The Surprising Facts About the Clean Power Plan: Most States Are Already On Track to Meet 2020 Benchmarks for Reducing Carbon Emissions

June 3, 2015 | 8:48 am
Jeremy Richardson
Former Contributor

A new analysis released today by UCS shows that most states are already making progress toward cutting carbon emissions from power plants by shifting from coal-fired power to cleaner generation sources like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas. As a result of recent decisions and state laws that predate the proposed Clean Power Plan, 31 states have already made commitments that would put them more than halfway toward meeting the 2020 benchmarks set out by the EPA, and 14 of those states are already on track to meet or exceed them, including some unlikely suspects.

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Key findings

Our analysis shows that, through decisions already made such as the retirement of uneconomic coal plants, and compliance with existing renewable electricity standards and energy efficiency resource standards, many states all across the country are well positioned to reliably and affordably achieve the 2020 emissions reduction benchmarks set forth in the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Additional actions, especially further ramping up of cost-effective renewable energy and energy efficiency, can get them all the way toward compliance at modest costs or net savings to consumers.

Links to a slide deck and tables summarizing our findings are at the bottom of this post.

Key Finding #1: All but 4 states have already made decisions that will help cut their power plant emission rates before 2020.

States have already made legal and regulatory decisions that when fully implemented will collectively take the country approximately two-thirds of the way toward the combined state 2020 emissions benchmarks.

Key Finding #2: Current carbon-cutting decisions and actions are sufficient to put 14 states ahead of the emission rate reduction trajectory that the Clean Power Plan sets for them beginning in 2020 (see Figure 1). Collectively, these 14 states represent 34 percent of the U.S. population and 36 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Notably, the list includes

  • States that have become national leaders in their commitments to renewable energy and energy efficiency, such as Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland;
  • Three of the nation’s most coal power dependent states—Kentucky, Ohio, and New Mexico—primarily due to their recent decisions to retire uneconomic coal plants and replace them with cleaner, cheaper alternatives;
  • States like Delaware, New York, and New Hampshire that are able to meet their benchmarks through collective action with the nine states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a multi-state effort to collectively cap carbon emissions from power plants.
The 14 states that will have met EPA's 2020 benchmarks for emissions reductions based solely on prior actions and decisions.

The 14 states that will have met the EPA’s 2020 benchmarks for emissions reductions based solely on prior actions and decisions.

Key Finding #3: Fully 31 states will be at least halfway towards the 2020 benchmark in the EPA’s emission rate reduction trajectory, 23 of which will be 75 percent of the way there (Figure 2). Combined, these 31 states account for 71 percent of the U.S. population and 73 percent of U.S. GDP. Strikingly, nine of these states rank in the top third of coal generating states nationwide, illustrating that even the most coal-dependent states are already initiating the transition to lower carbon power sources.

Fully 31 states will be more than halfway toward meeting EPA's 2020 benchmarks for emissions reductions, representing 73 percent of U.S. GDP.

Fully 31 states will be more than halfway toward meeting the EPA’s 2020 benchmarks for emissions reductions, representing 73 percent of U.S. GDP.

What does it mean to meet a 2020 benchmark, anyway?

Once the Clean Power Plan is finalized this summer, states will have 1-2 years to develop compliance plans and up to 3 years for multi-state plans. Those plans must show how the state will meet an average annual carbon emission rate between 2020 and 2029 (called an interim target) and a final 2030 emission rate goal.

To help meet the interim target, the EPA suggested an emission rate reduction trajectory (or glide path) for each state starting in 2020 and continuing through 2029. Efforts to reduce power plant carbon emissions between 2012 and 2020 are eligible to help put states on their proposed emissions reduction pathway. In other words, states don’t need to wait to take action. And a vast majority of them are moving ahead.

Our analysis examines specific types of actions states have taken or will take between 2012 and 2020 that can help them cut emissions by 2020: retiring coal plants; deploying additional renewable energy to meet mandatory state renewable electricity standards (RES); and ramping up energy efficiency to meet mandatory state energy efficiency resource standards (EERS).

We analyze how far these planned actions will take states toward achieving the 2020 emission rate proposed in the EPA’s 2020-2029 glide path. While the rule does not require states to meet this 2020 emission rate, it is a helpful benchmark against which to measure a state’s progress toward meeting the interim and final targets of the CPP.

What exactly is considered a planned action?

In our analysis, we looked at specific actions that states have already taken or will take between 2012 and 2020 that reduce carbon emissions. Our aim was to construct a conservative estimate of states’ progress toward their benchmark emission rates in 2020.

  • Coal Retirements: For coal plant retirements, we conservatively assume that all of that retired generation will be made up by natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants, which could come from ramping up existing NGCC plants, building new NGCC plants, or converting existing coal plants to natural gas. We used data, primarily from SNL Energy, on all announced coal plant retirements scheduled to take place between 2012 and 2020. The dataset reflects any announcements as of May 2015.
  • Renewable Energy: We only included renewable energy that would be brought on line between 2012 and 2020 to meet mandatory state RESs, based on projections from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. We conservatively did not include voluntary state RES goals in this analysis, nor do we include additional renewable energy investments—beyond mandatory requirements—that are being deployed in many states like Texas and Iowa simply because it is cost-effective to do so.
  • Energy Efficiency: We made similarly conservative estimates for energy efficiency improvements from mandatory EERS, based on data from the EPA. We did not include voluntary energy efficiency or conservation goals, or other complementary state policies focused on energy efficiency.
  • Nuclear energy: In keeping with the EPA’s draft proposal, we included under construction nuclear plants that are scheduled to come on line by 2020 as committed actions by states that would help them meet their 2020 emissions benchmarks.
  • Carbon caps: The nine states that participate in RGGI plus California all have mandatory carbon caps in place that will cut their emissions sufficiently so that they can meet the 2020 benchmarks.

Emission rates calculations are all adjusted according to the EPA’s proposed building blocks formula to take account of under construction natural gas and nuclear power capacity, as well as 6 percent of the generation from EPA’s estimate of existing “at-risk” nuclear plants.

The path forward

In short, states in every region of the country are demonstrating that they can cost-effectively and reliably transition to low-carbon power sources. This conservative look at state progress toward carbon emission reductions by 2020 suggests that states are well on their way toward meeting the EPA’s targets. States can and should continue to invest heavily in renewables and efficiency to further their progress to a clean energy economy.

Download additional materials on our analysis:

Overview of Analysis and Results

Table of State Level Results

View a slide show of our analysis:

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