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Utilities need more time for Obama climate rule, federal office says

Utilities will need more time to comply with the Obama administration’s new climate rule, the organization responsible for electricity reliability said Tuesday.

In a new report, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) took issue with the first round of carbon emissions targets that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed.

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While the rule will fully take effect in 2030, the EPA has also proposed targets for 2020. NERC said that in order to ensure reliability, those targets should be pushed back.

“The time required for new facilities to be developed and placed in service may likely exceed the [plan’s] proposed compliance targets,” wrote NERC, a non-profit that has been designated by the federal government to oversee reliability.

“Because the industry will be implementing plans simultaneously, it is uncertain whether adequate equipment (e.g., generators, solar panels, wind facilities, transformers, and conductors) and resources (e.g., engineering, procurement, and construction) will be available to support those plans,” the group said.

NERC’s findings could empower Republicans who have long said that the Obama administration’s plan threatens access to affordable electricity and could lead to blackouts as coal-fired power plants are forced to retire.

The last NERC report on the rule, which came out in November, fed into Republicans’ objections.

NERC’s latest report said both power generation and transmission will need to be established as power plants are retired and new ones come online to comply with the regulation.

“While replacement capacity may be able to repower coal to gas generation, others will require greenfield development, which on average will take between four and five years,” the group said.

Transmission projects take six to 15 years to complete, NERC said.

The EPA defended the rule and said that reliability is one of its top priorities.

“We have a long-standing commitment to safeguard not only public health and the environment but also a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for all Americans,” spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement.

She also criticized the report

“We appreciate NERC’s efforts to report on possible impacts of the proposed Clean Power Plan, however, the report is premature because EPA has yet to issue a final rule, and states are still in the early stages of planning for and developing implementation plans,” Purchia said, adding that the final rule will reflect extensive outreach to the public and various stakeholder groups.

Janet McCabe, head of the EPA’s air pollution office, has hinted in recent months that the EPA might try to make the 2020 targets easier for states in the final rule.