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BY CHUCK SODERBERG

Those of us who work in the electric utility sector are deeply concerned how federal energy policy is threatening electric reliability for the families, businesses and communities we serve. It’s time to sound the alarm and raise awareness of how these misguided mandates will negatively impact our country.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final Power Plant Rule, which includes four major environmental regulations. One regulation under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (also known as the Greenhouse Gas Rule) will limit emissions from existing coal and new natural gas power plants. The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC) stands with the Iowa Attorney General, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) and the Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) in opposing these regulations on the grounds that they are unlawful, unrealistic and unachievable.

The EPA’s Power Plant Rule requires existing coal and natural gas generation facilities to deploy carbon capture and sequestration at a level that is not yet achievable or commercially viable. The other three regulations in the rule tighten already stringent standards for mercury and air toxins and wastewater and impose additional burdensome requirements on legacy coal ash sites.

Policy targets always-available generation

Specifically, the Power Plant Rule will force the early closure of “always-available” electric generation sources and limit the construction of new natural gas plants as our nation’s economy will require more electric generation in the years ahead. Existing coal-fueled units that plan to operate past 2032 and until 2039 must co-fuel with natural gas at a 40% rate starting in 2030.

To operate past 2039, existing coal-fueled plants must capture or avoid 90% of their carbon emissions by 2032. The Power Plant Rule also requires the same 90% carbon capture or avoidance for new natural gas plants operating at baseload (above a 40% capacity factor). These new standards will impact electric utilities’ abilities to economically and reliably replace lost coal generation.

These reckless regulations are not based in reality and pose an immediate threat to the electric grid and will negatively impact electric reliability here in Iowa. We are sounding the alarm that these EPA mandates will drastically diminish electric cooperatives’ ability to provide dependable power when our member-consumers need it most.

Jeopardizing affordable and reliable electricity

With the Power Plant Rule, the EPA is overreaching its legal boundaries, disregarding practicality and endangering national energy security. These new mandates jeopardize affordable and reliable electricity by forcing the premature closure of “always-available” power plants while also making it harder to permit, site and build critical new generation facilities. As electric demand increases each year, replacing dispatchable electric generation sources like coal and natural gas with intermittent power sources like solar and wind is a recipe for disaster.

We support an “all-of-the-above” electric generation strategy that prioritizes reliability.

Iowa’s electric utilities are not alone in our concern. In filing joint comments on the proposed EPA Power Plant Rules back in 2023, Iowa’s OCA and the IUB expressed the following opposition to the mandates:

“The proposed rules treat reliability as merely one of many considerations and do a poor job in making that consideration.” … “The proposed rules are rushed, the record does not meaningfully consider the impact of this truly essential service, and EPA myopically pursues a narrow goal at the expense of larger societal benefits like life, heat, and jobs.”

National utility trade associations – including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the American Public Power Association – and a coalition of 27 attorneys general, including Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, have filed separate lawsuits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, petitioning for review of the EPA’s Power Plant Rule and to stay the rule while the Court decides the motion.

Risk of insufficient power resources

Additionally, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has noted this growing capacity shortfall, which has resulted from the reduction in reliable electric generation and the increase in electric demand. In its 2024 Summer Reliability Assessment, NERC warns that there is an elevated seasonal risk for several regions of the country, including parts of the Midwest. This means there is potential for insufficient operating reserves – which can translate into rolling power outages – in above-normal peak conditions. And in 2023, NERC listed energy policy as the highest significant risk to grid reliability.

Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a regional transmission operator that covers parts of western Iowa, warns that the EPA’s rule poses reliability risks.

“SPP is concerned that limited technological and infrastructure availability and the compliance time frame will have deleterious impacts including the retirement of, or the decision not to build, thousands of megawatts of baseload thermal generation.”

Iowa’s economy can’t succeed without reliable electricity, and the EPA cannot ignore growing reliability challenges at this critical time for our nation’s energy future. The EPA must follow the law and set realistic standards based on technology that has been adequately demonstrated and is achievable. With the Power Plant Rule, the EPA has set an unworkable timeframe in violation of the Clean Air Act and Supreme Court decisions.

Federal energy policy has now become a major threat to electric reliability and it’s time to take a stand and sound the alarm to protect the Iowans we serve.

Chuck Soderberg is the executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.

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