By Sondra Boykin, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative
The electric utility industry is constantly changing. Stringent regulations and tough compliance issues are leaving many power suppliers evaluating future options during a time of overall uncertainty.
On Aug. 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency released the final version of its Clean Power Plan, which is considered among the most aggressive and controversial regulations in our nation’s history. It governs greenhouse gas emissions from new, existing and modified or reconstructed power plants and provides no relief for those that have invested billions of dollars in upgrades to extend the useful life of their power plants.
Opponents of the CPP, including state and national cooperative organizations, believe that the plan significantly exceeds the authority granted to the EPA under the Clean Air Act. On behalf of electric cooperatives nationwide, NRECA will be pursuing all legislative, administrative and legal options possible.
At this point in time, it is unknown as to exactly when the rule will be published in the Federal Register. Once it is published, litigation is expected to begin, creating even more uncertainty.
For a communicator in this industry, staying abreast of this situation as it unfolds is critical, as any new or updated information needs to be released, despite the continued uncertainty. In particular, as a communicator for a generation and transmission cooperative, providing timely information concerning the CPP is a significant task. Several audiences should be included at the G&T level.
G&T employees should remain in the loop about what is going on with this plan, as it could have a future impact on the way business is done today. Some G&T employees are also in a position in which they can relay information to those having questions “in the field.”
It is also important for the G&T to keep distribution members informed, including board members, managers and communicators, as they have the resources of directly passing on information to their respective members. This will ensure that all levels, from the G&T power supplier to the end-use consumer, receives updated information. A greater awareness of the potential CPP impacts will help prepare for substantial cost increases in the future.
For Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which has distribution cooperative members in two states (Oklahoma and New Mexico), different requirements will be necessary, as each state will be submitting their own plan, based on their specific needs and requirements. WFEC will work with each state, and other utilities, to help develop and submit a plan to the EPA before mid-September 2016. Either a plan will be submitted or the Federal Implementation Plan will be utilized.
WFEC, like other G&Ts, may be faced with developing possible compliance scenarios to help identify and communicate projected costs and challenges. Engineering assessments and studies of generation and transmission assets are likely to be evaluated to determine the estimated remaining life of each power plant. The life of each unit will be based on equipment and environmental expectations. Each of these possible projects will help in determining the potential impact.
Affordable, reliable electricity is the livelihood of every household, business and community across the country. The EPA’s proposed rule is not only costly, but comes with numerous risks. It is projected to cost electric utilities billions of dollars by closing power plants and forcing utilities to build additional infrastructure. The CPP will also force electricity price hikes, as well as jeopardizing the reliable power supply on which the American economy depends.
As a communicator, relaying this information to a specified audience will continue to be a crucial task, despite the remaining roadblock – the uncertainty of what this plan will actually bring about and when it will happen.