Cutting Through the Fog to Build Energy Efficiency Power Plants


More than 147 million Americans in 43 states breathe unhealthy air. Coal- and gas-fired power plants are significant contributors to this problem. The Clean Air Act has historically addressed power plants through regulation of smokestack emissions, employing “stovepiped,” pollutant-by-pollutant control strategies. Air quality has improved materially, but often through duplicative or conflicting requirements and at ever-increasing cost. Worse, such controls often increase CO2 emissions, consume additional water, and create thermal discharge and ash disposal concerns.

Efficiency power plants (EPP) offer a more cost-effective approach to addressing multiple pollutants while simultaneously reducing risk and volatility. To attain and maintain ambient air quality standards, state and local officials need to know how many tons of pollutants must be removed or avoided. A simple Excel workbook-based tool can demonstrate how the effects of many different efficiency measures installed by many different customers can be aggregated into a single EPP that will avoid the desired quantity of pollutants. RAP’s EPP planning tool is sufficiently rigorous and detailed to meet regulatory needs. Preliminary discussions with air regulators suggest it offers great promise for illustrating the impact of multiple pollutant reductions, not only for CO2, but also criteria pollutant emissions.

This free EPP planning tool allows users to input as few as ~20 assumptions about a number of different efficiency measures that would be installed, and generates seasonal and hourly emissions reduction profiles. Users can also tailor the tool to local conditions by including emissions factors to estimate the emissions reductions and resultant air quality improvements that could occur as a result of energy efficiency improvements. While the model is illustrative (using generic savings values and typical end uses), if developed further by defining region-specific end uses, savings estimates, load shapes, and emissions factors, it would provide detailed estimates of the potential energy, capacity, and emissions reductions that energy efficiency could provide in specific states or regions.

Our hope is that the emissions reductions from an EPP will ultimately be accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state air regulators analogously to how emissions from mobile sources (e.g., vehicles) are treated at present. The accompanying paper, Reducing Greenhouse Gases and Improving Air Quality Through Energy Efficiency Power Plants, summarizes recent efforts to help air regulators employ energy efficiency programs as a viable alternative to smokestack controls. Energy efficiency program administrators and public utility commissions will also find the EPP tool useful to quantify the added value of emissions reductions from their existing efficiency programs.

RAP, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, previously crafted a similar EPP calculator for Chinese policymakers.