Midwest utility forced to close three coal plants

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Black Hills Power has opted to shutter three coal plants in Wyoming and South Dakota after deciding it was too costly to upgrade them to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“After an analysis of the cost of compliance, as well as consideration of the likelihood of additional future EPA regulations affecting the continued operation of the facilities, Black Hills Power determined the most cost effective plan for EPA compliance is to retire and decommission the facilities,” according to a notice published by the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

“The company states decommissioning the facilities will not adversely impact its ability to provide safe, adequate and reliable electric service to its customers,” the state regulator added.

The company is shutting down the plants to avoid the high compliance of EPA’s rules aimed at reducing emissions from boilers in coal-fired power plants with 25 megawatts or less of generating capacity. The deadline for complying with the EPA’s rule is March 2014.

Energy Online reports: “The coal-fired units targeted for retirement are the 34.5-MW Osage unit in Osage, Wyoming and the 21.8-MW Neil Simpson I unit in Gillette, Wyoming. In addition, the 25-MW Ben French unit in Rapid City, South Dakota is targeted. The newest of the three units is Neil Simpson I, which commenced commercial operations in 1969. All three units are owned entirely by Black Hills Power.”

These retirements also come just before the Obama administration is set to unveil new emissions limits for power plants, which are expected to ban the construction of new coal plants unless they utilize carbon capture technology.

The coal industry argues that carbon capture technology has not yet been commercially proven.

“The American people should not be fooled. If the EPA overreaches, its actions could drastically reduce our nation’s fuel options, risk tens-of-thousands of jobs and destroy, not encourage, the development of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology,” said Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

ACCCE estimates that EPA regulations will contribute to the closing of more than 280 coal plants nationwide in the coming years, with four of those plant closings happening in Wyoming.

However, environmentalists argue that coal plants should be closed down and replaced with less carbon-intensive energy sources such as natural gas, wind or solar.

“Simply put, clean energy has been cleaning coal’s clock for some time now, and it’s now catching natural gas as well, even when gas is at record low prices,” writes Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

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