Carbon proposal triggers coal fuss
Environmentalists praised a plan released Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency to rein in power generation as a source of greenhouse gas emissions, while others pointed to potential costs, including to local coal production and utility consumers.
The EPA unveiled a proposal “to cut carbon pollution from new power plants in order to combat climate change and improve public health,” it said in a news release.
The proposed first-ever national limits on carbon emissions from power plants are also a first step to deliver on President Barack Obama’s climate action plan. It would apply carbon dioxide limits to natural gas-fired turbines—1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour for large plants.
But much of the debate is likely to focus on a proposal to hold new coal-fired units to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour.
There’s a question over whether such a goal is attainable, and what it could mean for the future use of coal in electricity generation.
The EPA calls power plants “the largest concentrated source of emissions in the United States, together accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center released a study earlier this week listing what it said are the nation’s 100 most-polluting power plants based on carbon emissions. All but two primarily burn coal.
“If we want a safer climate and future for our kids, we can’t keep letting dirty power plants pollute,” said Anneli Berube, field organizer with Environment Colorado, in a news release. “President Obama has put his foot down in the fight against global warming and effectively said: ‘No new dirty power plants.’ “
Her group cites Colorado’s season of wildfires—its most destructive ever—and the ongoing epic Front Range flooding, and says scientists warn extreme weather will become even more frequent and extreme without major carbon reductions.
But there could be a price to be paid if it proves cost-prohibitive or technically unfeasible for new plants to run on coal. Dan McClendon, general manager of the Delta-Montrose Electric Association cooperative, notes that the cooperative has a contract to buy most of its power from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which gets most of its power from coal.
The EPA proposal “more than likely will affect their costs long term and raise our rates,” he said.
“... Certainly we have concern. We’re trying to prepare the best we can here locally for whatever effect that may have on us.”
He said he understands the emissions concerns, but he’s not aware of many successful projects to reduce carbon emissions in coal generation.
“It’s kind of up in the air so to speak on how that is to be done,” he said.
Arch Coal, a major domestic coal producer that owns the West Elk Mine in the Somerset area, raised the same concern in a news release Friday.
“We believe that coal plants with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions will be achievable in time, but such technology is simply not available today,” said Deck S. Slone, the company’s senior vice president of strategy and public policy. “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.”
Arch Coal spokeswoman Kim Link said by email that coal mines in Colorado produced thermal coal, meaning coal used in power production, “so they would all feel the impact” of the new EPA standards.
West Elk and other mines in the North Fork Valley provide hundreds of jobs.
The Environment Colorado report lists Tri-State’s power plant in Craig as being the nation’s 55th-dirtiest plant for carbon emissions. It says Xcel Energy’s Hayden plant also is among the five most-polluting plants in Colorado, where power plants are the biggest source of carbon emissions.
The EPA plans to propose carbon standards for existing plants by next June.
Chase Huntley, government relations director for energy at The Wilderness Society, said the proposal announced Friday is reasonable.
“It doesn’t say no to coal. It just sets standards for coal,” he said.
He said that in the past, such rules have spurred new technological development.
In the EPA’s news release, agency Administrator Gina McCarthy called the proposal “commonsense action” and said it “can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children. These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy.”
The measures also could accelerate the growing domestic use of natural gas, a trend arising from the fact that it’s cleaner burning and abundant.
Carlton Carroll with the American Petroleum Institute said Friday that that “energy renaissance ... is creating jobs and helping to bring U.S. carbon dioxide emissions down to 20-year lows. If the administration seeks to encourage that trend, it’s critical that federal regulators turn aside efforts to limit access to resources on federal lands or layer unnecessary regulations on top of effective state rules guiding safe and responsible shale energy development.”
McClendon noted that natural gas prices have fluctuated a lot in the past.
He added that gas generation also isn’t emission-free.
“So I expect there to be sometime more and more pressure on gas generation (to control emissions) as well, and so we’ve got to come up with some long-term solutions for our nation and world, quite frankly.”
He said the Delta-Montrose Electric Association has been working for years to focus on efficiency and conservation measures, and just a few months ago completed work on the South Canal hydroelectric project outside Montrose.
“Our distribution cooperative has a high appetite to develop local renewable sources that are available and cost-effective,” he said.