Will the Coming Ambient Air Regulations Spell the End for Coal-fired Power Plants and Cripple Our Domestic Industry?


A recent report by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) concluded that coming federal environmental regulations to improve water and air quality could cut by nearly half the amount of projected reserve energy available to the U.S. power grid by 2018. Nationwide, hundreds of coal-, oil-, and gas-fired power plants, with a collective capacity of about 76,000 MW, could be retired if the rules are implemented under the fastest proposed timeline. In addition, major utilities have indicated that because of the costs for meeting the expected regulations they may defer coal-fired power projects in the U.S. and build gas-fired power plants should the price of gas remain stable.


With the Republicans now in control of the House, we can expect that action on GHG regulations and the Clean Air Act will slow and that any forthcoming legislation will be less onerous than previously anticipated. However, other rules currently moving through the EPA process will continue basically as originally proposed. EPA’s proposal to set the air-quality standard for ozone at between 60 and 70 parts per billion, compared with 75 ppb currently and the new 24-hour fine particle PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of 35µg/m3 that became effective in December 2009, will have serious consequences for coal-fired power plants.


In a Hot Topic Hour in April of this year, we heard six very knowledgeable speakers address the problems and costs associated with these regulations. Colin T. McCall of All4, Inc., observed that the proposed health-based NAAQS are extremely stringent and will make it increasingly difficult to obtain approval for new facilities or for existing facility expansion and modernization projects. Gale F. Hoffnagle of TRC Environmental Corporation, stated that photochemical modeling of PM2.5 is likely to be necessary to permit any new construction due to the secondary particle creation of SO2 and NOx and that this modeling will be exceedingly difficult. All agreed that most coal-fired power plants will need to add baghouses and perhaps additional control equipment at considerable expense.


Because of the strong interest in this subject, we will be conducting another Hot Topic Hour on the “Impact of Ambient Air Rules for PM2.5 and Ozone on Coal-fired Power Plants” on Thursday December 9, 2010. We are looking for speakers to discuss the impact of the coming regulations on coal-fired power plants, their current experience with the measurement and control of fine particulates and ozone precursors, and the various options available to comply with the proposed regulations including fuel switching, with a discussion of the advantages or disadvantages of the options for specific plant configurations and operating conditions.  If you would like to make a presentation during this Hot Topic Hour, please contact Jim Downey at (847) 784-0012 x210 or jdowney@mcilvainecompany.com