West Virginia decries EPA’s ‘bull in a china shop’ Clean Power Plan

West Virginia, which is the second-largest coal-producing state in the U.S., told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the CO2-reducing Clean Power Plan is legally flawed and would have a devastating impact on both coal-fired power and coal mining in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) on Dec. 1 filed comments with EPA on the Clean Power Plan, which was unveiled in June and proposed under Clean Air Act section 111(d). These comments were prepared by the WVDEP as lead agency, with the assistance of the West Virginia Division of Energy with regard to renewable energy and energy efficiency, and in consultation with the senior staff of the West Virginia Public Service Commission (WVPSC).

“With its far-reaching proposal, EPA plans to boldly venture into many roles that go well beyond its historic responsibility under the CAA of regulating emissions of air pollutants from sources,” said the agencies. “With the finesse of a bull in a china shop, EPA intends to assert itself broadly into new regulatory arenas that impact all areas of the nation’s economy. Under the proposed rule, the agency will invade the province of the WVPSC and other state utility regulatory agencies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), North American and regional reliability entities, regional power markets and regional transmission organizations, by directing fuel choices for electric generation and thereby affect dispatch of generation and the operation of the nation’s electric grid.

“EPA will do this not based on the cornerstone criteria of reliability and cost, but instead upon the single-minded criterion of carbon intensity. As a result, electrical grid reliability will fall precipitously and costs will rise. Under the guise of regulating carbon emissions under the CAA, EPA will undertake regulation of sources of power generation which have no carbon emissions. It will similarly extend its reach to regulation of end-use consumers of electric power, claiming CAA jurisdiction over the daily lives of all citizens and the entirety of the American economy with respect to the use of electricity. As a result, the economy and citizens will suffer. According to an analysis performed by the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research, West Virginia will lose over 4,000 jobs and hundreds ofmillions of dollars in wages. All of this is patently illegal. The first stop on the regulatory odyssey upon which EPA intends to embark will most certainly be the courts. Almost all significant CAA rules are challenged and this proposed rule is historically consequential – it is destined for litigation.”

In regards to coal-fired generation, the Building Block 1 heat rate improvements in EPA plan for existing coal-fired plants at the level that EPA has proposed are not achievable, the West Virginia agencies said. Heat rate varies widely, not only among different units, but also for the same unit under different operating characteristics. Heat rate is strongly dependent on load, such that the implementation of Building Blocks 2, 3 and 4 will adversely affect, and will likely overcome, any thermal efficiency gains that could be achieved from retrofits or operations changes attempted to satisfy Building Block 1.

Also, EPA’s proposed redispatch from coal to natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) units is not available in West Virginia and several other states. Even if NGCC units are available, EPA’s assumed 70% capacity factor is unreasonable, West Virginia said. The agency also grossly underplays the needed infrastructure improvements required, as well as the related costs. For example, EPA’s quoted cost for additional natural gas pipelines of $1m per mile is not realistic. Recent announced projects are in the range of $10m per mile.

EPA’s assumptions for renewable energy (RE) expansion in West Virginia are “wildly optimistic” and based upon a conceptually and mathematically flawed methodology, the agencies said. If the state were to attempt compliance by wind energy alone, it would require the construction, operation and connection of more than 2,000 two megawatt wind turbines. Their footprint would occupy about 4% of the total land mass of the eastern West Virginia counties that haves ustained wind resources along mountain ridges. Limited to the land area along those mountain ridges, the footprint of 2,000 wind turbines would be even more concentrated and intrusive. EPA’s assumptions for demand-side energy efficiency (EE) for West Virginia are likewise wildly optimistic and based on faulty assumptions, the state agencies added.

Agencies zero in on EPA’s assumed heat rate improvements for coal units

With respect to available equipment upgrades, most electric generating units (EGUs) in West Virginia have already achieved the majority of heat rate improvements outlined by the 2009 Sargent & Lundy study relied on by EPA concurrent with the installation of emission control devices (and associated equipment upgrades) to comply with various envionmental rules like the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Significant improvements in heat rate from turbine overhauls have also been realized, as all turbines at West Virginia utility-owned EGUs are subject to strict periodic maintenance to assure efficiency and reliability.

Because EPA relied on unsubstantiated statistical exercises and an outdated study, states are presented with a “capricious and technically infeasible” Building Block 1 requirement to reduce the average heat rate by 6%, the agencies said. “West Virginia EGUs cannot meet this mark, as they have already minimized heat rate variation and operate at high boiler efficiencies.

“The study upon which EPA bases its Building Block 1 goal, Sargent & Lundy, recommends performing a site-specific power plant energy audit that would identify cost-effective equipment upgrades that result in significant heat rate improvements,” the agencies noted. “Then, implementation of audi trecommendations that are cost-effective for each EGU on a case-by-case basis would assure that each EGU is achieving the best heat rate that is practicable, economical, and achievable for that unit. For some EGUs, the result may be greater than EPA’s six percent standard. For others, it may be less. But in either event, EPA could be assured that each EGU is operating at maximum practical efficiency using the legally required BSER standard that takes both cost and energy requirements into consideration. EPA failed to follow the recommendation made by the study upon which it bases its calculations of its proposed Building Block 1 goal.”

In the proposed rule, EPA evaluated potential opportunities to improve EGU heat rates through specific equipment upgrades identified in the 2009 Sargent & Lundy study. The study identified a number of equipment upgrades that could be undertaken at existing coal-fired EGUs, and determined a potential heat rate improvement range for each of the identified equipment upgrades based on a literature review. The study also included three case studies and projected the heat rate improvement that could be achieved in each case. They include:

  • 250 MW pulverized coal power plant with electrostatic precipitator (ESP);
  • 850 MW pulverized coal power plant with flue gas desulfurization (FGD) and baghouse; and
  • 550 MW coal-fired power plant with ESP, evaluated replacing centrifugal fans with axial fans.

The study determined that a heat rate improvement of 424, 154 and 6 Btu/kWh, respectively, was possible for each case study. None of the case studies involved a typical modern West Virginia base-load EGU, with requisite emission control equipment and associated equipment upgrades, the state agencies said. Based on the average of the study’s ranges of potential heat rate improvements from equipment upgrades, EPA supposedly determined that half of the equipment upgrade opportunities outlined in the study remains for existing units. EPA then proposed that the technical potential for heat rate improvements which could be achieved from equipment upgrades are on the average of two percent.

“The agency’s appraisal of technical potential for heat rate improvements is based upon outdated information from a backward-looking study from 2009 that does not reflect the characteristics of EGUs with remaining useful life after installation of the emissions control equipment necessary to meet more recent EPA mandates,” the West Virginia agencies wrote. “Therefore, the two percent heat rate improvement via equipment upgrade in the proposed rule is arbitrary and capricious. The 2009 S&L study, while a straightforward study of methods that may decrease the heat rate of existing EGUs, is at this point an outdated one. Also, EPA has been busy in the meantime. The S&L study predated and could not have considered the impact of EPA’s newer regulations on EGU operation.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.