Duane Noland, President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives
Costly EPA regulation is coming
EPA regulation of CO2 and coal ash will raise rates
The biggest challenge for electric cooperatives is the same challenge we’ve struggled with for most of our history — politics. Today we are faced with many factors that are raising the cost of electricity, but the number one issue is how we will address the issue of climate change.
As it stands now Congress has failed to find a fair, affordable and achievable solution and the EPA is moving forward with regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2). All sides agree that regulation is not the best solution. We need a legislative solution not regulation.
Nearly 80 percent of the electricity produced in the Midwest is generated with coal. With increasing demand, rising rates, CO2 regulation on the horizon, transmission line overload and an economy already in the tank, we need to find the political will to craft an intelligent solution. We are working hard to educate our co-op member-owners and our elected representatives on this new energy crisis and the solutions we think will be effective.
It is election day as I write this. I just finished casting my vote at my local precinct in rural Macon County. I hope you exercised your right to vote, too. Although there are many things to be concerned about in our economy, our country and across the globe, you just have to marvel at the impact your vote can have and the difference this election could make.
Elections also make a difference in our courts and justice system. For example, the EPA is set to regulate carbon dioxide because the Supreme Court ruled that they had that authority to do so under the Clean Air Act. Some of the legislators who originally passed that legislation will tell you that regulating carbon dioxide was not their intent. None the less that process is going forward despite lawsuits and proposed legislation to halt it. The new Congress seated in January will need to address this issue.
The EPA is also considering new regulation of coal ash. Burning coal creates ash, just like a wood fire does in your fireplace. The EPA is proposing new rules that would classify coal ash as “hazardous material.” Such a designation will have a deep and dramatic impact on the cost of electricity. It also would deal a blow to the widespread recycling practice of incorporating coal ash into useful products and materials such as concrete. The EPA acknowledges that coal ash can be managed as non-hazardous material and that it only becomes a problem when not handled responsibly. Electric co-ops currently meet or exceed all existing state and federal regulations for the storage, use and disposal of coal ash. We support those current regulations.
In 2000 under the Clinton Administration, the last time the EPA reviewed this issue, it determined that coal ash does not meet the “hazardous material” criteria. We respectfully believe they got it right then.
One of our generation and transmission co-ops has estimated that the cost of this proposed “hazardous materials” regulation would raise its cost by $11 million, about one-quarter of the co-op’s total annual fuel bill.
In addition to keeping the cost of energy as low as possible, co-ops are also working hard to improve reliability. In recent years we’ve seen several major ice and wind storms that have left devastating, long outages in their wake. Our co-ops have responded by increasing their vegetation management programs using modern utility arborist standards, purchasing high production clearing equipment, and using new software tools such as geographic information systems to do a better job of tracking maintenance of the 56,626 miles of right of way and power lines owned by co-ops in Illinois. I urge you to have your own “reliability” plan this winter. For example, we have a backup generator on our farm. Always remember to be safe around electricity, especially any downed power lines during or after a storm.
I also urge you to stay involved in your electric co-op and your community. Attend your co-op’s annual meeting. Get involved in your local school or a charity. Educate yourself on the issues facing your community. And when election time rolls around again, vote for strong leaders who have proven their commitment to your co-op and community.
Duane Noland, President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives is a former state senator, active on his family farm near Blue Mound and a member of Shelby Electric Cooperative.