EPA’s McCarthy: Efficiency is key to power plant carbon rules

The biggest reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and financial benefits from the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest rules for power plants will come from encouraging energy efficiency, Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

The regulations unveiled last week seek to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent from the electricity sector. Much of that comes through better use of low-carbon technologies and renewable energy, but being more efficient with electricity is critical, McCarthy said Thursday.

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“Frankly, when we looked at it, what we really began to realize was the value of efficiency,” McCarthy said at the Energy Efficiency Forum, organized by the United States Energy Association and Johnson Controls.

“The biggest bang for the buck, by far … is efficiency,” she said. “It’s getting the waste out of the system from the power plant to the plugs.”

It helps that efforts to waste less energy have broad support and are rarely controversial, McCarthy said.

She and her agency also bet that spurring a market for energy efficient technologies would create jobs. That led the agency to conclude that despite cutbacks in the coal industry from the rules, they would ultimately create more jobs than are lost and provide more benefits than the costs.

“In the end, our proposal is actually going to reduce consumer bills by 2030. Now, many people will go, ‘how is that possible?’ ” McCarthy said, spurring the audience to answer “energy efficiency.”

“It’s energy efficiency that is the poster child for turning the risks that we all worry about in a changing climate into business opportunities,” McCarthy said. “And that business opportunity is what is going to deliver to the consumers that we care about and the public that we’re here to serve into believers into what we’re trying to do on climate change.”

For a comparison, McCarthy brought up the Energy Star program, in which the EPA allows appliance manufacturers to label their products as achieving a certain level of efficiency.

“Here’s a secret: These are greenhouse gas reduction programs,” she said. “Is Energy Star controversial? No. Everybody loves that little blue label.”

McCarthy said the energy efficiency innovation that will stem from the rule will grow the economy, create jobs and “really turn towards an energy future that we all can be proud to leave our children.”

McCarthy’s appearance Thursday capped a four-day tour to highlight the proposed rules. Earlier in the week, she met with utility executives, governors of Western states and financial leaders to promote the proposal.

Her deputy for air pollution regulation, Janet McCabe, will testify next week at a House committee hearing, the first congressional hearing about the rule.