Ozarks utilties: Too early to know costs of carbon rules

Posted on August 6, 2015 20:45 pm CDT

Springfield News-Leader
By: John Swedien

As Show Me State politicians and pundits sound off on the federal government’s new rules for carbon emissions, Ozarks utility companies say it is too early to know the impact on ratepayers.

“There are many things that go into play here,” said Joel Alexander, spokesman for City Utilities of Springfield. “It’s just too soon to tell.”

Spokeswomen for The Empire District Electric Co. and Associated Electric Cooperative said the same.

Under the “Clean Power Plan” the Obama administration announced this week, power plants must cut their carbon emissions by 32 percent — from 2005 levels — before 2030. States will have to make interim improvements by 2022. States have flexibility in the ways they can meet the goals.

President Obama has said the new rules — which are more aggressive than rules proposed last year — are needed to combat climate change.

“The plan is more than lengthy and it will take some time to conduct a thorough review and determine how it will impact Empire and our customers,” spokeswoman Julie Maus said in a statement. “... As compliance plans are developed, we will continue to inform customers of the potential impact on reliable service and rates.”

Maus told the News-Leader that Empire has already been moving away from coal. In 1997, coal produced over 90 percent of the utility’s energy, whereas in 2014 it produced a little more than 50 percent, she said.

As for CU, coal accounts for 76 percent of the energy the utility produces, Alexander said. He noted the utility in 2010 built a new coal-fired power plant, but it has also expanded its natural gas capacity and has created a solar farm to harness solar energy.

Matt Morrow, president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the new carbon rules will raise utility costs and that will make it harder for businesses to create new jobs.

“It makes it a lot harder for businesses to expand when they have to pay more for energy,” Morrow said.

A push toward renewable energy caused by the carbon rules will itself create new jobs, said Judy Dasovich, chair of the White River Group Executive Committee, which is the local chapter of the Missouri Sierra Club.

People should also consider the larger environmental and public health benefits that will come from cutting carbon emissions, Dasovich said. She said in addition to helping curb climate change, fewer emissions will result in fewer incidents of asthma and other diseases — a position also held by the American Public Health Association.

Missouri’s congressional delegation has largely been critical of the new rules. Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has said the new rules will likely lead to a loss of jobs and higher utility bills that could particularly hurt middle- and low-income families.

Republican U.S. Rep. Billy Long said in a news release that the rules will “disproportionately slam coal power, which supplies 80 percent of Missouri’s electricity.”

And while less vocal than her Republican counterparts, Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill had said utilities should be given more time to adhere to the new rules even before the Obama administration released its more ambitious carbon reduction plan this week.

However, the Obama administration did push back the deadline for interim improvements, from 2020 to 2022, which had been a specific criticism of McCaskill’s.







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