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Generators await specifics but say reductions have startedMoves related to previous regulations, other actions mean industry emissions getting less

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As the government begins developing the first federal regulations on power plant carbon emissions, companies already have been taking steps that are reducing their carbon footprints for various reasons.

Those include previous administration actions. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards has been a factor in power companies deciding to decommission coal-burning plants, which also takes away their carbon as well as the other emissions targeted by previously announced standards.

Diversifying portfolios and otherwise transitioning to more renewable sources also is part of the equation.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced broad measures to combat climate change that include directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with industry and others to develop the first federal standards for carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.

The administration itself cited progress so far, including that renewables accounted for about half of all generation developed in 2012 and that 35 states have in place renewable energy standards.

The production portfolio of Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., a company that includes locally operating distribution utility Metropolitan Edison Co., contains about 60 percent coal power, about 20 percent nuclear, about 11 percent renewables such as hydroelectric and wind, and about 9 percent natural gas and oil, the company said.

It already is on pace to beat a previously discussed emission-reduction target from Obama for carbon, spokeswoman Stephanie Thornton said.

The company expects to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by about 18 percent by 2015 compared with the president's previously talked-about target of 17 percent by 2020, Thornton said.

FirstEnergy either has retired or plans to retire nine coal-powered plants in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, she said.

Preparing for the mercury and air toxics regulations already is helping FirstEnergy reduce carbon emissions, because the plants being shut down produce more carbon than other generation sources.

At remaining coal plants, the firm is investing $925 million in new environmental controls, Thornton said.

Overall, a big driver of Allentown-based PPL Corp.'s portfolio strategy is diversification, spokesman Ryan Hill said.

But a by-product of taking some coal plants offline is that the alternatives of natural gas, hydro power and others produce less carbon or have no carbon emissions, Hill said.

PPL has been expanding hydroelectric power, including a $440 million project at Holtwood Dam in Lancaster County, in addition to increasing holdings in its portfolio of natural-gas-fired generation.

It's also increased capacity at the majority-owned Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant in Luzerne County, Hill said.

At the same time, the company has announced the decommissioning of three older coal-powered plants in Kentucky related to new regulations, he said.

But coal remains a vital part of a diversified portfolio for meeting the country's energy needs, and PPL is either installing or assessing the need for technology upgrades related to mercury and air toxics regulations at other coal plants.

The company's Brunner Island facility in York County falls into the latter category, but PPL expects the upgrades to be manageable, he said. However, related environmental controls do not remove carbon, Hill said.

Also, natural gas is not seen as a sole answer to decreasing carbon emissions.

"It would not be a right move to put all your eggs in one basket," Hill said.

Illinois-based Exelon Corp. launched a strategy in 2008 called Exelon 2020 to reduce, offset or displace more than 15 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2020, when compared with 2001 emission levels, spokesman Paul Elsberg said.

The reductions are calculated based on efficiency measures it has supported to reduce energy use both inside and outside the company, as well as increasing sources of energy such as nuclear, wind and solar.

Facilities under the Exelon banner in the midstate include Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, which do not emit carbon from the burning of fossil fuels.

Peach Bottom, for example, is in the midst of a multiyear project to raise output of the plant's generation units.

In 2012, the company hit about 89 percent of its reduction target.

The calculations get a little muddied now that Exelon has combined with the former Constellation Energy Group, which was also on its own reduction track, Elsberg said. The company plans to release details of the combined program soon.

"Rest assured, it's a substantial quantity," he said.

Still, the company is reserving judgment about whether it could be in a good position when the rules come down the pike, and it considers the reduction policy independent of any regulatory compliance, Elsberg said.

Whatever rules are developed should leave reasonable timelines for implementation and support state programs already in place, he said.

Voith issues support for Obama climate policy

York County-based manufacturer Voith Hydro Inc. released a statement last week supporting President Barack Obama’s policy announcement on climate change, in which it said it is making equipment for an Iowa project Obama mentioned for an initiative to prioritize major infrastructure projects.

The project is a hydroelectricity plant at Red Rock Reservoir being equipped with turbines, generators, automation and plant systems from Voith, the news release stated.

Voith Hydro is based in West Manchester Township and employs more than 500 people.

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