June 3, 2014 10:29:38 AM
JACKSON -- The federal government is proposing that Mississippi's carbon dioxide emissions from power plants be 38 percent lower by year 2030 compared to 2005.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced specific targets for all states Monday as part of the Obama administration's effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions nationwide.
Mississippi's 2012 carbon emission rate was 1,130 pounds per megawatt hour of energy produced. The EPA wants a state plan to lower its emission rate to 692 pounds per megawatt hour.
Mississippi would choose how to meet that goal and could work with other states to comply. The goals are based in part on some coal-fired power plants already expected to close.
According to the EPA, Mississippi got about 13 percent of its electricity from coal in 2012. Some of the state's utilities, though, are more heavily dependent on coal. Mississippi Power Co., a unit of the Atlanta-based Southern Co., generated 39 percent of its power from coal in 2013. It owns coal plants in Escatawpa and Gulfport, as well as a share of one near Demopolis, Alabama. Southern Co. also owns a coal-fired plant near Ackerman that's operated by a contractor and sells power on the wholesale market.
Southern said EPA oversteps its authority in Monday's announcement.
"EPA's proposed emission guidelines appear to be based on reduction measures that extend well beyond Clean Air Act requirements and infringe upon states' authority to determine the best approach for their own generating sources," spokeswoman Jeannice Hall wrote in a statement.
Mississippi Power is spending more than $5 billion on a plant in Kemper County that would gasify lignite, stripping out carbon dioxide and other gases. EPA has pointed to that plant as a model for new plants, but Southern has said Kemper has advantages that may not be replicable elsewhere. Monday's announcement deals with existing power plants.
Also affected would by Hattiesburg-based South Mississippi Electric Power Association, which sells power to cooperatives. It derived 38 percent of its power from coal in 2013 and owns a coal-burning plant near Purvis.
Some other utilities, though, have already been working to limit carbon emissions. Entergy Corp, Mississippi's largest private utility, voluntarily capped its carbon dioxide emissions and said it has cut emissions by 42 percent since 2000.
"We think we are in a good position because we have a lot of nuclear, a lot of gas and a little bit of coal," said Chuck Barlow, vice president of environmental strategy and policy for Entergy Corp.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says system-wide carbon emissions are currently 30 percent below 2005 levels -- and are projected to be 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat who represents the Northern District, said he would ask the other two commissioners at a meeting today to make sure the Mississippi regulatory body makes comments on the rules.
"My initial response is these types of regulations, like we've seen in the past, are only going to increase the cost of electricity," Presley said. "Any time there's a federal mandate related to environmental costs, someone has to pay for it."
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Director Trudy Fisher said the agency is reviewing the proposal.
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