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EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards ‘Costly’ and ‘Time-Consuming’ for Coal Plants

Compliance with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) poses “significant challenges” for coal plants, forcing many to retire rather than make the required retrofits, according to a study commissioned by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO).

Economists at the Brattle Group evaluated the MATS, which requires the US coal and oil fleet to meet certain emissions standards—or close—by April 2015, with a potential one-year extension. The projected retrofits and new construction will require as many as 7,590 boilermakers, which is more than four times the number of boilermakers currently employed in the utility system construction industry, the Brattle Group says.

The study says the projected amount of retrofits on coal units, and the amount of new generation required to replace retiring coal units in the MISO region, will exceed the historical maximum achieved for simultaneous deployments of retrofits and new builds by 51 to 162 percent, based on MISO’s current projections of retrofit requirements and announced projects.

While the EPA estimates 93 to 248 GW of coal (measured in Wet Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) equivalent GW) will require environmental controls upgrades around the country, MISO projects 51 to 58 Wet FGD equivalent GW will require upgrades in the Midwest alone.

Dr. Metin Celebi, a Brattle principal and lead author of the study, calls the EPA estimates “optimistic” and MISO’s estimates “pessimistic.”

About 30 GW of coal plants have already announced retirement plans nationwide. To replace these plants and meet load growth requirements by 2015, another 30 to 84 GW of new generation may be needed nationally, while 5-26 GW may be needed in MISO, the study says.

Some upgrades can be implemented before 2015 without difficulty, according to study authors, including activated carbon injection and dry sorbent injection, which coal plants can implement within a year and a half. It says most projects, however, have a longer lead time of about three to four years, including wet and dry FGD, baghouses, electrostatic precipitators, and selective catalytic reduction, as well as new gas combustion turbines and combined cycles.

Complying with MATS will ramp up labor, engineering, equipment and construction needs, which will likely create “substantial bottlenecks” in MISO and nationally, the study says. Study authors expect these bottlenecks to result in construction delays and cost escalation.

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5 thoughts on “EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards ‘Costly’ and ‘Time-Consuming’ for Coal Plants

  1. So what’s the health costs of mercury contamination to both people and the environment, and the clean up costs for what’s already spewed into the atmosphere?

  2. I don’t think health costs matter do they, profits first right? Is this headline for real? Isn’t this good news, the regulations are making it tougher to the coal industry to pollute and emit massive CO2.

  3. Yes the polluter pays. The utility customers pay. These are direct pass through costs. The utilities even get to earn a regulated margin on the new assests. While the PM 2.5 reduction is good and has health benefits, the amount of mercury actually reduced in pounds is minor. US coal plants are only 2% of the world anthropogenic mercury (NRDC number). We would have a greater reduction in mercury if we paid china to add carbon injection than for us to do it on our coal plants.

  4. Polluter pays = good. Utility customers pay due to passing the costs through = also good. Utility companies are not the only bad guys on the block (though they are indeed bad in this regard). The customers who continue to demand such unreasonably large amounts of electricity are also to blame. Utility companies would never have built such large numbers of coal plants if there was no market to sell the electricity produced.

    As society works to reduce the population of operating coal plants, let us also work to reduce our consumption. Facing increased pass through costs for our electricity will be a good motivator.

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