Michelle Freeark knew from the beginning that providing a roadmap for complying with the new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule would be well received.

What she didn’t know was that the group of co-op leaders she chaired would be writing the go-to guide on ACE implementation for the entire power sector and state regulators.

“We met with all utilities in Arizona, and we shared it with them,” Freeark says. “We shared it with our state [regulator]. We know this is not intended to be the only tool, but states are saying this is a tool in their toolbox and very informative.”

Freeark is executive director of regulatory affairs and corporate services at Arizona G&T Cooperatives in Benson and chairs the ACE Implementation Subgroup of NRECA’s Environmental Policy Council.

The subgroup began its work in January 2019, six months before the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the ACE rule. They released their influential Guidance on Implementing the Affordable Clean Energy Rule: Engineering, Operations and Compliance Considerations in February this year, the first report of its kind from any industry group.

“We decided early on we would develop guidance and principles on what we faced within our own states,” Freeark. “People were waiting on the edge of their seat for this. Everyone said we need guidance, but no one stepped up to do it but NRECA through its subgroups.”

The ACE rule effectively replaces the 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP), a mandate on fossil fuel generation that was ultimately stayed by the Supreme Court before its full implementation. NRECA opposed the CPP arguing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have given equal consideration to all generation sources, such as coal, natural gas, renewables, and nuclear, when it determined “a best system of emission reduction” for carbon dioxide emissions.

The ACE rule stays within the bounds of the Clean Air Act, gives utilities more time to comply with emissions standards, recognizes available technologies, and provides state regulators with significant flexibility for devising and enforcing standards of performance, utility industry leaders say.

Since finalizing the ACE rule in mid-2019, however the EPA has given little direction on implementation, a circumstance that drove interest in the NRECA report.

“There was not a lot of meat on the bones on how things would play out in engineering and operations and compliance issues that have to be satisfied,” Freeark says. “A lot of states contacted the G&Ts saying, ‘We don’t know what to do with this rule. You have to help us.’ We saw an opportunity.”

Since its release, the NRECA subgroup’s document has been used by several industry organizations, including the American Public Power Association and the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies. Both groups sent the report to their memberships and invited NRECA experts to present it.

NRECA provided the report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and shared it with members of the Environmental Council of the States, the association of state and territorial environmental agency leaders.

“This document can bring [utilities and regulators] up to speed in a couple hours, and it’s free,” says Jerry Purvis, vice president for environmental affairs at G&T East Kentucky Power Cooperative and a member of the ACE subgroup. “They can read the document and navigate a path to work with management and the states.”

The report provides detailed engineering specifications for using heat rate improvements (HRI) to limit emissions. It also identifies proven HRI technologies to be analyzed under the rule and their likely impact on carbon dioxide emission rates over a range of scenarios.

In addition, it has guidance on standards-of-performance components for state compliance. The report also recommends that EPA and state regulators give generators longer averaging periods for compliance due to seasonality, equipment failures, outages, and other events.

Dan Chartier, NRECA’s regulatory director for environmental policy, credits the subgroup’s “member-led, member-driven, member-supported” approach for the success of the guidance.

“We didn’t put this out there as, ‘Here is the one and only way to do this,’ but as factors to consider,” he says. “So far, we’ve received no negative feedback. Regulators who have seen it like it and have said good things about it.”

Freeark says she began getting inquiries at the end of 2019 about the group’s forthcoming ACE guidance. The subgroup met multiple times per week during that period and worked through Christmas to get the document finished.

“We wanted something people could use, not just put on the shelf and forget,” she says. “This was an opportunity for the co-op world to step up and show what we can do and give to the greater cause.”

Other co-ops represented on the ACE Implementation Subgroup include Associated Electric Cooperative; Basin Electric Power Cooperative; Buckeye Power; Dairyland Power Cooperative; East Texas Electric Cooperative; Great River Energy; Minnkota Power Cooperative; Oglethorpe Power Corp; PowerSouth Energy Cooperative; South Texas Electric Cooperative, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. The subgroup partnered with Black & Veatch, a global engineering and construction firm, in writing the guidance.

Download the Affordable Clean Energy report.