September 26, 2016

Video: What Does The Clean Power Plan Mean For You?

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The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan is a federal rule aimed at reducing the carbon intensity of our electric power grid. It is our country’s most ambitious attempt yet to fight climate change, and it’s causing quite the stir: 27 states are suing the federal government over the plan, claiming that it’s unconstitutional; and 18 states are entering the legal fray in support of the rule.

As legal arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia commence, let’s pause and ask: How big of a deal is the Clean Power Plan, and what will it actually change for you?

Here are some things we can expect under the Clean Power Plan:

  • A projected 30 percent reduction in carbon from the electric power sector, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030
  • More new natural gas-fired power plants
  • More coal power plant retirements
  • More wind and solar additions
  • A slight electricity price increase for a few years
  • The loss of coal-related jobs
  • New jobs in the renewables sector

Economists are quick to point out that many of changes we’ll see under the Clean Power Plan in the coming decades – the addition of natural gas power plants, wind and solar; the retirement of coal power plants – are already underway due to market forces.


This animation shows the levelized cost of energy for new power sources, in 2015 dollars per MWh. Data is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook, 2010 to 2016. Values have been adjusted for inflation. This chart shows advanced coal with carbon capture and storage, advanced combined cycle natural gas with carbon capture and storage, hydroelectric, advanced nuclear, solar PV, and onshore wind. For more technologies (i.e. natural gas combustion turbines, offshore wind, concentrating solar), see this table.


In fact, carbon emissions from the electric power sector have already dropped 21 percent from their peak in 2007, based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Why? For new power generation, natural gas, wind and solar are already cheaper than coal.

Nonetheless, the Clean Power Plan has symbolic value. If it stands, it means the federal government does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, and sets a precedent for future action on climate change.

What’s Next?

Arguments in the suit over the Clean Power Plan start on September 27, but we can expect the legal battle to continue for quite some time. What does the presidential election hold for the CPP’s future? Donald Trump has said he’ll overturn the plan, and Hillary Clinton has said she’ll uphold it.

Here are some more resources on the Clean Power Plan: