Goodbye Coal-Fired Power Plants

October 2, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally unveiled its long-awaited rules for new coal-fired power plants. The agency's administrator, Gina McCarthy, has claimed that the new rules "will provide certainty for the future of new coal." That's true. The rules mean that no new coal plants will be built in the United States, because they won't be able to meet the limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity produced, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The EPA's new rule relies on the agency's misplaced belief in carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. McCarthy has claimed that "CCS technology is feasible." Yes, it's feasible. But that doesn't mean the technology is economically viable or can scale to a level that makes it a reasonable alternative to traditional sources of electricity generation.

There are numerous problems with CCS. Among them:

  • It's extremely expensive.
  • It dramatically reduces the output of power plants.
  • No pipelines exist to transport the carbon dioxide to a location where it could be sequestered.
  • The opposition to those pipelines and sequestration projects will be significant.
  • The need for CCS has been obviated by the fact that the United States is already leading the world in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.

The huge cost of CCS at coal-fired power plants can be seen by looking at Southern Co.'s project in Kemper County, Miss.

  • The 582-megawatt project, which has been hampered by delays and cost overruns, is now expected to cost $4.7 billion. That works out to about $8 million per megawatt of capacity.
  • In comparison, the nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle, in Georgia, will emit no carbon dioxide and will cost about $6.3 million per megawatt.
  • Meanwhile, a natural-gas-fired generator without any CCS equipment costs in the neighborhood of $1 million per megawatt.

The most disheartening part of the story is that the EPA has made this move by wagering on CCS, a technology that has never been widely deployed because it is too expensive and the scale problems are too daunting.

Source: Robert Bryce, "The EPA's Carbon-Capture Delusion," National Review, September 23, 2013.

 

Browse more articles on Environment Issues