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Posted: July 24, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Oxford’s stake in EPA-proposed CO2 regulations

Oxford’s electricity generation and rates may change in the coming years after a new carbon dioxide regulations proposal was released by the U.S. EPA in June.

The 1,800-page draft of CO2 regulations, titled the Clean Power Plan, is currently in the 120-day stage of accepting comments, including four public hearings the week of July 28 in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburg and Washington, D.C. The new policies, if adopted, will require Georgia to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 44 percent.

Coal-powered power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the country, according to the EPA, accounting for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

“It doesn’t affect us directly, but it affects where we get our electricity,” said Bob Thomson, Oxford city manager.

Regulations would be implemented through a state-federal partnership that allows states to identify an individual path for curbing CO2 emissions from the power sector using state-specific rate-based goals and guidelines, according to the EPA.
Since every city has a different makeup of how it generates electricity, the plan is meant to provide flexibility while ensuring enforcement. While this is a federally created plan, each state will develop its own plan, as the “EPA is not prescribing a specific set of measures for states to put in their plans.”

Currently, Schwartz said, 37 percent of Oxford’s electricity is generated by coal, 4 percent by hydro and 59 percent by nuclear. Oxford is one of 49 members of the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), which contract for electricity by investing in projects that produce electricity, which are usually generating plants. The new plan would require MEAG to stop running plants that are more economically acceptable and focus on running plants that are more environmentally acceptable.

With this new regulation, if adopted, cities will have to ramp back coal use over a yet undecided amount of time by converting to another use of power. Schwartz said Oxford’s investments tend to be 50-year bonds, so if those bond are still in place by the time coal use must be cut, the city will still have to pay for the bonds without receiving electricity.
“It’d be bad for Oxford rate payers because they would be paying essentially a mortgage on plants we cannot use as much,” Schwartz said.

However, Schwartz said, the enforcements are likely to be put into place slowly. If the time span is over, say, 50 years, Oxford was planning on doing that anyway.

Being part of MEAG saves the city money in the long run, Schwartz said. MEAG also provides insurance, promising to provide a substitute source if cities have to switch away from coal immediately.

Schwartz said this is like an alert and advice from MEAG that there may be problems with sourcing electricity from coal plants in the future, and that nothing will change in the immediate future.

“Compared to other cities and providers,” Schwartz said, “we’re relatively low in coal usage.”

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