EIA: US carbon emissions to depend on Clean Power Plan

19 May 2016

The pattern of future carbon dioxide emissions from the USA's power sector will depend significantly on whether the US Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clean Power Plan is implemented, according to the two new scenarios issued by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).  

The EIA yesterday issued early summaries of its 'Reference' and 'No CPP' scenarios ahead of the publication of its full Annual Energy Outlook 2016, which will be released on 7 July. The outlook covers the period to 2040.

The EIA describes the Reference case as a "business-as-usual trend estimate, given known technology and technological and demographic trends." It assumes that the CPP is implemented, using a mass-based option where emissions are controlled in terms of tonnes of CO2 rather than a rate-based option where the rate of CO2 emissions is limited per unit of electricity. The EIA intends to release other CPP-related estimates, examining different implementation alternatives, over the coming weeks.

The No CPP case is also a business-as-usual trend estimate, but assumes that the CPP is not implemented.

Under the Reference case, power sector CO2 emissions are projected to be 28% lower than 2005 levels in 2022, when the initial mass-based standards are scheduled to begin. CO2 emissions would be between 1550 and 1560 million tonnes - about 35% below 2005 levels of 2416 million tonnes - from 2030-2040.

Even in the No CPP case, power sector CO2 emissions would remain well below 2005 levels, at 1942 million tonnes in 2030 and 1959 million tonnes in 2040, reflecting low load growth and generation mix changes driven by the extension of key renewable tax credits, reduced solar photovoltaic capital costs and low natural gas prices. These figures would be 7% higher than in the Reference case - which includes CPP - in 2022 and about 25% higher in 2030 and beyond.

In the Reference case, reductions in CO2 emissions to comply with the CPP are primarily achieved by switching from carbon-intensive fuels, especially coal, to less carbon-intensive natural gas and to zero-carbon renewable technologies such as solar and wind. Nuclear generation levels remain unchanged throughout the projection in both scenarios, with the capacity added by the start-up of new units offset by retirements. "High construction costs result in a projection that no new, unplanned, nuclear plants will be constructed even with the CPP in place, and the nuclear share of total generation declines from the 2015 level in both cases," the EIA notes.

The CPP was introduced by President Barack Obama and the EPA in August 2015 in an effort to cut US CO2 emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. The plan sets emissions standards for power plants and customized goals for states to cut carbon pollution. Although it allows credit for new nuclear power plants and uprates to existing units, the CPP does not credit the role of existing nuclear capacity and does not credit nuclear licence extensions on the same basis as new capacity. The plan was to have been implemented by the end of 2015, but in February the US Supreme Court stayed its implementation pending judicial review.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News