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Challengers: Clean Power Plan's 2012 wind data skews future expectations

The U.S. EPA should not have used a banner year for windgeneration capacity additions to justify the Clean Power Plan, petitionersalleged before a federal appeals court Sept. 27.

The EPA used 2012 as its baseline year in developing the carbon-cuttingrule's goals, which petitioners told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District ofColumbia Circuit skews the data and unfairly suggests that every year can seeas much wind development as that year. Wisconsin Solicitor General MishaTseytlin explained that 2012 was an unusual year because wind developers werescrambling to finish projects in time to take advantage of a tax credit forsuch projects established by Congress.

Thus, Tseytlin said the EPA unfairly assumed that level ofnew construction would continue, even though wind growth in 2013 was 1/13 thelevels seen in 2012. "EPA just kind of picked this number. It could havejust as easily left out the obvious outlier year, which is 2012," Tseytlinsaid.

Tseytlin also questioned the ability of the grid to absorbthe expected levels of new wind generation, and whether the capacity levelspredicted by the EPA have been adequately demonstrated to provide a reliablesupply of electricity.

"The biggest challenge with adding a huge amount ofwind to a power grid is that wind is not controllable," Tseytlin said."The wind blows when it blows, and the energy needs to be used at thattime, which means that if it's not windy on a hot summer day in Texas, you'renot going to get much wind capacity." If wind cannot supply enoughcapacity, Tseytlin said natural gas-fired generation may have to crank upproduction to fill the gap.

The Department of Justice's Brian Lynk was brief in hisresponse on the 2012 wind data use, reminding the judges that the tax credit inquestion had in fact been extended through the end of this decade. Lawmakersextended the credits in 2013 and again at the end of 2015. The credits will beavailable until 2020, when the Clean Power Plan's Clean Energy IncentiveProgram will offer incentives to build renewables in the two years precedingthe carbon rule's compliance period. Lynk also said the agencylooked at long-term trends in wind generation construction to estimate thefuture installation possibilities for wind.

The American Wind Energy Association in April reported thatwind reclaimed itsthrone as the number one source of capacity additions in 2015. AWEA firstreported wind overtaking other energy sources in 2012, but natural gas took thetop spot in 2014. The report showed that 8,598 MW of capacity fromutility-scale wind turbines was added in 2015, or 41% of all capacityinstalled. AWEA also announced that wind generated 191 million MWh, equivalentto 16 nuclear reactors, in 2015, the most ever generated by wind in one year inU.S. history.

The Natural Resources Defense Council the EPA's record and use of datafollowing the oral arguments and said the goals are feasible and thepetitioners failed to prove the EPA's factual propositions are arbitrary andcapricious.