Tackling Climate Change
A sound approach to climate change
by Jennifer Taylor and Scott Gates
Discussions about global climate change inevitably include electric power generation. The reason: Power plants that burn fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas produce 39 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide, the largest single source of the principal greenhouse gas blamed for contributing to climate change.
As the climate change debate takes aim at power generation, electric co-ops have a responsibility to keep policymakers in check, ensuring the right solutions are developed and implemented in ways that keep the nation’s lights on in an affordable way.
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit, utility-sponsored consortium whose members include electric co-ops, believes we can do just that. It has developed a technology-based framework that would achieve a 45 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the next 22 years while meeting growing demand for electricity.
“Technology is what it’s all about,” notes Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s electric co-ops. “It gives electric cooperatives the opportunity to address climate change and at the same time generate the amount of power we need to meet the needs of our members.”
Even though demand for electricity is predicted to increase by 18 percent over the next decade, capacity to generate electricity will only increase by 8.4 percent, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corp., a non-profit organization charged with monitoring America’s power system reliability. This means that unless new power plants and transmission lines are constructed, Americans will have to adjust to the possibility of not having electricity when they flip on a switch.
What’s more, climate change legislation could have a dramatic effect on power generation and electric bills. Local, state and federal lawmakers are currently considering additional costs on power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide.
EPRI’s analysis recognizes this reality and encourages aggressive new action in seven specific areas: boosting energy efficiency, improving the operating efficiency of advanced coal-fired power plants, investing in renewable energy, expanding nuclear power capacity, capturing carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired power plants and storing it deep underground, adding distributed generation resources, and putting plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road.
The recommendations are sound, although implementing many of the ideas on a large scale will require a massive investment of government resources and mobilization of every sector of the economy. Making some technologies commercially viable will require expensive research and development — an estimated $1.4 billion per year through 2030. But Revis James, director of EPRI’s Energy Technology Assessment Center, feels confident that the overall goals can be met.
“Let’s suppose that as a society we want to send a man to Mars,” James says, providing an example of a project similar in scale. “Are we currently building rockets designed to go to Mars? Absolutely not. But we do have technology available now that will be valuable in getting there.”
James sees curbing carbon emissions in the same way. “Underlying research has already laid the foundation. We’ve got a good bedrock of current technology to build on in years to come.”
Advanced Coal Plant Efficiency
Carbon Capture and Storage
Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Distributed Generation
A closer look at each of these seven areas will demonstrate how electric co-ops have emerged as industry leaders, all in their continuing efforts to provide safe, reliable and affordable power in an environmentally responsible manner.
Taylor and Gates write for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
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