USA: EPA’s emission limits require coal plants adopt new tech

Lawsuits are expected to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposalto limit emissions from new power plants, and the main reason is cutting-edge, anti-pollution technology.

As part of President Obama’s plan to combat climate change, the EPA plans to unveil its proposal to cap the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. According to an EPA fact sheet obtained by USA TODAY, coal-fired plants — unlike most natural gas facilities — won’t meet the standard without costly technology to capture and store carbon emissions.

There’s the rub. No commercial, coal-fired plant worldwide has yet to use this technology, but at least two are now under construction — one in Canada’s Saskatchewan Province, and the other in Mississippi’s Kemper County, which is scheduled to open in May. Three other U.S. coal plants are planned, two in Texas and one in Illinois.

The EPA’s critics, including the coal industry, say it’s not fair to require a technology that’s not yet proven itself commercially. Yet, its supporters, including environmental groups, say the standard will create demand for the technology and spur industry clean-up.

In the Kemper County plant, it works a bit differently. After the carbon is captured and gasified, it will be sold to companies that do oil exploration, says Amoi Geter, spokeswoman for Gulfport-based Mississippi Power, which is building the plant.

Coal-fired power plants are the single-largest source of U.S. electricity, providing 37% of the total last year. They also emit a disproportionately large share of greenhouse gases — far more that natural gas counterparts. While they provided 18% of all energy consumed nationwide in 2012, they accounted for 31% of energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EPA’s proposal, which addresses only new power plants, is a dress rehearsal for a much larger one next year that will limit emissions from existing power plants. President Obama has directed the agency to propose a standard for existing plants by June, and finalize it in 2015.

For new coal-fired plants, the EPA proposal caps emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon-dioxide per megawatt-hour of power produced. Many existing coal-fired plants emit between 1,600 and 2,100 pounds. In an earlier version last year, which the EPA has now revised, the agency proposed a limit of 1,000 pounds.

The agency’s proposal will also set a 1,100-pound standard for small natural gas plants that produce 850 megawatts or less of electricity and a 1,000-pound limit for larger units. Most natural gas plants would meet these caps without CCS technology.

The coal industry says the EPA’s proposed rule, if enacted, will lead to more coal plant closures and higher electric bills. It “would cause consumers’ power bills to skyrocket over time and cause more pain at the plug than Americans have experienced at the pump,” St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, said in a statement.

Source | AP