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Meeting EPA rules on emissions should boost solar’s value to utilities

Achievable. Flexible.

These are the words the Environmental Protection Agency, and President Barack Obama, clearly want associated with the newly released proposals for cutting carbon emissions from power plants.

While setting ambitious goals for reducing power plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — with individual targets for each state — the EPA says it designed its Clean Power Plan to be technology and power-source agnostic.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a video that was part of the media blitz accompanying the June 2 release of the plan. “Each state is different, so each state’s path can be different.”

The Solar Electric Power Association believes the same will be true for individual utilities. As McCarthy said, the proposed regulations were developed with broad input from industry, states and other stakeholders and, in many cases, build on industry trends already underway.

And even though the ruling comes from a federal agency, the proposed implementation will be state-by-state, mirroring the existing design of policies that have built the current market for solar and other renewables.

Options for meeting the reduction targets encourage states and utilities to look broadly across the power sector for strategies to drive emission cuts. The list includes:

— Building on market trends toward improved energy efficiency by upping investments in existing efficiency programs or creating new ones
— Expanding renewable energy capacity
— Tapping into investments to upgrade the power grid
— Coming up with innovative, cost-effective regulatory strategies, benefiting utilities and ratepayers.

“The proposed EPA plan gives more incentives for utilities to use solar in intelligent ways, in concert with energy efficiency and demand response,” said Julia Hamm, SEPA’s President and CEO. “U.S. utilities are steadily gaining more experience with and confidence in solar as an option to meet customer demand. Solar should become a top option for meeting the new EPA rule.”

Will there be costs and trade-offs involved? Of course, and they will have to be factored into the process. The proposed regulations allow for interim goals and extensions for state planning, if necessary, especially for states working together to come up with a regional approach to emissions reductions.

Which brings up another key word that must be associated with the proposed plan – collaboration.

If the rule goes forward as proposed, it is an opportunity for utilities, the solar industry, regulators and consumer advocates to work together as thought leaders to refine and implement smart, cost-effective paths to a cleaner, more diverse and efficient energy mix.