WISCONSIN - A new study from a conservative-leaning Madison-based think tank predicts the EPA carbon emission proposal would lead to higher energy prices. Opponents of the proposal will use the study to show how much the plan could cost Wisconsinites, but clean air advocates disagree.
The Clean Power Act would require Wisconsin to cut more than a third of carbon emissions based on 2005 levels by 2030. The regulations would target coal plants in Wisconsin.
Gary Radloff is the Director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis at UW-Madison. He published a presentation discussing the EPA's Clean Power Act in early January. Radloff says coal generated 51 percent of Wisconsin's power in 2012, compared with a national average of 37 percent.
Radloff says Wisconsin would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent between 2012 and 2030 to comply with the law. The cut would rank Wisconsin 23rd ,in the middle of the pack, of other U.S. states.
Madison's MacIver Institute and the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston recently published a study that looks at economic impact of the regulations on businesses, manufacturers and normal energy consumers.
The study argues that the average manufacturer would pay more than $100,000 a year for electricity in 2030. It also says consumers would pay $225 more for electricity in an average year than they do now. Eric Bott, Director of Environmental & Energy Policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce thinks the entire proposal will hurt consumers and manufacturers.
"Any impact to manufacturing through additional utility rates really [does] impact our ability for jobs and ability of that sector to be successful," Bott said.
The study argues Wisconsin would lose 21,000 jobs because of the proposal. However, Clean Wisconsin Senior Policy Director Keith Reopelle sees it differently. According to the EPA's study, the Clean Power Plan will continue and accelerate the investments that states, cities, businesses and homeowners have been making to increase energy efficiency. Those investments reduce demand for electricity. The EPA projects that, when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented, electricity bills would be reduced roughly eight percent nationally.
Reopelle also said he found a number of red flags in the MacIver study. One point in the study says the EPA's "aim to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired electricity power plants by cutting the allowable amount of emissions by more than half." However, as Radloff indicated, Wisconsin would need to cut greenhouse emissions by only 34 percent, not more than 50 percent.
Reopelle also points to a section that estimates the new rules would cost new coal power plants in Wisconsin $165 million in 2030. But according to The Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch, a non-partisan non-profit organization based in Madison, there aren't any plans to build new coal plants here in Wisconsin. Reopelle doesn't think that outlook will change.
"If nobody proposes to build a new coal plant, there is going to be no cost of compliance," Reopelle said. "It seems odd. Nobody is really building coal plants right now, because they are way more expensive than a natural gas plant."
Bott, of the WMC, argues the plan won't make an overall impact on carbon emission levels when other countries, such as China and India, continue to build coal plants to keep up with population growth and energy demand.
According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker at EndCoal.org, China has 116,610 megawatts of plants under construction, with 218,310 additional megawatts in the planning stages. For scale, consider that the largest coal power plant in America is the Belews Creek Power Station in North Carolina. It generates 2,160 megawatts, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
"So we are really looking at a huge amount of financial pain, undertaking huge costs, costs that will drive up everyone's electricity bills in Wisconsin," Bott said. "That will make our manufacturers less competitive, make our job climate worse, for no measurable environmental benefit whatsoever."
Supporters of the plan argue the proposal gives President Obama emissions leverage with other countries. For example, in November China and the U.S. agreed to limit greenhouse gases. Reopelle believes that agreement wouldn't have happened without this proposal.
"It's all related," Reopelle said. "I think taking this action is probably the most important thing that can happen to get China to reduce their emissions."
Wisconsin will need to give its plan to the EPA by the end of June. We have more resources about the topic below.
MacIver Institute Study
SourceWatch China Coal Power Plants
Gary Radloff Director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis PowerPoint