Valley Braces for EPA Rules

WHEELING – American Electric Power officials are still digesting the federal government’s first-ever proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, but they’re already concerned the rule will affect some of the company’s customers unfairly.

The proposal, announced Monday, aims to cut America’s overall carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants about 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels. But proposed benchmarks set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency differ from state to state – in an effort, according to the agency, to set reasonable standards based on each state’s individual circumstances.

“It appears that for many states where we operate, the reduction requirements could be much more than 30 percent by 2030,” said AEP spokeswoman Tammy Ridout. “Climate change is a global issue, and some states should not bear a disproportionate share of the cost of U.S. action to cut emissions.”

Company officials said it’s too early to determine the potential impact on specific plants, including AEP’s Cardinal Plant in Brilliant and Mitchell Plant near Moundsville. Another AEP facility, the Kammer Plant – also located near Moundsville – already is set to close by June 2015.

There’s no guarantee every power plant will have to reach those numbers, however, as the proposed rule sets overall averages for states, and the EPA is leaving it up to the states to determine how they will comply. But depending on what strategy each state ultimately develops, the new rule could have very different impacts on the Cardinal and Mitchell plants, even though they are less than 40 miles apart.

According to information from Carbon Monitoring for Action, a database operated by the nonprofit Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., the Mitchell Plant would need to cut carbon emissions by 17.2 percent from 2009 levels – the most recent listed by the database – to meet the EPA’s proposed 1,620 pound-per-megawatt-hour standard for West Virginia. But with a proposed standard of 1,338 pounds per megawatt hour for Ohio, the Cardinal Plant would have to reduce emissions by 32.6 percent from 2009 levels to achieve that benchmark.

Coal accounted for 95 percent of all electricity generated in West Virginia in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, although about 56 percent was consumed by other states. In Ohio, coal was responsible for 69 percent of all electricity generation last year, with natural gas and nuclear power accounting for a combined 27 percent.

According to its website, AEP has reduced carbon emissions by 21 percent overall since 2005. Those reductions have come through retrofitting of some plants and retiring of others due to economic conditions, company officials said.

“AEP is retiring more than one-fourth of our existing coal-fueled power plant fleet in the next few years,” Ridout said. “The plants that remain are the most efficient in our fleet and are equipped with more than $10 billion worth of emission controls that were installed to meet other EPA requirements. The investments that our customers made in these plants should not be prematurely lost when, ultimately, it will have no impact on growing global greenhouse gas concentrations.”