by David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected an early challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, saying the legal action was premature. The panel did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit, stating that objections to the plan were filed too soon because the regulation has not yet been finalized. When the rules are finalized later this year, there will be additional challenges.
The decision was just the latest milestone in the long journey to energy independence. Though it remains unclear if the Clean Power Plan will withstand legal challenges, it doesn’t alter the changes the electric utility industry has undertaken over the past few years.
These changes predated EPA’s Clean Power Plan by several years. Case in point, I wrote the following in The Tennessee Magazine’s July 2007 edition:
We are at the beginning of our own revolution — an energy revolution. Last month, we talked about the changing political landscape and the climate change debate. In fact, it seems that every other headline these days is something about climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon emissions and global warming. The climate change issue has brought about political change — change that will affect us, our children and our grandchildren.
The change won’t occur quickly, that’s for certain. There is no “magic bullet” that is going to solve our energy needs and clean up the environment. Steps toward lowering our energy consumption will go a long way toward lessening our carbon emissions. However, as our population grows, conservation and efficiency can’t solve all of our problems. It will take a long, deliberative process that is going to involve individuals and governments. Developing cost-effective energy alternatives will take a massive technological effort and investment.
Hybrid vehicles, once a novelty item, are rapidly gaining an anchor in the marketplace. Compact fluorescent lamps are quickly replacing incandescent lights in our homes and offices.
There is a long list of renewable energy technologies that today are in their commercial infancy: Solar, wind, geothermal and landfill methane are just a few. As we develop and improve the technologies for harnessing these resources, those energy sources may become more commonplace.
Our current reliable low-emission energy sources — hydro and nuclear — will continue to be a part of our achieving our energy-independence goals. Even coal-fired generation, while contributing to carbon emissions, can be improved through technological advancements that greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted.
As we begin this revolution, there is hope for the future. EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, suggests “it is technically feasible to slow down and stop the increase in U.S. electric sector carbon dioxide emissions and then eventually reduce them over the next 25 years while meeting the increased demand for electricity.” For example, technologies are currently being developed that would capture and store carbon dioxide in underground caverns.
Those trends have continued — and accelerated — during the past eight years. New housing construction and appliances are even more energy-efficient. Renewable energy resources such as solar and wind are implemented more each year.
Just as our electric cooperatives brought another degree of independence to rural America more than 80 years ago, we remain committed to being involved in a sustainable, renewable energy future as we look toward our nation’s energy independence.