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EPA's AI collision course

May 21, 2024
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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

EPA's power plant rules are becoming a wedge in the debate about AI and increasing energy demand.

Why it matters: It's another example of how climate goals are running headlong into new realities on the grid brought on by electrification and AI's massive power use.

Driving the news: Energy executives said at Tuesday's Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing that the EPA regs could lead to early retirements of fossil fuel power plants amid rising demand.

  • "We absolutely need to hang on to what we have," said Benjamin Fowke, interim CEO of the American Electric Power Co. "The EPA rules, I believe, will hasten the retirement of the dispatchable generation we have on our grid today."
  • The regs don't yet apply directly to existing gas power plants. Rather, they require carbon capture at coal and new gas facilities.
  • But Joe Manchin and Republicans argue that the EPA rules, as Manchin said, "aim to kill coal completely and stop natural gas from replacing it."

Yes, but: There's a climate imperative to reduce power sector emissions.

  • "We're like in a car on a railroad track with a train coming towards us, and we're talking about the cost of a tow truck," Sen. Angus King said. "The cost of not addressing climate change dwarfs the cost of addressing climate change."

Our thought bubble: The discussion today is a wrinkle in what's become a complex political picture.

  • Industry folks want to keep some fossil generation online, but many also want transmission policy reforms that build off what FERC did last week.
  • There's a partisan split between the two halves on that equation.
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