I recently spoke at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s (USHCC) annual convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. The event was an opportunity to connect with friends, both old and new, from throughout the country. As a native Midwesterner, the picturesque mountain views made for a spectacular setting. The meeting also offered a chance to have a productive dialogue about America’s energy future, since the decision our nation ultimately makes about how we will regulate carbon dioxide emissions will have far-reaching effects on businesses from coast to coast.
On an energy and sustainability panel at the convention, I discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon standards. The carbon standards are a series of proposed regulations designed to regulate America’s existing power plants and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. EPA’s framework to achieve its reduction goal sets strict emissions limits for states that must be met beginning in the year 2020 through 2030 and beyond.
My comments at the USHCC convention focused on how Hispanic business owners would be affected if EPA’s rules are finalized as proposed and some fuels are made “winners” while others are designated as “losers.” As you may assume, coal-fired electricity would be singled out as a “loser,” especially since EPA predicts that at least 50,000 MW of power will retire as a direct result of its proposed regulations.
What many entrepreneurs at the USHCC convention astutely pointed out, however, is that current and future innovations in fossil fuel technologies could also be lost if, and when, a third of our nation’s coal fleet is shuttered due to the proposed regulations. These are the same innovations that allow small startups to gather capital and build reputations through electric-generating plant contracts vis-à-visactivities such as maintenance, construction, logistics, materials, skilled trade, environmental services and more. These opportunities could be lost within the next few years if the rules are implemented as proposed.
Part of what makes America special is our ability to solve really tough issues. To that end, we’ve made really great strides in developing clean coal technologies to reduce emissions, including carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, America is the leading innovator in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Sadly, however, EPA’s proposed regulations on our existing fleet of power plants could stop innovation in this critical area which means we won’t be the first nation to build carbon capture plants on a commercial scale. And, because of that, entrepreneurs in other countries like India and China will reap the economic reward associated with advancing CCS technology. Moreover, the U.S. economy will not benefit from leading the next generation of carbon management technologies.
I had business owners ask my colleagues and I about this aspect of EPA’s proposed regulations numerous times during and after my remarks on the panel. The truth is that carbon capture and storage, ultra-supercritical and integrated gasification combined cycle coal plants, among other technologies, are all providing significant reductions in the environmental impact of coal-fired electricity. Moreover, they are providing investment, jobs and business opportunities for entrepreneurs around the nation.
At the end of the day, we all want clean air and affordable, reliable electricity. The question is: “How do we maintain progress and continue down a path to near-zero emissions at coal-fired electric plants?” Many of the Hispanic business owners that were present at the USHCC convention believe that technology is the key to solving climate change issues, not LESS electricity. Technologies that are on display at the John W. Turk generating plant in Arkansas or the possibilities of carbon capture at the Kemper County facility in Mississippi are great examples of how these technologies can work if allowed time to grow and develop further. The jobs, investment, ingenuity and opportunities for growth at these facilities cannot be overlooked. Plants like these are making our air cleaner and opening the door to America exporting its expertise to a world that is increasing its electric consumption, especially coal electricity consumption.
My next installment will examine the opportunities for minority firms to benefit from clean coal technologies. In the meantime, see how you can get involved and take action to protect the future of affordable, reliable, clean energy.