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EPA rules could cause 'emergency events,' Texas power officials say

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, operator of the state's major power grid, said in a report Thursday that a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation will reduce generating capacity and put the grid "at increasing risk of emergency events," including rotating power outages.

The Jan. 1 implementation date for the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, designed to slash air pollution from power plants, leaves ERCOT with "an extremely truncated period" in which to assess the rule's impact and "no realistic opportunity to take steps that could even partially offset the substantial losses of available operating capacity," the report said.

It outlined three scenarios, with even the "best-case scenario" expected to result in the loss of an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 megawatts of generating capacity during peak-consumption periods, ERCOT said.

"Had this incremental reduction been in place in 2011, ERCOT would have experienced rotating outages during days in August," the report said.

Rotating power outages are implemented as an emergency measure when electricity demand is close to exceeding available power supplies from generators.

Power consumption on the ERCOT grid hit record levels exceeding 65,000 megawatts on several days of exceptionally high temperatures in August, causing ERCOT to implement initial emergency measures and putting it close to instituting rotating outages.

Dallas-based power generator Luminant has asked the EPA to delay implementation of the rule, which it says could force it to curtail power generation and lignite mining in East Texas.

That could reduce revenue for the company and cause the loss of hundreds of jobs, it said.

The new federal rule will require substantial reductions in plant emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. The EPA says the rule will save and prolong lives by reducing harmful smog and soot pollution.

The EPA, responding to the ERCOT report, said Texas "has an ample range of cost-effective emission reductions options" for complying with the rule "without threatening electricity reliability or the continued operation of coal-burning units."

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