but maybe I did add my own spin here. I assumed, maybe inappropriatly, that Mr. Echols concerns with the EPA diet hinged on the inability of current renewable technologies to meet Georgia’s dietary needs. If renewable technologies worked as hyped by some, I think adopting the EPA diet would be a great thing for Georgia. Unfortunately they can not operate anywhere near as effectively as hoped. I suppose I don’t really want to be critical of renewable resources, but rather critical of the way their capabilities are oversold and their drawbacks minimized.

                Hopefully mine and others assessments of renewable resources and the costs of transitioning to a lower carbon system are based on the facts at hand relating to renewables and power systems, not our inexpert understanding of climate science. Similarly I hope that climate scientists base their assessments of climate risks on their understanding of climate science, and that their assessment is not impacts by their own inexpert opinions on the cost of transitioning to a low carbon power sources.

  8. Phil77 says:

    Commissioner Echols has addressed many issues on the proposed new EPA regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions. As Mr. Echols mentioned the current regulations are already pretty stiff so tightening them further presents significant cost and technological challenges to utility companies and others. I understand that the EPA regulations are going too far, too fast. I feel that the coal industry in this country has faced significant economic impact already because of the current regulations. With newer and stricter regulations, I feel the technology will not meet the demands required to reduce to the gas emission levels being proposed. Commissioner Echols is simply pointing the consumer to an informed and educated understanding. So glad someone is trying to educate the consumer in the public and political arena. Also, with the proposed Obama administration giving into environmentalist and other special interest groups who will not be fair in considering adverse impacts on our economy, consumers will be at the mercy of unrealistic cost impacting them like higher utility costs and indirect costs to goods and services from higher manufacturing costs. This is not a trivial matter. Thanks Commissioner Echols, good job!

  9. Kristen8 says:

    Echol’s analogy is helpful but like any can only be taken so far – CO2 does have some benefits (check this research out: http://sppiblog.org/news/new-paper-at-sppi-the-positive-externalities-of-carbon-dioxide) and the harm claimed by climate catastrophists is dubious (the data from real life observance just doesn’t match up to their models of catastrophic warming – http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/12/31/climate-craziness-of-the-week-only-the-cooler-models-are-wrong-the-rest-say-4oc-of-warming-by-2100/).

    Putting that whole can of worms aside, at least a diet has actual health benefits! The EPA can’t say half as much – what exactly is all this going to accomplish in the way of tampering down global temperatures? Sure there are benefits on the side, but the EPA conveniently doesn’t tell us what these rules accomplish in terms of impacting global warming. And for good reason – it’ll basically do nothing. What it WILL do is cause a lot of economic harm which has its own consequences (maybe you don’t like coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear but what about all the things they enable us to do even just in one field like medicine, not to mention all the other ways they improve our lives).

Comments are closed.