Wyoming will need to cut carbon dioxide emissions from its power plants 19 percent by 2030 under pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The reduction, announced last week, is below the national average — the EPA is calling for a 30 percent cut nationwide — and less than what will be asked of the six neighboring states.
But industry analysts were still trying to determine whether the goal would be easy for Wyoming to meet. Some expressed doubts about power plants’ ability to comply with the rule. Others said Wyoming faces an easier task than other states.
“I don’t know how to count things up to know whether I’m winning or losing at this point,” said Alan Minier, chairman of the Wyoming Public Service Commission, which is tasked with regulating electricity rates.
He nonetheless expressed doubt about some Wyoming plants’ ability to meet the standard, meaning that those plants would be forced to close before the end of their useful lives.
Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, offered a different view.
He first pointed to Wyoming’s neighbors. Colorado and South Dakota will each need to curb carbon emissions by 35 percent under the plan. Idaho faces a 33 percent reduction, Utah a 27 percent cut. Montana and Nebraska will be required to curb emissions 21 percent and 26 percent, respectively.
Part of the reason for that is Wyoming lacks what is sometimes called a renewable portfolio standard, or an incentive to build more renewable-power generation.
In its plan, EPA assumes states will use the best available means to reduce their emissions. Translation: States with renewable energy incentives will be expected to use more wind, solar and other renewable technologies, while states without those standards will not be expected to make the same investment.
“Wyoming is going to have to do relatively little cleanup,” Weiss said.
Each state is given a target emission reduction under the plan and then tasked with developing a plan to meet that threshold. States are given four essential options for meeting their goal. They include:
Upgrading their coal plants.
Running cleaner natural gas plants more frequently.
Building more power plants that emit little to no carbon, like natural gas, wind and solar.
Using energy-efficiency programs to save electricity at homes and businesses.
But in Wyoming’s case, it is unclear what some of those options mean or whether they can be easily put in place, Minier said. Some of the state’s coal plants are new and therefore highly efficient. He pointed to the WyGen 3 unit outside Gillette as an example.
Wyoming currently has very little natural gas generation it can deploy to meet the standard, though a new 132-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant outside Cheyenne will go online later this year. Almost 90 percent of the state’s electricity now comes from coal.
And to complicate matters further, two-thirds of the power generated in the state is consumed beyond its borders, Minier said. Employing energy-saving measures becomes more difficult, if not impossible, if Wyoming’s customers are in Colorado or Utah.
The state first needs to determine if the target set by EPA is fair, Minier said. It is unclear if some of the calculations EPA used to determine Wyoming’s 19 percent reduction were based on the amount of power Wyoming generates or the amount of power it consumes.
Answering that question will go a long way in determining whether the standard is fair or not, Minier said.
“The reasons I worry about all these targets is they give us a year to get this target in place or contest it, at which point it comes firm,” Minier said.
At that point, any changes become much more difficult to make, he said.
He added: “In my mind, the first thing to worry about is the target and figure out if they are fair or (if) we need to fight it.”