When in Danger, When in Doubt

WC listened to his buddy Cory Borgeson on KUAC-FM Monday morning. Recovering lawyer Borgeson is the General Manager of Golden Valley Electric Association, Interior Alaska’s electric utility. KUAC interviewed Borgeson about the impact of the then-unannounced EPA rules on CO2 emissions. Borgeson Viewed with Alarm any attempt to reduce coal burning or CO2 emissions, suggested a possible waiver for Alaska and announced GVEA would be joining unspecified lawsuits challenging the EPA regulations.

Well, the regulations came out today and while they require Alaska to make a reduction in total CO2 emissions per amount of electricity generated, they are hardly terrifying or draconian. According to the EPA’s website,

In 2012, Alaska’s power sector CO2 emissions were approximately 2 million metric tons from sources covered by the rule. The amount of energy produced by fossil-fuel fired plants, and certain low or zero emitting plants was approximately 3 terawatt hours (TWh)*. So, Alaska’s 2012 emission rate was 1,351 pounds/megawatt hours (lb/MWh).
EPA is proposing that Alaska develop a plan to lower its carbon pollution to meet its proposed emission rate goal of 1,003 lb/MWh in 2030.

That’s a reduction of some 348 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Alaska’s power generation system needs to become 26% more efficient.

Coal hasn’t been banned. EPA isn’t ordering the Healy or Aurora or University coal-fired plants to be shut down. GVEA’s plan to re-open Healy II – the so-called “clean coal” plant in Healy – will be made much more difficult, but it was a bad idea anyway.

Healy II - A Bad Idea That Just Got Worse

Healy II – A Bad Idea That Just Got Worse

Right now, less than ten percent of Alaska’s electricity is generated by coal. The far more efficient natural gas accounts for more than half; 15% comes from petroleum — that’s GVEA’s North Pole plant and the dozens of small power plants in villages across the state powered by diesel.

What it comes down to is that GVEA must find a way to generate more electricity by natural gas and less by coal. Remember, only about 33% of the energy on a lump of coal is converted to electricity. 56% – 60% of the energy in natural gas is converted, and only CO2 is a waste product. Remember, too, coal is “cheap” only if you ignore the attendant environmental costs of mining, transporting and burning it. The EPA’s new rules are a modest step towards accounting for those costs.

As for litigation, Borgeson is forgetting that the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 has been to the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2007, and the EPA was found to have the authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. The decision came with the Bush administration’s EPA claiming not to have such authority, which gives the current state of the law a pleasing irony. WC is the first to admit the the current radical majority of the SCOTUS has scant regard for precedent, even its own precedent. But the law is settled. A lawsuit is a bet that the SCOTUS will reverse itself. Even with the Roberts Court, that’s not a smart bet.

The monies Borgeson is planning to pour into legal fees would be more intelligently spent getting large quantities of natural gas from the North Slope to Fairbanks as quickly as possible. Or participating in a new natural gas-fired facility in Southcentral, with most of its electricity shipped north via the tie line as an interim measure.

A lawsuit, the legal equivalent of running in circles while screaming and shouting about the unfairness of its all, is counter-indicated. Because climate change is real. It’s going to impact Alaska hardest and soonest. It already is. A reduction in emitted CO2 is in Alaska’s best interests.


2 thoughts on “When in Danger, When in Doubt

  1. You write:
    “15% comes from petroleum…(including)…dozens of small power plants in villages across the state powered by diesel.”

    And that’s a very hard-to-eradicate 15 percent. I can tell you of a certain Small Community…one of the very oldest of all non-native communities in Alaska….built on the oldest road in non-panhandle Alaska…that contains in its downtown area exactly eight houses and businesses. And every single one of them runs its own diesel generator. The amount of excess – but unusable – electric production; the amount of particulate matter and hydrocarbon exhaust from these combined units is exceeded only by the incalculable amount of spilled fuel and destroyed surface & subsurface material from decades of mishandling.

    (Dear Other Reader: WC knows very exactly of which community I write)

    The question for here is, however, how does one approach the relevant authorities for taking the rather simple step of including this community and all the other Low-Hanging-Fruit-On-The-Road-System into the state’s intertied grid? Who amongst the Powers That Be need to be told we have left the 19th century?

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