WASHINGTON (CN) – The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed explicit limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new power generating facilities, for the first time.
The proposed new source performance standards would limit CO2 emissions to 1,000 lbs per megawatt-hour of energy generation for facilities greater than 25 megawatts, a limit so strict, the coal industry says it will effectively end construction of new plants that burn only coal.
This is because the most advanced new coal plants generate about 1,800 lbs CO2/MWh. Industry analysts say the only way new coal plants could meet the standard is if they were able to develop carbon capture technologies that could sequester around 800 lb/MWh. There are currently no sequestration facilities in operation that can capture that much CO2.
For its part, the EPA freely admits that it does not expect anyone to build traditional coal burning facilities in the future. In fact, the new emission standard is based on the typical emissions of natural gas combined cycle power generators, 95 percent of which already meet the proposed standard.
“Due to the economics of the energy sector, the EPA and others predict that NGCC will be the predominant choice for new fossil fuel-fired generation even absent this rule,” the agency said.
In a combined cycle generating unit, natural gas is burned to turn an electric turbine and the waste heat from the combustion is captured to generate steam to also turn an electric turbine.
The coal industry fears that the new standards will make it impossible to add units to, or upgrade existing, facilities because to do so requires installing the “best available control technology” which is based, at a minimum, on the most recent new source performance standard.
The EPA suggested that new facilities could meet the standards by capturing 50 percent of the exhaust gas at startup, when the emissions are dirtiest.
The agency also proposes to let new facilities average their CO2 emissions over 30 years, on the assumption that more effective carbon capture and sequestration technology will be developed to meet the more stringent standards.
Utilities with shovel ready plans for new facilities may jump production as facilities that obtain preconstruction permits and begin construction within the next twelve months will be considered “transitional” and not subject to the 1,000 lb/MWh standard.
The public has until June 12 to comment on the proposed new source performance standards.