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Coal Closures Harm Investors, Workers, and Ratepayers

February 24, 2017

Climate Change Weekly #241

As a candidate for president, Donald Trump promised to stanch the loss of jobs in coal mining operations and coal-fired power plants. Trump promised to end the “war on coal,” launched by the Obama administration, and reverse climate change and other regulations contributing to job losses in the coal industry.

Despite now-President Trump’s election promises, utilities and some state and local regulators are acting as if things will be business-as-usual. Utilities appear to be proceeding with previously announced plans to close 40 coal-fired power plants in the next four years, including six closures announced since Trump’s victory in November.

While some coal-fired power plants are closing because they are unable to compete with low-cost gas-fired power plants, dozens of coal-fired plants are being shuttered prematurely due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations and settlement agreements. Those plants can and should be saved with swift action by national, state, and local officials.

On January 31, Dayton Power & Light (DPL) filed plans with the Public Utility Commission of Ohio to close two coal-fired plants, with enough capacity to provide electricity for approximately 2 million households, and sell three others as part of a settlement with several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. Halfway across the country, near Page, Arizona, the owners of the 2,250 megawatt Navajo coal-fired generation station announced plans to close it in 2019, approximately 25 years ahead of schedule.

Navajo’s closure comes just a few years after an agreement to force the nearby Four Corners Power Plant to cut back operations (the plant closed in 2014), and the San Juan Generating Station will in 2017 close generating units to meet federal environmental standards for haze. Each of these power plants were either wholly or partially owned by, operated on, or used coal from mines on Native American reservations. These plant closures will result in many Native Americans losing their jobs in areas where unemployment and poverty are already multiple times the national average.

DPL’s deal was about getting out from under the cloud of lawsuits and complying with Obama-era regulations limiting greenhouse gases and pollutants. Coal costs were low for DPL’s plants. The real pressure on their continued viability was the expected costs to comply with the Obama administration’s carbon dioxide and ozone limits. While the settlement buys off DPL’s anti-fossil fuel critics (for now at least), the power plant closure will result in unemployment for its workers and cost ratepayers millions of dollars as their power bills go up to pay for more expensive electricity from sources other than cheap coal. It may also threaten the reliability of Ohio’s power supply.

In order to mitigate the job losses and higher energy costs, DPL is establishing a $2 million economic development fund for the communities affected by the power plant closures and a $565,000 fund to help low-income customers pay their higher electric bills.

Murray Energy is attempting to block DPL’s power plant closures. The firm is filing to intervene in the case, saying the closure is not in the public interest. To support its case, Murray cites DPL’s own regulatory filing before the Public Utility Commission of Ohio in 2016, when DPL sought to keep its coal plants open. On February 22, 2016 DPL argued. “If these plants were to close, then the adverse effects would include $26.5 billion in economic losses, the loss of almost 19,000 jobs, and a significant increase in reliability risks.”

Murray argues in its filing, “The closure of these plants will destroy thousands of jobs in the State of Ohio, and will reduce the reliability and availability of electricity in the state. We intervene in order to ensure these plants continue operating and providing affordable, reliable electricity to customers in the State of Ohio.”

With respect to the Navajo plant, the federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation owns the largest share of the plant. The Navajo Nation and Hopi tribe have requested Trump intervene to keep the power plant operating until 2024.

To avert blackouts and unnecessary job losses, and to better ensure affordable electricity, Trump and state officials must act fast to halt or reverse regulations targeting coal power in a futile effort to fight climate change and lower mercury and ozone emissions – regulations that may be repealed and in any case will do little if anything to protect human wellbeing.

Also, in order to grow the number of good-paying coal-related jobs, Trump should reverse the moratorium on coal mining on federal lands imposed by the Obama administration and remove roadblocks Obama placed in the way of coal export terminals. Expanding coal export terminals would be a step towards satisfying two Trump campaign promises: to reverse coal’s fortunes and to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.

Ultimately, Congress must join the fray. I recommend a two-sentence law, doing what Congress should have done more than a decade ago: “Carbon dioxide, a naturally occurring, beneficial trace gas, not being toxic to humans or harmful to the environment at any foreseeable levels, is not a pollutant. Accordingly, no agency or department of the United States government is authorized to regulate, place limits on, or tax carbon dioxide emissions, directly or indirectly, unless and until the Congress of the United States expressly directs specific agencies or departments to impose such regulations and taxes.” 

- H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Dayton Business Journal and Las Cruces Sun-News


IN THIS ISSUE …

NOAA’s shenanigans restart House Science investigationEU in energy/climate bindBroadcast meteorologists buck climate consensusSouth Australian power ‘emergency’ due to climate policies


NOAA’S SHENANIGANS RESTART HOUSE SCIENCE INVESTIGATION

In the aftermath of a government whistleblower’s disclosure that NOAA scientists had for political reasons failed to follow NOAA policies for testing and archiving their data, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has decided to restart its dormant investigation into NOAA’s possible malfeasance.

In a press release, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Science Committee’s chairman, said he would “move forward as soon as possible ... to uncover exactly what was going on” at NOAA.

The paper at the center of the investigation, from a team led by NOAA’s Tom Karl, purported to show, contrary to every temperature data set at the time, that Earth had not experienced an 18-year pause in rising temperatures. The paper was rushed to publication by the journal Science in order to influence the outcome of the Paris climate negotiations in 2015.

Because Karl’s conclusions were at odds with existing temperature data sets, which confirmed a nearly-two-decades-long pause in rising temperatures, the House Science Committee, which has oversight over federally funded research, requested NOAA turn over all documentation related to the Science paper for review. Despite an eventual subpoena, the committee’s investigation flagged when the Obama administration refused to require NOAA to hand over the requested materials.

The recent disclosure that Karl violated NOAA’s protocols for testing and archiving data has provided the impetus to restart the investigation. Smith expects with Donald Trump, a noted climate skeptic, as president, NOAA will finally be forced to turn over the subpoenaed documents.

SOURCE: Daily Caller


EU IN ENERGY/CLIMATE BIND

The Guardian reports the European Union will “vastly overshoot” its Paris climate pledges unless its net emissions from coal-fired power plants are ended by 2030. Europe’s 300 coal plants still generate a quarter of the continent’s power, and if they all continue to produce power until the end of their planned operating lives, the EU will exceed its carbon emissions target by 85 percent, reports Climate Analytics.

Even worse news for European climate alarmists: Germany, Greece, Poland, other EU nations, and the United Kingdom have either committed to extending the life of existing coal plants or are planning to build new ones. “Not only would existing coal plants exceed the EU’s emissions budget, but the 11 planned and announced plants would raise EU emissions to almost twice the levels required to keep warming to the Paris agreement’s long term temperature goal,” The Guardian reports Dr. Michiel Schaeffer, science director for Climate Analytics, as saying.

SOURCE: The Guardian


BROADCAST METEOROLOGISTS BUCK CLIMATE CONSENSUS

It seems the mainstream news media is growing even more intolerant of educated dissent on the issue of climate change. Boston’s public broadcasting network, WGBH, fired meteorologist Mish Michaels reportedly because she viewed humanity’s role in present climate change as an open question.

It may surprise WGBH to find a significant share of broadcast meteorologists agree with Michaels. A 2016 national survey from researchers at George Mason University in Virginia found just 46 percent of broadcast meteorologists said they believed humans were “primarily or entirely” responsible for climate change over the past 50 years. Twenty-two percent of broadcast meteorologists surveyed said climate change was caused equally by natural events and human activities, while 24 percent said climate change “has been primarily or entirely due to natural events.”

Weather forecaster Tim Kelley offered the Boston Globe a possible explanation why broadcast meteorologists show such skepticism. Kelley said his experience with computer model variability makes him skeptical anyone can predict how greenhouse gases will change the environment over the coming decades and centuries.

“How can their computer models be better than ours? We look at computer projections all the time, and we know how off they can be,” Kelley told the Globe.

SOURCES: Boston Globe and George Mason University


SOUTH AUSTRALIAN POWER ‘EMERGENCY’ DUE TO CLIMATE POLICIES

A recent electric power failure in South Australia provides proof that what skeptics of renewable energy have long been saying is true: wind and solar farms can’t provide reliable baseload or peaking power.

In May 2016, the last coal-fired power station in South Australia was shuttered to meet the state’s self-imposed goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by 2025. By July - the middle of the southern hemisphere’s winter, normally a time of low demand - the spot price of electricity tripled.

In early February, in the middle of a summer heat wave, much of South Australia experienced a power failure, and the state government instituted rolling blackouts so people could prepare for ongoing power outages.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was quick to castigate South Australia’s state government, saying its “experiment” with renewable energy showed “extraordinary complacency and reckless negligence.”

Turnbull told 5aa Radio the South Australian government “worshipped at the altar of renewable energy and failed to put in place the backup, whether it is baseload, whether it is gas peaking plants … or whether it is storage.” As a result, “They’ve failed to do the work to ensure South Australians can keep the lights and air conditioners on … The Labor government in South Australia has systematically made South Australia vulnerable and you’re seeing it again and again so you now have the least reliable energy and the most expensive energy.”

SOURCES: Jo Nova blog; Global Warming Policy Foundation; and The Scientific Alliance

Article Tags
Environment
Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org