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One million comments

America’s electric cooperatives have collected one million comments in opposition to the EPA’s proposed rule targeting existing power plants. This milestone boosts our relevance in the nation’s capital and sends a powerful message to EPA officials.

Our drive to one million has not been a simple task, and it would not have been possible without the support of co-op members.

“This has been a concentrated effort to protect our members from expensive and ineffective government regulations,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “I thank everyone who has helped us take a stand for affordable and reliable energy.”

While reaching this milestone is cause for celebration, now is not the time to take a break.  There’s still more time to grow the number of comments that we’ll send on this proposal. Because the EPA recently extended the comment deadline to December 1, there’s now an additional 45 days for all of us to encourage more people to make their voices heard.

You can submit your own comments to the EPA by visiting takeactionTN.com.

EPA grants comment extension

The EPA announced on Tuesday that it will grant a 45 day extension to the comment period for its climate rule on existing power plants.

The announcement of a new Dec. 1 deadline comes after more than half of the Senate asked the EPA to extend the comment period for another 60 days. Both Sens. Alexander and Corker signed the letter sent to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy last week.

“The EPA’s proposed regulation will have significant impacts on the affordability and reliability of power and poses a threat to American jobs and the economy,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We applaud the EPA’s decision to extend the comment period, we thank Senators Alexander and Corker for their support on this issue, and we encourage all Tennesseans to visit takeactionTN.com to send your own message to the EPA.”

Learn more about this issue at tnelectric.org/takeaction.

Impacts

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

While there are usually two sides to every story, quite often there are even more. That makes decision-making difficult, whether it’s parenting, voting or solving complex business decisions. If you’ve ever separated quarreling siblings, you know it’s no simple task discovering who instigated the fight. You listen to both parties, check the facts and dispense justice — or something close to it.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently introduced its Clean Power Plan, which would essentially restructure the way electricity is generated — local decisions would be made in Washington, D.C. As the EPA unveiled the proposed rule, it also quoted statistics stating that the cost of electricity would be lower in 2030 if the rule were adopted.

If you only consider the information the EPA provided, you wouldn’t really understand why anyone would oppose a plan that purports to lower your electric bill and fight climate change.

That is unless, of course, you looked at another side of the issue.

Everyone wants clean air; that should go without saying. Over the past decades, electric cooperatives across the nation have invested billions of dollars in emissions technologies and renewable energy sources. We’ve also led the way in energy-efficiency efforts; what other industry pays you to use less of its product?

Closer to home, the Tennessee Valley Authority closed several aging coal plants, switched fuels to natural gas whenever possible and continued to build carbon-emission-free nuclear generation. All of these measures have been cost-effective, systematic and done without federal mandates. (TVA is a federal agency, but operating decisions are made locally.)

The EPA’s rule essentially eliminates coal as a generation source. To the EPA and proponents of the rule, that’s great. Yet, there is another side to the “war on coal.”

At a recent EPA hearing in Denver, Moffat County (Colorado) Commissioner John Kinkaid shared the impact coal has on his county. He began by discussing the natural beauty of his county and the tourism and recreational options available.

And then he discussed the financial impact of the EPA rule. The coal mines and power plants are the largest taxpayers in the county, providing an annual financial impact of more than $428 million to the local economy. This comes from the very same coal-fired plant that co-exists with the residents and the mountains.

Residents of the county don’t want it closed. They don’t want local residents to lose good jobs. They don’t want their school systems to struggle for funding. They want to control their destiny, making the decisions that impact their future.

Opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan doesn’t mean that we only support coal, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we oppose clean air. However, the plan’s impact on the U.S. economy is far too great without making any significant impact on reducing global carbon emissions.

Moffat County is only one of many areas impacted by the plan. Tens of thousands of families could see their lives upended for a rule that, on its face, looks like a good idea.

As we’ve mentioned, the EPA is taking comments on the Clean Power Plan proposed rule until Thursday, Oct. 16. EPA officials asked for comments, so let’s give them comments. Go to takeactionTN.com and let your voice be heard.

Prevailing winds

By David Callis, executive vice-president, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Despite a few high-profile scandals, I like to believe that most corporations abide by the law. Some do so because it’s the right thing to do. Others do so because of existing regulations and laws.

Along those lines, how do electric utilities respond when regulatory bodies force operational changes? If federal energy policy enacts changes that alter your strategy, sound business practice demands that you comply. Obeying the law ensures continued operation; doing the opposite invites fines, failure or possibly even incarceration.

It’s not an unusual happening in the energy industry. Our government is empowered to ensure that the economy functions well, and sound energy policy keeps the engine of industry running. Over the years, the federal government has taken action in a variety of ways: establishing and maintaining a Strategic Petroleum Reserve, restricting exports of fuels that are in short supply and even mandating that certain fuel sources be avoided.

That last point is a troubling one. Successful businesses plan for the future, doing their best to anticipate changing economic and market conditions. Most businesses plan strategically for the next two to three years; others take longer looks, three to five years and beyond, depending on their forecasting ability. In the electric utility business, routine planning for us means that we plan 20 to 30 years into the future.

The electric utility business is a very capital-intensive business. That simply means it costs a lot of money to build large electric generating plants and transformers and string wire. When you are constructing and maintaining a costly infrastructure, it requires meticulous long-term planning.

That’s particularly true for utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority that build facilities that generate electricity. In planning for the needs of our state and the surrounding area, TVA is currently in the midst of doing just that. Its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will be completed later this year.

Exploring the capital-intensive nature of our business, if a utility in, say, 1974, was planning for a 30-year future, one decision is what fuel to use. It needs to be a source that is abundantly available. The utility would make the best economic choice, taking into consideration the cost of the fuel, pollution standards and safety concerns.

What if one of those sources was taken off the table by regulators?

Around 1974, the 94th Congress passed S. 622, better known as the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The law was signed by President Gerald Ford on Dec. 22, 1975. The official summary of the act reads: “Extends through June 30, 1977, the authority of the Administrator of the Federal Energy Administration under the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act to issue orders prohibiting power plants and major fuel burning installations from using natural gas or petroleum products as fuel if they had been capable on June 22, 1974, of burning coal.” (emphasis mine)

The message delivered in 1975 was that burning natural gas is bad and burning coal is good. That’s a bit different than what we’re facing in 2014.

There were sound reasons for the decisions made in 1975, yet those decisions had consequences. We have a significant amount of coal-fired generation in this country that will be costly and difficult to replace.

Congressional action typically involves a thorough, deliberative process when setting energy policy. However, policy dictated by an agency without that process is subject to far less scrutiny.

As we’ve told you before, you have an opportunity to let your voice be heard. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking comments on its proposed Clean Power Plan until Oct. 16. TVA continues to invite comments on its IRP until Nov. 25.

Go to takeactionTN.com today and send a message. We need sensible solutions that provide for affordable and reliable power.