Regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, may leave McPherson residents — along with the rest of Kansas — sitting in the dark.


Regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, may leave McPherson residents — along with the rest of Kansas — sitting in the dark.
Board of Public Utilities General Manager Tim Maier said that unless the EPA backs down and gives energy producers time to prepare, widespread blackouts and significant rate increases may sweep across the state.
In July, the EPA announced the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which is scheduled to go into effect with the start of next year. The new regulations will affect 28 different states ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to Kansas, north to  Canada and south to Mexico. They will require affected states to curb the amount of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide they pump into the air when generating electricity.
In 2010, Kansas produced about 50,000 tons of nitrogen oxide. Under the new cross-state rules, that number will have to be reduced to 30,000 tons in 2012, a 40 percent reduction.
“They (producers) would have been on a timeline to meet these restrictions by 2014,” Maier said.
Yet with only a few months to prepare, Kansas utilities are left scrambling for a solution that they say simply does not exist.
“The reality is it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to do that in that time frame,” he said. “You physically can’t get the equipment installed in that time.”
Cost is a compounding issue. Installing the equipment to bring power generators into compliance with the EPA regulations would be an expensive endeavor even with ample time.
With dozens of producers scrambling to do so, Maier said that prices for such equipment has shot up due to limited demand.
The state of Kansas, along with other states subject to the new rules, argue that more time is needed to safely implement the rules.
 Some, like Kansas, are currently locked in legal battles with the EPA to delay the implementation of the regulations.
Yet a drawn-out fight in the courtroom may not be enough to help consumers, who will feel the biggest blow from the regulations. Should a timely solution not be found and should the EPA decide to strictly enforce the rules, residents may quickly feel the effects in ways that hit both their wallets and lifestyles.
Maier said that producers expect costs to go up as they begin attempting to purchase additional credits, which allow them to emit pollutants.
Rushed attempts to upgrade power generators and to utilize more expensive but cleaner equipment may also cause electricity rates to rise.
“They will run (generators) on lowest emissions, not lowest cost,” Maier said. “That will tend to drive costs up.”
But the prospect of prolonged blackouts have utilities far more concerned. Should producers run out of credits, the new regulations require that they stop putting pollutants into the air.
For power plants that are not equipped for low emissions, that means turning out the lights.
Neither the EPA nor the state’s large utility providers are giving consumers any idea when rates may jump or blackouts may occur. Most providers will likely have enough credits to burn through the beginning of the year with little problem. But as they run out — perhaps in late summer, depending on how quickly they reach their emission limits — producers will have to choose between operating in violation of the law and temporarily shutting down.