By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that the Trump-era Affordable Clean Energy plan would replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan was big news in Washington and beyond this week.
Many leaders and corporate officials in coal-friendly states like Alabama applauded the newly proposed rule as a needed move away from the over-regulation of the Obama era.
The rule would ostensibly ease the burden on energy companies using coal-fired power generation plants by allowing states to regulate carbon emissions standards for themselves. The Obama-era Clean Power Plan had sought to essentially phase out coal power by sharply increasing emissions standards nationally.
The Trump era has already been good to electricity providers and consumers alike, as the utility tax cuts from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act were passed along to Alabama Power customers in the form of rate cuts back in May.
But will this new rule mean a marked change in the way states like Alabama produce and consume electricity?
Southern Company, one of the nation’s largest energy providers and parent company of Alabama Power, said it is still reviewing the proposed rule but has already made significant progress reducing carbon emissions.
“Southern Company is reviewing EPA’s proposed emission guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric utility generating units. Southern Company supports a constructive and durable rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that is consistent with the Clean Air Act,” said company spokesman Schuyler Baehman.
“Southern Company is committed to providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy, while transitioning towards low- to no-carbon operations by 2050,” Baehman added.
“Specifically, Alabama Power carbon emissions have been cut by 33 percent since 2007.”
Alabama Power is already deep into the transition from coal-fired power plants to cleaner burning fuels. In the late 1990s, coal power made up nearly 80 percent of Alabama Power’s electricity generation. That total is only about half today, and 30 percent of its electricity output is from emissions free sources like nuclear and hydro, company officials said.
Since 2015, the number of coal-fired in Alabama Power’s generating fleet has gone from 23 to 10, due to both retiring facilities to converting coal-fired units to natural gas.
While the new rule might not result in new coal-fired power plants coming online, it could mean an easier and less costly for companies like Alabama Power transitioning away from coal.