Energy Consumers joined federal and state elected officials in Columbus, OH on Monday at CEA-Midwest’s Powering Our Future Forum to discuss Environmental Protection Agency regulations that have the potential to reshape electricity generation in the Midwest.

Consumers cautioned new regulations that drive up costs will affect a company’s ability to grow.

“The amount of electricity required during the steel making process is staggering” said Jennifer Diggins of Nucor Corporation. “Affordable energy is essential. For every one cent increase in a kilowatt hour spent on electricity equals $300 million in higher costs.”

Michael Whatley of Consumer Energy Alliance warned federal policies are tied to economic activity. “Energy is the lifeblood of the economy, and policy that takes away affordable power from the economy will weaken it.”

The EPA has released one of two different proposed regulations governing the operation of coal fired power plants.  Coal fired plants provide 78 percent of Ohio’s net electricity generation in 2011 according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  Nuclear energy contributed 11 percent and natural gas added another 8.9 percent.

Republican members of the U.S. House have been critical of the EPA.

U.S. Representative Bob Gibbs (R-Holmes County) stressed a “for a vibrant economy, you have to have affordable, reliable energy…this is what’s made America great. If we let D.C. stifle that growth, we will forgo the opportunity to be energy independent.”

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown addressed the forum through a video message.  “Your work shows us how the old theory of jobs versus the environment is simply a false choice.”

Patrick Wilson of Babcock & Wilcox, a clean technology company that pioneered the use of small modular reactors for the US Navy’s nuclear fleet, warned regulation inhibits competitiveness. “America is stacking the deck against itself. If the US continues to add impediments to competition – such as a prohibition on the export of coal – the American economy stands lose up to $35 billion.”

EPA officials have indicated regulations will treat existing coal-fired plants differently from plants yet to be built.  It is unclear what new sources of electricity generation will be needed, but consumers stressed the need for multiple energy sources.

“When it comes to energy solutions, there ain’t no silver bullet,” said Dale Arnold of the Ohio Farm Bureau.

As noted by Senator Brown, Ohio’s firms are making investments to improve their environmental stewardship.

“Buckeye has made a $1.2 billion investment to fully scrub coal….Buckeye is all in with coal. We are not retiring any plants,” said Marc Armstrong of Buckeye Power, a rural electric cooperative that supplies electricity to rural areas in Ohio. “Buckeye uses coal because it is the cheapest, most affordable source for generating power, and that is what is important to our customers. Having the federal government shut down coal by fiat is not democracy…and is not the way to make policy.”

Coal operators are committed, but believe spikes in electricity prices will ultimately determine regulations issued by the EPA.

Michael Carey of Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal producer in the world, “we believe in the coal industry. Once customers realize that their bills will skyrocket they will return to the previous source of energy…and that is coal.”

John McManus representing utility American Electric Power pointed towards investments his company is making now to reduce emissions, but warned consumers will see price increases, “AEP is investing $3 to $4 billion in emissions reductions technologies to comply with EPA regulations, which is starting to hit consumers in their pocketbooks. With GHG regulations that cannot be met, we will be forced to close plants, which will affect reliability.”

The forum was organized by Consumer Energy Alliance-Midwest with support from Nucor Corporation and Babcock & Wilcox.