EPA unveils CO2 plan without ‘transitional’ coal plant status

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Sept. 20 rolled out its revised proposed standards to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new power plants.

The proposal sets different emissions standards for natural gas plants and coal plants – a different approach than the agency took in April 2012 with its first version of the proposed CO2 rule.

The new EPA plan, however, no longer offers a provision for “transitional” new coal plants, an EPA official said during a background briefing with reporters.

The EPA official did note that three U.S. coal plants are in the advanced development pipeline that would seemingly meet the new CO2 standards through the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Those plants are the Southern (NYSE:SO)  582-MW Kemper County integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) project under construction in Mississippi; Summit Power’s 400-MW Texas Clean Energy project in Texas; and the 300-MW Hydrogen Energy California project in California.

Less clear, however, is how EPA will treat a proposed Wolverine Power Cooperative advanced coal project in Michigan, the EPA official said. The new Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) Edwardsport IGCC does not currently have CCS technology but is “carbon capture ready,” the EPA official noted. Edwardsport would presumably be classified as an “existing” coal plant because it is in operation prior to issuance of the CO2 rule proposal.

Slightly different standards offered for coal, gas units

Under the Sept. 20 proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MWh, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per MWh. New coal units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per MWh, and would have the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over seven years, giving those units additional operational flexibility.

New natural gas combined-cycle plants can meet the new milestones with existing commercial technology.

That’s not the case for coal-fired generation, many say. Even the most efficient coal-fired steam turbine generators placed into service over the last five years have had average CO2 emissions rates of 1,900 lbs/MWh, Bernstein Research said recently.

The EPA proposal for new plants also endorses the use of “partial” (CCS) that could capture 30%-to-50% of CO2 emissions, the EPA source said.

The proposal issuance comes less than President Obama’s June climate change speech in Washington, D.C.

“We are announcing proposed regulations that will limit carbon pollution from this country’s single largest individual sources — power plants,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This proposal does not impact existing power plants. This is all about new power plants. We are going to begin discussions with states today, discussions with stakeholders, with utilities about what we can do to work with them to establish limits on existing power plants,” McCarthy said.

Electric power generation accounts for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution, EPA said.

In addition, more than 25 states have set energy efficiency targets, and more than 35 have set renewable energy targets. While the United States has limits in place for arsenic, mercury and lead pollution that power plants can emit, currently, there are no national limits on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit.

 The agency is seeking comment and information on today’s proposal, including holding a public hearing, and will take that input fully into account as it completes the rulemaking process. EPA’s comment period will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. In a separate action, EPA is rescinding the April 2012 proposal.

More information is available at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.