A new Environmental Protection Agency rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions favors natural gas over coal for electricity generation, a state Air Quality official explained to state lawmakers last week.
State Division of Air Quality Director John Lyons told the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment that the recently proposed and published Greenhouse Gas New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) rule, which was proposed and took effect in April 2012, will not apply to certain natural gas fired turbines but will apply to future small (73 megawatt base load rating) coal-fired plants that were not permitted or built prior to April 13.
The emission standard under the rule, Lyons said, limits carbon dioxide to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour gross output annually.
Now, to give you an idea of what that means, consider what a highly-efficient coal-fired power plant in Kentucky emits in terms of CO2 right now. What Lyons called a “super critical coal fired generator” belonging to LG & E in Trimble County, KY is one of the cleanest units in the nation, but puts out about 1,800 pounds of CO2
Lyons said a simple cycle natural gas fired turbine emits about 1,300 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour gross output a year, while a combined cycle natural gas fired unit emits around 750 pounds per megawatt hour of the greenhouse gas.
“The only technology that really falls under 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour is a combined cycle natural-gas fired turbine,” he said.
The rule does give some leeway to coal-fired electricity generation at new units that can meet the average 1,000 pound CO2 emission standard over a 30-year period, Lyons explained. Lyons said the 30-year standard is a kind of “out, if you will” for coal-fired power plants, although he said meeting that standard would require reliance on technologies like carbon capture and storage that is not what he called “a proven technology”.
Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence said he recently heard a federal official say natural gas is going to be “the standard” in power generation in the future. The official’s comments were basically, said Good, to the effect of, “If you’re wanting to build a coal-fired power plant, you’ve got major problems.”
Who is going to pay for thinking like that, and rules like the April 13 rule? Kentucky is, Gooch told the committee.
When asked by Rep. John Will Stacy of West Liberty what the “tipping point” is in deciding to switch from coal to natural gas, Lyons commented that EPA rules like the one published April 13 could play a part.
“At this point in time, it’s as cheap to use natural gas as coal because of the price of natural gas. But,… I think it’s driven more by what the rules are and what you’ve got to meet in terms of pollution output, is what really the tipping point is rather than the equipment and whatnot,” said Lyons. “That’s something I can investigate…”
Also, Lyons said electric utilities are asking themselves whether it is smarter to retrofit aging coal-fired power plants or build new plants.
“(They are asking), ‘Does it make sense to retrofit a 60-year old plant, rather than build a new plant which at this point in time is going to be natural gas fired unit with all the factors involved?” Lyons said.
The April 13 rule is just one of many that our state is having to face as we struggle to protect our environment while simultaneously supporting a coal industry hard hit by regulation. For every rule, there are mounds of litigation on both sides of the issue that chip away at our state budget and the precious time that can be spent on the environment now.
Case in point: Many coal plants want to retrofit to meet current EPA rules, but there are other rules that prevent them from doing so (although the April 13 rule is supposedly not one of them ). Those rules that are prohibitive to retrofitting hardly seem fair to most who support the coal industry in our state.
I hope we can find a form of air emission regulation that truly works rather than the current system of poring over divisive policies that don’t appear to be doing Kentucky, or the federal EPA, any good. And I hope we can start sooner rather than later.
Have a good week.