News roundup: A busy week of environmental regulations

The past two weeks have been one of the busiest periods of time in recent memory for movement on sweeping environmental regulations. Since these will impact every sector of the economy and every person in the nation, a summary is in order:

Pennsylvania DEP continues its series of 14 listening sessions on how it should craft the state plan to comply with the EPA Clean Power Plan.  Most testimony followed the expected path with the usual suspects delivering the usual lines.

However, in Greensburg,  The Green County Messenger reports the offerings were more personal with Thelma Szarell, superintendent of the West Greene School District, saying, “Recently, we consolidated our elementary schools and built a new West Greene Elementary center, after years of wrestling with the issues of need, cost, and safety. It is not the Taj Mahal, but it is an updated facility that meets the needs of our students and community.This endeavor would not have been possible without adequate tax dollars,” she said. “Our school district has been supported by the coal industry. Local taxpayers would be burdened with higher taxes without the contribution from the mining industry to offset the cost.”

Pittsburgh was one of three locations for EPA to host a public hearing on the proposed methane rules for the oil and gas industry. The proposed rules are part of a plan that would reduce the industry’s pollution by up to 45 percent by requiring improved leak detection in most infrastructure components and targets reductions at compressor stations. API, an industry trade group, credits the industry with reducing emissions through the use of new technologies and practices, and calls the new rules, “another layer of burdensome requirements could actually slow down industry progress to reduce methane emissions.”

Complete details on the rule can be found in the Federal Registry.

On Wednesday, EPA has finalized revisions to effluent limitations guidelines and standards, and set the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater discharges from steam electric power plants. The rule has been surrounded by legal uncertainties, and POWER reports the challenges will continue – “I think that industry will likely argue that EPA’s record does not support some of the technology determinations, such as chemical precipitation and biological treatment for FGD wastewater and dry handling/closed-loop handling for bottom ash, and that EPA’s cost estimates are not properly supported (that is, the significantly underestimated the costs of these controls).”

The final prepublished 311 page rule is available from EPA’s website.

In another first, EPA released final rules for oil refinery emissions that will require fenceline monitoring and additional controls on various flaring activities. The U.S. has 142 refineries and EPA estimates 6.1 million people live within three miles of these facilities.  Facilities will have until 2018 to comply.

On Thursday,  after much anticipation, EPA tightened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), from a previous standard of 75 ppb. EPA was expected to adopt a standard between 65-70 ppb. The Wall Street Journal does a good job summarizing the claims by environmentalists the standard isn’t stringent enough, while industry claims the standard goes too far and will adversely impact the nation’s economy.

Event: Final hearing to be held in Pittsburgh on proposed regulations for methane emissions for oil and gas industry

EPA will hold it’s third, and final, public hearing on the sweeping proposals aimed at reducing emissions from the oil and natural gas sector.

The proposals are part of the agency’s broad-based strategy under the President’s Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane and smog-forming volatile organic compounds from this rapidly growing industry. The proposals complement rules the agency issued in 2012 .

Industry has broadly opposed the rules citing they are unnecessary given the industry has reduced overall emissions and would result in needless costs to meet the regulations. Environmental groups generally support the rules.

The hearing will be held at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh. While pre-registrations have closed, EPA has indicated anyone wishing to testify will be given the opportunity to do so.

Additional information can be found here.

What we’re reading this week

The Atlantic: Why the Saudis Are Going Solar

You would probably not expect the second largest oil producer in the world to also be trying to replace 20% of its electricity consumption with solar power, but that is what Saudi Arabia is aiming to do by 2032.   In this case, the reason is a high opportunity cost of burning oil at home when they could be selling it to others.   It’s a fascinating look at how global markets coupled with domestic consumer behavior drives changing energy economics.

Electric Light & Power:  In New England, transmission upgrades soften impact of plant retirements

Building new or upgrading transmission lines has been talked about a lot lately as a primary way to increase reliability, reduce price sensitivity, and facilitate better integration of renewable and intermittent generation on the electric grid, though not without a considerable price tag.  Here is the latest example.

Pennsylvania Business Daily:  NRG partnership positions Pittsburgh for global energy infrastructure leadership

Just days before NRG announced it was restructuring, the city of Pittsburgh signed what appears to be a pretty historic agreement with NRG to “provide guidance” on its district energy operations — potentially to lead to expansion down the road.

Event: The Role of Nuclear Energy in PJM’s Energy Mix (Sept 30th)

For the most part, it seems like nuclear-generated electricity just quietly chugs along, though Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation in electricity generation from nuclear power and by that measure generates nearly as much electricity from nuclear as from coal.

Here is the chance you have been waiting for to get a glimpse into the nuclear industry and operations.  This free event brought to you by Nuclear Matters, an industry advocacy group, has put together a panel of folks local to greater Pittsburgh that you don’t usually get to hear from.

A Chain Reaction: The Role of Nuclear Energy in PJM’s Energy Mix

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
9:00 AM – 11:30 AM

The Westin Convention Center
1000 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 281-3700

Nuclear energy plants make a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s economy, employing 4,900 state residents. The state’s five plants and nine reactors generate one third of the state’s electricity and 95% of its emission free energy, according to the PA Energy Alliance. Nuclear plants generate $4.3 billion in revenue, and contribute $470 million to local economies while paying $45m in local and state taxes each year.

Join us for this free event, the third in a series, exploring nuclear energy going forward. Industry and policy experts will engage in spirited conversation on the burning questions facing the industry and the future of nuclear energy. For details on other events in the Nuclear Going Forward series, please click here.


Confirmed Panelists
• Sam Belcher, Chief Nuclear Officer, FirstEnergy Solutions
• Maria Korsnick, COO, Nuclear Energy Institute
• Lawrence Lindsey, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Lindsey Group
• Dr. Arthur T. Motta, Chairman of Nuclear Engineering Program, Penn State University
• Danny Roderick, President and CEO, Westinghouse

Key Areas of Discussion
• How will nuclear energy plants be impacted by the very competitive nature of natural gas plants in the state (due to abundant gas supplies)?
• What implications for nuclear energy exist following new EPA regulations?
• What energy security implications exist for Pennsylvania, given the anticipated closure of base load coal plants in the state and a transition to a greater dependence on natural gas?
• PJM’s experience with the January 2014 polar vortex reinforced its efforts to ensure reliability, especially with the added challenge of the unprecedented fuel transition underway in PJM and across the U.S. What is PJM doing to ensure that there is a diverse, reliable mix of resources, especially as the region transitions from coal to more natural gas?
• Between 2009 and 2019, more than 23,000MW of coal-fired generation in the PJM region is expected to have retired because of age, environmental regulations, and low-priced gas. Where does this leave the region’s nuclear fleet?
• What progress is PJM making with demand response and capacity performance, and how will it be defined, maintained and paid?
• Is PJM putting all of their eggs in one basket? What role will grid storage play in this regional transmission organization?

Underwritten by: 




What we’re reading this week

PowerSource: West Penn pledges to end frequent power interruptions; tree work a big part of the plan. 

The PUC expects power outages to occur, but what happens when a utility is deemed to have more frequent and longer lasting outages than is expected? A plan is developed that includes everything from installing new modern switches to good old-fashioned tree trimming.

Clean Technica: The Great Lakes Wind Atlas could help boost region’s wind energy development.

For the first time, high-definition meteorological data for the Great Lakes region has been compiled by a group of researchers. The work, published in the journal, Remote Sensing of the Environment aims to be a tool for advancing wind-energy development in the region.

Engineering Materials: The testing and analysis  of wind turbine blades.

While computers are conducting materials modeling undreamed of just twenty years ago, structural testing of 80 meter long turbine blades still undergo physical tests in massive facilities.

The Washington Post: Solar energy is poised for yet another record year

A new report shows that 6.2 gigawatts of solar power was installed last year and projects that number to rise to 7.7 gigawatts this year as large utility scale projects come online.

StateImpact Pennsylvania: False positive results of radioactivity suspected in Greene County stream

A 2014 test at Ten Mile Creek by DEP showed levels of radium 60 times higher than federal drinking water standards. However, new research by a team of scientists at West Virginia University found radium levels to be below the standards. The use of an inappropriate test method by DEP may be to blame for the disparity in test results, not impacted water.