Alabama Industrial Energy Consumers

Utility companies chide new EPA rules at Gulf Coast energy forum

By Michael Finch II | (al.com)

June 06, 2014 at 4:25 PM, updated June 06, 2014 at 4:41 PMKemper

MOBILE, Alabama — In the face of more regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Coast utility executives condemned the rules as anything but helpful for consumers at conference held Thursday at the Mobile Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel.

The rules released Monday dominated most of the discussion that was supposed to focus on the industry’s challenges and opportunities. With companies in the south expected to feel the brunt of the the new regulation on coal, that may be the industry’s biggest challenge yet.

The EPA has suggested states come up with 5-year plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions coming from existing power plants by 2015. The move, by most accounts, is a small step toward combating climate change.

Most companies are still unpacking the contents of the 645-page proposal, but pledges to litigate have already been made. Attorney General Luther Strange said he was considering legal action to protect the state’s 16,000 coal-related jobs.

At least until next year or the earliest lawsuit is filed, power companies must consider ways to limit coal usage, the cheapest form of energy.

At the forum Thursday, Jim Compton, chief executive of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, said the regulations push companies toward more natural gas usage — which is a mistake in his view.

“The (EPA) rule — I’m afraid — will bring us to a situation where we will be dependent on one source of generation that will be natural gas,” Compton said. Natural gas exploration has been a boon for the U.S.

The executives used the opportunity to envision what would happen if another wave of Polar Vortex-like cold crept down into the deep South again. On Jan. 7, energy use climbed when the below-freezing temperatures swept across most of the country.

Chip Pardee, executive vice president with the Tennessee Valley Authority, said a few issues emerged while trying to meet the demand, such as frozen well heads, making it harder to use natural gas.

“Some issues that we did not expect but I think portend some of the challenges in the future,” Pardee said. “Gas delivery was not as reliable.”

Executives from Alabama Power, Power South and Mississippi Power also attended the panel discussion.

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