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How Indiana Could Achieve EPA Carbon Reduction Goals

This story aired Friday on WFIU. It will also air on WTIU at 6 p.m. on Indiana Newsdesk.

The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring Indiana to reduce its carbon emissions significantly by 2030 as part of a push to reduce the nation's carbon footprint 32 percent over the next fifteen years.

Gov. Mike Pence has said he is considering not complying with the rules, and Indiana is joining a lawsuit against the EPA trying to stop them from going into effect.

If that does not happen, Indiana will be required to submit a plan to the EPA explaining how it will reduce its emissions.

By The Numbers

Under the EPA rule, states are allowed to decide between two goals.

1) Reduce the total carbon emissions produced in the state or 2) Reduce the amount of carbon emissions per megawatt hour of electricity produced.

The first one, called the mass-based model would require Indiana reduce its carbon emissions from 107.3 million tons in 2012 to 76.9 million tons in 2030--a reduction of 28 percent.

The second, a rate-based model, would require the state reduce carbon emissions from 2,021 pounds per megawatt hour produced in 2012 to 1,242 pounds in 2030--a 38 percent cut.

The state would also be required to meet interim goals.

Carbon Reduction Options

So how can it do that?

1. Cap and Trade

The EPA is allowing states to implement cap and trade programs to meet their goals.

Under that model, a state, such as Indiana, that does not want to reduce its carbon emissions as much as the EPA is requiring, could pay another state, let's say Ohio, to reduce its emissions more than the EPA goal.

In that case, Indiana would receive the credit for the carbon reductions Ohio made.

2. Renewable Energy

Renewables account for between 3 and 4 percent of Indiana's total electricity production, but several wind and solar projects are already underway to increase that number.

Indiana could boost investment in those projects and develop new renewable energy programs to help reduce its carbon emissions.

A 2007 report in the journal Natural Resources Research indicates wind systems produce about 97 percent fewer carbon emissions than coal.

The downside is wind turbines don't produce as much energy as coal-fired power plants (it would take thousands of turbines to replace a coal plant), and they don't run consistently.

Solar panels have largely the same problems and benefits.

Researchers are trying to develop ways to store energy when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, but that technology hasn't been produced on a large scale.

3. Energy Efficiency

States can use energy efficiency program to reduce demand for energy, thereby reducing the state's overall carbon emissions.

Indiana would likely need to develop an outline for such a program because the legislature voted to end the state's prior energy efficiency program, Energizing Indiana, last year.

The EPA is suggesting these programs be aimed particularly at low-income communities to offset any rise in utility rates created by the new regulations.

4. Switch to Natural Gas

Many utility companies are already switching over their power plants from coal to natural gas due to low natural gas prices as well as an earlier EPA ruling that created stricter mercury and air pollution standards.

Duke Energy is retiring five of its coal-fired units at its Terre Haute facility.

Indianapolis Power and Light is transitioning its Harding Street Plant to natural gas and is shutting down its Martinsville plant to build an entirely new natural gas plant in its place.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal.

Environmental groups, however, worry about other environmental impacts of natural gas--largely attributed to fracking, the process used to extract natural gas. Fracking has been blamed for water pollution and earthquakes.

In addition to the environmental concerns, Indiana does not have large reserves of natural gas, so it would need to be shipped in from other states.

5. Improve Coal Technologies

The coal industry would like to see new coal technologies incorporated into the overall plan. They point out that coal burns much cleaner than it did 50 years ago.

The industry has developed ways to strip away certain pollutants such as sulfur so they aren't released into the atmosphere. They have also developed more efficient boilers and have been experimenting with carbon capture sequestration, which some scientists estimate could reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent.

Companies are still working through technical issues with carbon capture sequestration. Other prohibiting factors are cost and where to store the carbon once it's captured.

Duke Energy has considered exploring carbon capture sequestration at its coal gasification plant in Edwardsport.

However, the plant has had its share of difficulties without weighing into carbon sequestration. Its construction cost a billion dollars more than originally expected, and the facility had difficulty running at full capacity when it went online.

All of The Above Approach

Environmentalists, utility companies, and the coal industry all agree the state should create a plan that creates at least a couple of the options above.

The differences come when deciding how much to rely on each option.

"We would like to see a commonsense, true, all of the above look at the energy portfolio of the nation. We would like economics to drive that and research on technologies that show promise," says Bruce Stevens, Indiana Coal Council president, who wants a state plan to take an in-depth look at existing and future coal technologies including carbon capture sequestration.

Mark Maasel, Indiana Energy Association president, says utilities are already diversifying without a state plan.

"Would they continue to harness [renewable energy?] Yes. There is not a single electric utility in Indiana that does not own or contract for power from a renewable source, both wind and solar," he says. "There are projects being built as we speak, either directly or through a contract."

The Sierra Club recommends focusing heavily on renewables and energy efficiency programs.

"This transition is already happening. The power sector across the country and here in Indiana is moving away from coal," says Sierra Club Indiana representative Jodi Perras. "Our power plants are old, they're looking at when are we going to retire them? So the question is what are we going to replace that with. We think we need to replace that with more wind, solar energy."

Perras says doing so is possible, but Indiana needs to start working quickly if it wants to meet EPA deadlines.

Indiana has until September 2016 to submit a plan to the EPA.

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