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NRECA Annual Meeting Focuses on EPA Power Plant Regulations

March 7, 2014

Thousands of electric co-op directors, managers and staff descended on the Music City (Nashville) earlier this week for the annual celebration of the electric co-op program. The NRECA Annual Meeting provides a forum for the co-op family to get together from across the country and talk about issues that are important to us. NRECA also brings in experts on all sorts of topics that impact co-op operations, from power supply to political advocacy. We also have a little fun!

This year, the focus of the meeting was on the pending greenhouse gas regulations that have been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency for new power plants, and the upcoming regulations that will apply to existing power plants. NRECA’s message is that the proposed rules are likely to create an “all but one” scenario where coal-fired generation is effectively prohibited for new plants and potentially for existing plants. NRECA has urged co-op member-owners to contact EPA and ask that the agency reconsider this approach.

The events of the last few days demonstrate the challenges of relying exclusively on natural gas and renewables for future power supply in the U.S. While natural gas supplies have been greatly enhanced in recent years as the result of new drilling techniques, there are now calls for increased exports to address geopolitical concerns in Europe and Russia. In Congress, both Senator Mark Udall and Congressman Cory Gardner introduced legislation this week urging the expedited construction of new liquified natural gas terminals in hopes that U.S. gas exports will reduce the market dominance and political leverage of Russian natural gas.

Although it will be years before new LNG terminals can be built given the permitting requirements and objections of environmental groups (who oppose the new terminals because they would increase hydraulic fracturing), the demands of the international market for gas will likely impact domestic prices in the not-too-distant future. Natural gas prices have historically been volatile, and recent events are not likely to give utilities, including electric co-ops, much comfort that the volatility will diminish in coming years.

While electric co-ops continue to aggressively invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, they have to make tough choices about how to provide reliable and affordable power to their member-owners. In the midst of sweeping new environmental regulations and international developments, electric co-ops continue to believe that an “all-of-the-above” policy for electric power generation makes the most sense for co-op member-owners.

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