NE states propose 30% cut in power plant emissions

NE states propose 30% cut in power plant emissions

Nine states, including Mass., favor lowering cap from 2020 to 2030

NINE NORTHEASTERN AND MID-ATLANTIC STATES, including Massachusetts, unveiled a proposal on Wednesday that would require power plants running on fossil fuels to cut their carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent between 2020 and 2030.

The proposal was unveiled by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which sets an overall cap on power plant emissions in the nine states and requires plant operators to purchase allowances at quarterly auctions for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The auction payments incentivize power plants to cut their emissions and the proceeds returned to the states for investment in programs that further help reduce emissions.

The current annual cap for the nine states is 84.3 million tons. Under the proposal unveiled Wednesday, the cap is expected to fall to 75 million tons in 2021, and then drop by 2.275 million tons each year until 2030. The level in 2030 is expected to be 65 percent below the level in 2009, when the program started. The declining cap is likely to ratchet up the cost of allowances and, indirectly, put upward pressure on the cost of electricity.

Environmental advocacy groups hailed the decision, pointing out that states are now shouldering the burden of dealing with climate change at a time when the Trump administration is leading a federal government retreat. “Northeast governors have shown what real climate leadership looks like,” said Dan Sosland, president of Acadia Center, in a statement.

The advocacy groups also pointed out that emissions from power plants have been reduced across the nine-state region even as electricity prices have declined by 3.4 percent and the economies of the nine states have improved.

Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, said he was confident the carbon dioxide emission reductions called for in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative proposal are achievable. He said the shift away from coal-fired power plants and the development of more efficient natural gas-fired plants makes attainment of the goals possible.

The price of emission allowances has been steadily dropping the last few years, particularly as President Trump halted plans to more tightly regulate power generators. The auction clearing price of allowances fell from a recent high of $7.50 per allowance at the end of 2015 to a low of $2.53 per allowance in June.

Dolan urged state officials to focus on other areas of the economy for greenhouse gas reductions. He noted the transportation sector accounts for twice the emissions as power plants; buildings also generate more carbon dioxide than power generators. “This can’t be done in the electricity sector alone,” he said.

The new proposal on carbon dioxide emissions took more than a year to develop and still must undergo more review and implementation at the state level. Officials said an economic analysis of the proposal must also be done before final approval can be sought.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The nine states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont have Republican governors.

New Jersey dropped out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in 2012, but many expect the state to return to the fold when Gov. Chris Christie leaves office. Virginia officials are also talking about joining the regional compact.

  • NortheasternEE

    All this does is to increase electric rates for nothing in return. The effort is not only replacing coal power with the lower GHG emissions of natural gas, it is also eliminating no GHG nuclear power for a net zero emissions from the combination. We are ending up with a power grid that is dominated by intermittent and variable power from wind and solar with 100% firming from natural gas. Anything happens to the Natural gas supply, and it’s lights out.

    Rising electric rates is regressive. They disproportionately impact those who can least afford the increases. Having failed to achieve its goal so far, and before examining why, advocates are now demanding more.

    Let’s tell Governor Baker we want out!