Utility Emissions Revisited at the EUEC

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At the 12th Annual Energy and Environment Conference (EUEC) currently being held in Phoenix, Ariz., over 2,000 delegates from 200 leading energy companies are coming together to discuss the future of energy in the U.S. The conference brings together senior management professionals “at the onset of what is likely to be an active year for energy and environmental policy particularly with the President Obama’s proposed initiatives on renewable energy in the United States.”

Recognized as one of the “must attend” annual meetings in the country for energy and environment,  professionals learn about cutting-edge technologies and strategies concerning renewable energy and carbon management.

Sam Napolitano, 25-year veteran of the U.S. EPA, is now in charge of its cap-and-trade program. During a speech yesterday, he congratulated the EUEC conference for looking at the future and holding three days of high-level technical discussions on how to get there. There are many tracks to sustainability at EUEC, from solar to GHG (greenhouse gas) management, to carbon trading, to emissions testing.

The new Phoenix Convention Center, where EUEC is happening.

The new Phoenix Convention Center, where EUEC is happening.

On One Hand

Napolitano’s presentations showed that during the last 25 years, power companies have actually been leading in energy efficiency programs and bringing air quality non-attainment areas into compliance. Over the past five years, there has been a major change in the way both consumers and producers use energy, shifting consumers away from oil to natural gas, and utility companies from coal to natural gas.

States are now engaged in their own cap-and-trade climate control programs. Especially in the Western states, many governmental initiatives are under way. The heart of the action for utility companies is in coal-fired generation. Since 1980, there has been a 50 percent reduction in SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions. Massive reductions have also happened in the East and in Ohio, where acid rain was the largest problem. Additionally, the West uses relatively low-sulfur coal, because its power plants are newer. NOx (nitrous oxide) reductions have also been made in Tennessee, and in the East.

The power of Internet applications such as Google Earth was also discussed, demonstrating that we can now see the largest sulfate emitters from satellites in space. According to Napolitano, sulfate emitters are a cause of acid rain, and they also cause the aggravation of pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions in the American population. The EPA estimates it saved 20,000 premature deaths so far from the success of its sulfate reduction program.

On The Other

But Napolitano’s speech was not all about the successes in the industry. He also added that utilities contribute a full third of the total GHG emissions in the entire country, mostly because of coal-fired plants.

He said the EPA is still in the midst of transition, with its new leadership, Lisa Jackson, still getting her people into place. According to Napolitano, there will be new ozone attainment plans to be developed by states, federal legislation to determine and a revisit of the California waiver needed. Everyone is going to be very active because of consumers driving the demand for cleaner air. Napolitano predicts an enormous amount of activity in Washington on the subject of mercury as well.

At the end of his speech, the applause was lukewarm. Now, the audience realizes they, like the rest of the country, have more work on the horizon.

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