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Clean Power Plan Won’t Kill The Grid, Even If The Wall Street Journal Says It Will

Those who take the Wall Street Journal for gospel miss a lot of what’s going on with US energy, says Denise Robbins of Media Matters for America. Too bad they probably won’t get it if they stick to that source and ignore all the others.

US power grid on (

The Journal published an editorial two weeks ago that encouraged sedition. It advised all 50 states to boycott national policy and global thinking and “revolt” against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The CPP is one of America’s strongest protections against the harmful reality of climate change, which a majority of Americans now acknowledge as a threat to current ways of life. From the editorial pages of the Journal:

“Virtually everyone who understands the electric grid, from state utility commissions to the regional transmission operators, warns that the EPA’s ambitions threaten reliability. These apolitical organizations think brownouts or cascading blackouts are possible.”

Now, entrenched button-pushers are not the only grid experts in town. Others include the creative engineers and businesspeople who designed the system in the first place. Also, the utility commissions and transmission directors hardly merit the descriptor “apolitical.” Robbins is perhaps too polite to mention these faulty assumptions, but she does call out the newspaper for factual distortions and fearmongering.

First, Robbins asserts that “in reality, nonpartisan energy experts say the EPA’s proposal will not affect Americans’ access to electricity.” She cites two economic consulting firms (the Brattle Group and the Analysis Group), utility commissioners and chairmen from seven of the states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, top officials at major electric utilities (Exelon; Calpine Corporation, which owns utilities in 18 states; and Iberdola, owner of utilities that provide electricity for millions of customers on the East Coast.

Robbins also cites Utility Dive’s 2015 State of the Electric Utility survey of 433 electric utility execs. This poll found that most utilities have already planned to make some fuel transitions. Most utility executives do not oppose the Clean Power Plan, Utility Dive says, and over 60% of them either support the Clean Power Plan or want EPA standards that are even stronger. “A whopping 84% of utilities predict that distributed energy resources will also increase as part of their overall fuel mix.”

The Journal also supported its argument with a statement from the New York Independent Systems Operator (the nonprofit responsible for the city’s transmission and power generators) that the EPA’s proposed emissions reductions “cannot be sustained while maintaining reliable electric service.”

Here again, Robbins makes a credible rebuttal. She repeats a comment letter to the EPA last fall from the heads of New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Public Service Commission, and State Energy Research and Development Authority, along with top officials from other RGGI states. These utility authorities note that RGGI has proven that states can apply the core strategies of the Clean Power Plan to substantially reduce carbon emissions while “maintaining grid reliability.”

She also quotes John Moore, Senior Attorney at the National Resources Defense Council:

“[NYISO] misunderstood how the Clean Power Plan works and applied the wrong assumptions to reach its erroneous conclusions. It didn’t assume that New York could be part of a regional trading group to do regional emissions trading. It didn’t take into account new generation…. It was very overly conservative about the potential for new wind and energy efficiency and solar. So in other words, it misapplied the Clean Power Plan requirements to New York State’s grid.”

Moore adds that the CPP doesn’t actually require any single power plant to close. States can develop whatever compliance mechanisms they need, alone or with other states, to protect reliability and make the Clean Power Plan affordable. In its compliance flexibility, the Clean Power Plan protects reliability.

Moore told Robbins in a phone interview two weeks ago:

“Essentially, what we are finding in those grid operator studies that are the more alarmist of the studies, the major issue is that they fail to apply the flexibility of the Clean Power Plan to their modeling in coming up with these types of results.”

He also noted that through its Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, New York is already making a shift towards cleaner energy. In its remarks, the NYISO omitted an important ongoing effort on the state’s part to “promote more efficient use of energy, deeper penetration of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, wider deployment of  ‘distributed’ energy resources, such as microgrids, on-site power supplies, and storage.”

Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe spelled out in a post on the EPA leadership’s official blog the different ways her agency worked to ensure that the Clean Power Plan can be implemented “without interfering with the country’s reliable and affordable supply of electricity.” McCabe noted that “there has never been an instance in which Clean Air Act standards have caused the lights to go out,” and that the EPA took care to incorporate input from the utility sector by crafting a plan that provides utilities with “enough time” and “a wide range of options” to reduce carbon pollution.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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