Report: EPA rules to shut down more than 280 coal-fired units

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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New analysis shows that the coal industry is in for some tough years ahead, as more than 280 coal-fired generating units are slated to be shut down in part due to stricter Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a partnership of industry groups, reports that the number of coal plants slated for shutdown is fives times greater than the EPA predicted would be forced to shut down due to its regulations.

Coal-fired electric generating plants will be shut down across 32 states, with the hardest hit states being Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana, according to the coalition.

“Regrettably, the number of coal units being forced to close continues to grow,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of ACCCE, in a statement. “Yet, EPA continues to downplay the damage its regulations are causing to the U.S. economy and to the many states that depend on coal for jobs and affordable electricity.”

The list of coal plants slated for shutdown has been expanding rapidly since last summer when the Energy Information Administration estimated that 175 coal-fired generators — 8.5 percent of the U.S.’s coal-fired capacity — would be retired in the coming years due to declining demand for electricity and stricter environmental regulations.

In September, ACCCE estimated that more than 200 coal-fired generating units — more than 31,000 megawatts of power — would be shut down across 25 states due to EPA regulations and other factors inducing cheap natural gas.

The shale boom has caused cheap natural gas to replace some coal consumption and use for power generation, but new environmental regulations have continually made it less economical to build coal plants.

The EPA’s now-delayed new emissions limits rule for power plants essentially bans the construction of new coal-fired power plants. The rule would limit newly built power plant carbon dioxide emissions to 1,000 pounds-per-megawatt-hour, which only combined-cycle power plants that are powered by natural gas are able to comply with.

Coal plants can comply by with the new emissions rule by using carbon capture and sequestration technology that is not commercially viable.

Environmentalists have also taken aim at coal plants around the country. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has a goal of retiring one-third of the more than 500 U.S. coal plants by 2020 and replacing the majority of them with green energy power from wind, solar, and geothermal.

According to the group, burning coal is a major contributor to global warming and leads to as many as 13,000 premature deaths annually and adds more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

“The coal industry is cracking faster than the ice sheets, but it might not be fast enough,” said Sierra Club attorney Bruce Nilles in an interview.

The Sierra Club reported last month that 142 coal plants have been slated for retirement since 2010 — in part due to litigation by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.

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