The Environmental Protection Agency released its proposed rules Sept. 20 to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. West Virginia elected officials and utility immediately criticized them.
The rule would limit new power plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. Many have said that strict of a standard would require a coal-burning plan to use carbon capture and storage technology.
"Carbon capture and storage is not demonstrated on a commercial scale," said Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman for American Electric Power. AEP owns the Mountaineer plant in Mason County, where a small-scale CCS project tested the technology.
This is the second time the EPA has issued proposed regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. This round of proposals follows an executive order of President Barack Obama issued June 25. The first round brought more than two million comments.
The president's order covers flexible carbon pollution standards for power plants. The EPA was directed to issue proposed rules for future power plants no later than Sept. 20. The agency was also ordered to issue a final rule "in a timely fashion after considering all public comments, as appropriate."
The proposed standard for new power plants — the rule would not apply to coal- or gas-fired plants already in operation — would limit new large gas-fired turbines to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. New small gas-fired turbines would be allowed to produce 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Coal-fired plants would have to meet the 1,100-pound limit.
Coal units would have the option to meet a tighter limit if they chose to average their emissions over multiple years, giving those units additional operational flexibility, the EPA said.
"These proposed standards will ensure that new power plants are built with available clean technology to limit carbon pollution, a requirement that is in line with investments in clean energy technologies that are already being made in the power industry," the EPA said in a release announcing the proposed rule.
"Additionally, these standards provide flexibility by allowing sources to phase in the use of some of these technologies, and they ensure that the power plants of the future use cleaner energy technologies — such as efficient natural gas, advanced coal technology, nuclear power, and renewable energy like wind and solar."
The 60-day public comment period on the proposal will open when it is published in the Federal Register, the EPA said.
The second part of the president's order deals with carbon dioxide pollution from modified, reconstructed and existing power plants. Proposed standards are to be issued no later than June 1, 2014. Final standards are due by June 1, 2015. States are to submit their implementation plans no later than June 30, 2016.
Carbon capture and storage
Many in the utility industry say the only way a coal-burning power plant could meet the new standard with existing technology is with a process called carbon capture and storage, in which CO2 is removed before it goes up the smokestack. Usually, a CCS process stores CO2 underground.
The CCS demonstration project at Mountaineer CCS has been dismantled, McHenry said.
"It was only a small-scale test," McHenry said. AEP got all the data it needed, she said.
"It's the only project to date that's captured and stored CO2 from a power plant," she said.
The demonstration project cost AEP $100 million, and it was only a small one, McHenry said. It operated on 20 megawatts of the Mountaineer plant's total 1,300-megawatt generating capacity, she said.
Taking CCS to commercial scale at Mountaineer would have cost $700 million, McHenry said. The U.S. Department of Energy would have paid half the cost, but the other half would have come from AEP, and the company was not confident regulators in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia would have allowed it to recover the construction and operating costs from ratepayers, she said.
One detriment to commercial-sized CCS system is their parasitic nature on the generating output, McHenry said.
"Twenty to 30 percent of the output of the plant goes to run the equipment at a commercial scale," she said.
A State Journal analysis earlier this year revealed power plant emissions in West Virginia emitted roughly 1,900 to 3,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour, with a few plants above that level. Even the state's newest and most efficient coal-fired plant, the supercritical Longview plant near Morgantown, emits about 1,700 pounds per megawatt hour.
AEP on Sept. 20 released a statement following EPA's announcement.
"The proposal is disappointing. After receiving millions of comments, the EPA still proposed a rule that effectively eliminates coal as an option for a new power plant by setting an emissions limit significantly lower than any existing coal-fueled generating technologies can achieve," AEP's statement said.
"Regulations should not be based on the ‘potential performance' of unproven technologies. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not an adequately demonstrated technology as required by the Clean Air Act. Significant technical, financial and regulatory challenges related to both CO2 capture and storage from power plants have to be addressed.
"This proposal raises serious concerns about our nation's ability to maintain long-term fuel diversity and ensure the energy and economic future of our country. AEP will continue to advocate for reasonable greenhouse gas regulations that recognize the global nature of this issue, consider its impact on economic competitiveness and account for the significant CO2 emission reductions that will result from the planned closure or conversion of nearly 20 percent of the coal-fueled generating capacity in the U.S. in the next few years."
Support for EPA
Some groups, however, did support the EPA's proposed regulations.
"Today's announcement delivers a strong signal that the administration will use its authority to tackle climate change. These new rules will limit carbon pollution from all future U.S. power plants. That's good news for people and the environment," said Kevin Kennedy, Director, U.S. Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute.
"While the new standards are relatively stringent, they provide power plants with options for compliance, including phasing in carbon capture and storage. While not yet used on a wide scale, CCS is technically feasible and could be further deployed under the right conditions.
"Furthermore, it is clear that market dynamics, including the emergence of low-price natural gas, have been driving U.S. power suppliers away from coal production. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over the next three years, utilities plan to build only eight new coal-fired generators compared with 91 new gas-fired generators.
"Putting in place standards for new and existing power plants are some of the most important actions the administration can take to reduce U.S. emissions. Today's proposal on new power plants also sends a clear message that the U.S. is serious about meeting its international commitment."
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., issued a statement Sept. 20 about the regulations, calling it a "technological obstacle." He said any clean coal policy must include the interests of miners and their families, and new technology is the only way to secure their future.
"The EPA's new carbon emission plan includes tough requirements for future coal-fired power plants and pushes us hard toward clean coal technologies that have great potential but are not yet deployed at full-scale, and are difficult to finance," Rockefeller said. "These rules will only work if we act now to strengthen our investment in clean coal technology and to advance public-private partnerships more seriously than ever.
"This rule is undeniably a daunting challenge, but it's also a call to action."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also issued a statement Sept. 20, saying the EPA's announcement is evidence the administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards.
"Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible," Manchin said. "Forcing coal to meet the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy."
Manchin said the Department of Energy predicts that coal will continue to be a major source of electricity for at least the next 30 years, so it would be sensible to "level the playing field and accept that coal is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a significant part of our energy mix."
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., announced Sept. 20 he would introduce a resolution to express the concern that the new rule would be harmful to the economy and America's energy security.
"I am dead-set against the EPA and their scheme to issue emissions standards that would make it next to impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be constructed," Rahall said in a news release. "In mandating that new power plants utilize technology that is not even commercially available, let alone affordable, the Agency is preventing abundant American coal from meeting America's future energy needs.
"The result of this wrong-headed policy would be higher energy bills for families and businesses, reduced power reliability and energy independence for our nation and lost jobs for our coal miners."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also criticized the EPA's proposal.
"EPA's action strikes at the core of West Virginia and is yet another sign that this Administration simply doesn't care about the hard working men and women who earn their living in the coal industry, doesn't care about providing reliable and affordable energy to power the national economy for years to come, and doesn't care about harming the very fabric of communities across our state," Capito said.
"Blocking the use our domestic coal reserves while our global competitors use our coal to power their own economic growth means that America will be forced to compete globally with one arm tied behind our back. West Virginians know that an energy economy is a jobs economy and our state will unite to fight the Administration tooth and nail."
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said the CO2 limits the EPA wants to put on new coal-fired power plants cannot be achieved.
"Despite that, the EPA is moving forward with a regulation that will eventually remove the largest source of America's electricity," McKinley said in his statement. "This will lead to higher electricity costs for millions and thousands of lost jobs
"At the same time his EPA is imposing these new standards, President Obama has slashed research money for clean coal technology in his budget. This continues to be another manifestation of this administration's war on coal.
"Regulations based on ideology and imposing standards on coal plants that they admit can't be achieved is not fair. As a result of these extensive regulations, manufacturers will continue to locate elsewhere where energy costs are more affordable and dependable; and Americans can expect to pay more for their electric bills."
Deck S. Slone, senior vice president of strategy and public policy for Arch Coal, issued the following statement:
"The coal-based generation industry has made tremendous progress in reducing emissions in recent years - with non-greenhouse-gas emissions per unit of coal consumed down 90 percent since 1970. The newest coal plants far exceed even those reductions, and also have lower greenhouse gas emissions due to their higher efficiency levels.
"We believe that coal plants with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions will be achievable in time, but such technology is simply not available today. The Administration's proposal goes way too far, way too fast - and threatens to arrest rather than spur technology advances. With the world's fastest growing economies continuing to build their economies on coal, it makes no sense for the United States - which possesses the world's largest coal reserves - to erect barrier after barrier to coal use. In doing so, we are ensuring America higher power prices, lower economic growth and reduced international competitiveness - and effectively foreclosing on our ability to use this affordable, secure and reliable fuel in the future."
United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement:
"The draft regulations issued today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dealing with emissions from newly constructed power plants, give lie to the "all-of-the-above" approach to electricity generation in the United States. Clearly, the administration has made the determination that it wants to cut our nation's most abundant source of fuel, coal, out of the mix.
"Under this proposed set of regulations, there will be no more coal-fired power plants built in the United States. That's just a fact. People can say all they want about the possibility of using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology on new plants, but the reality is that absent significant support from the government, no utility will make the commitment to spend billions to add unproven CCS capability to their new power plant.
"These regulations lay the groundwork for a future of significantly higher electricity bills for American ratepayers, especially those who live in states where a majority of the electricity is generated from coal. The current low price of natural gas will not last long, especially in a marketplace where it becomes the dominant fuel. This will be a double whammy on people who live in states where coal is both produced and used as a fuel, like West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and others.
"For the UMWA, there is no issue of greater importance. This is about whether or not our members have a future working in an industry that provides steady employment. It is about whether or not our members can continue to earn good wages, provide for their families and be the main economic drivers of the communities where they live. It is also about whether the more than 100,000 UMWA retirees, their dependents and widows who currently receive health care and pension benefits will find those benefits at risk.
"As we ask, ‘What is the future of electricity generation in America?' we must also ask, ‘What kind of future do we want for America?' If the answer to that question is one that addresses long-term economic and energy security, then coal must be part of that future. If the answer to that question is one that promotes continued high-paying jobs in rural America, then coal must be part of that future. And if the answer to that question is one that addresses environmental challenges and leaves the world a better place for our children and grandchildren, then we believe coal is part of that future as well.
"We will make that case to EPA in our comments on this proposed regulation. I can only hope that they listen."