Around the country, families, communities, employers and businesses view their energy bills as costs of life and simply doing business. They turn off lights, turn down thermostats and adopt energy efficient practices, because it saves them money better put toward groceries, medications, retirement and reinvestments in the economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulations to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants only stand to increase those energy bills. Even though not-for-profit electric cooperatives work each day to provide affordable, reliable electricity to the more than 42 million Americans we serve, the latest red tape out of Washington could present a serious challenge.


Let’s be clear, even the most aggressive and economically damaging regulations in the U.S. would have little impact on a global scale. Electric co-ops already have reduced emissions rates from power plants by 10 percent and CO2 emissions specifically over the last seven years. Any additional CO2 emissions reductions we achieve would be offset rapidly by emissions increases in China, India and other developing economies.

In fact, the European experience suggests that these regulations could undermine the administration’s environmental goals.

For example, in the last decade residential electricity prices in Germany have doubled to almost 40 cents per kilowatt-hour, more than three times the U.S. average rate of 12.5 cents. This was primarily because of preferential pricing for wind and solar power, combined with public opposition to nuclear energy. To help maintain reliability, the country plans to construct 10 new coal plants in the next two years.

 EPA’s proposed regulations could put us in a similar situation, dramatically increasing prices and disproportionately affecting those regions of the U.S. most dependent on coal for electricity. These areas also happen to host some of the largest manufacturing centers in the country, where low-cost electricity is critical to global competitiveness.

We cannot afford regulations that threaten to increase energy prices, destroy jobs or hamstring our economic recovery.

By harnessing America’s ingenuity, we can do better.

This debate should be about working together to develop a sustainable energy future. This debate should be about giving utilities the independence to experiment with technology and the freedom to transition to that innovative future.

That’s why electric cooperatives are leading an XPRIZE initiative to help address the impact of restrictions on CO2 emissions from natural gas and coal-based power plants. The competition focuses on taking CO2 from a liability to an asset by researching how to convert CO2 emissions from a waste into useful fuels, chemicals and other products with market value.

Leadership in a sustainable energy future requires us to make ambitious changes together – without leaving consumers in the dark. Even though a power plant that closes down cannot emit CO2, it also cannot incubate a new technology, give a bright young engineer an opportunity in the energy industry or ensure that its community continues to receive reliable electricity regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way.

To keep the power on in our communities and empower our consumers, it’s time to turn the lights on in Washington and recognize the real potential impact of these regulations.

Emerson is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.