"Clear Skies" Clears Way for Energy, Environmental Goals
By Steve Kiesner Director of National Accounts, Edison Electric Institute | October 28, 2008
Diminishing supplies are one reason behind the price increases. Another, less known factor, is the Clean Air Act. The country's current approach to air quality regulation pressures power generators to use gas instead of coal for their new power plants. This has put the power industry in competition with hotels and other consumers for gas. The added demand on top of tightening supplies has driven prices to their new heights.
There is a better way. A multi-emission approach along the lines of the President's Clear Skies plan-now before Congress (S. 485 & H.R. 999)-will minimize strains on our gas supplies, while it cuts emissions faster and with greater certainty.
Electricity and Coal
The U.S. has one of the most reliable, affordable electricity systems in the world. Coal-based electric power plants are at the heart of it. Since 1970, coal use for electricity generation has risen by 171 percent. Coal now produces over 50 percent of our nation's electricity.
But beginning in the 1990s, the percentage of electricity generated from natural gas started to rise, from 12 percent to about 17 percent today. Looking ahead, the EIA projects that natural gas' share of the electricity generation mix will increase even further, rising to 29 percent in 2025. Concerns over the impact of future air regulations undoubtedly will play a part in this growth. For hotels, this projection means even more competition with the power sector for natural gas.
The main reason for the growing use of natural gas to generate electricity? The Clean Air Act. It creates challenges for every generating fuel, but none more so than coal. Coal-based generators face numerous EPA regulatory initiatives. These address power plant emissions on different time scales, with different geographic targets, and often-different criteria. For example, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions face more than a dozen separate regulations each.