Calpine is an active player in the renewable power industry in California. The company owns and operates the Geysers in Sonoma and Lake counties in Northern California, which is the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world.
Environmentalists hailed the development as a signal that steep reductions in utilities' greenhouse gas emissions can be made under existing federal air laws, while some opponents insist that the Clean Air Act is an inappropriate tool for tackling global warming emissions.
"It's an example of what is possible," Sierra Club chief climate counsel David Bookbinder said. "Calpine is leading the way and showing how it's possible to generate all the electricity that America needs with half the greenhouse gases."
U.S. EPA is expected to soon begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act. The agency is planning to finalize standards next month to limit automobile emissions of the heat-trapping gases, which would automatically trigger permitting requirements for industrial sources. EPA is planning to require only the largest stationary sources to install greenhouse gas controls but has not yet issued guidance about what pollution controls will be required for those facilities.
"This could become an important precedent," Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell said of the Calpine permit. "It shows that the current Clean Air Act can be used to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants."
But Scott Segal, an industry attorney and director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said existing clean air permitting laws are inappropriate for regulating greenhouse gases.
"As a general proposition, we believe that the use of permitting conditions to advance a CO2 regulatory agenda is an inflexible mechanism that is likely to have a number of unintended consequences," Segal said.
By limiting greenhouse gases through air permits, Segal said, facilities located in other regions of the country -- including coal-rich areas -- would be at a disadvantage. "There is no mechanism to either contain cost or allow for trading if you use permit conditions as a basis for regulating CO2," he said.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500