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After Long Battle, EPA to Unveil Rules for Cutting Smog from Coal Plants

Next week's transport rule is aimed at curbing smog and soot at power plants in 30-plus states. Next up: EPA's controversial mercury rule, expected in Nov.

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 1, 2011
Gina McCarthy during the hearing on June 30th

An EPA analysis anticipates that the air toxics rule could cost the industry about $11 billion annually. Electricity rates are estimated to rise as much as 3.7 percent in 2015 and 2.6 percent by 2020, though those numbers will vary by geographic region. As well, the rule will retire about 10 gigawatts of coal-fired power, McCarthy said.

Close to one-third, or 330 gigawatts, of the country’s total 1,030 gigawatts of generating capacity is coal fired, according to statistics compiled by the , a Boston-based economic consulting firm.

Raft of Utilities on Board

Executives from utilities such as Xcel Energy, Duke Energy, Wisconsin Energy, Edison International, PPL Generation, NRG and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which count on significant chunks of that coal-fired power, are among those who have recently stated that they are strategically positioned to comply with upcoming EPA regulations.

"We really see very little impact on customer electric rates or our capital plan between now and 2015 as a result of all the new EPA regulations that have been proposed," Wisconsin Energy president Gale Klappa said in early May. "We might see (a) 1 percent to 2 percent increase. So that gives you an example of how well we are positioned from the environmental standpoint."

In anticipation of the rules, and as part of a , the TVA announced plans in April to shutter 18 older coal-fired units at three power plants with a combined 2,700-megawatt capacity. It's part of the utility's vision to lead the nation on the low-cost and cleaner-energy front by 2020, it said.

"A variety of electricity sources, rather than heavy reliance on any single source, reduces long-term risks and helps keep costs steady and predictable," about shedding some of the utility’s total 17,000 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity.

"In the longer run, these actions reinforce our vision to keep bills low, keep our service reliability high and further improve air quality as we modernize the TVA power system."

Power plant cleanup, McCarthy emphasized, has been a continuous policy of the federal government under two Democratic and two Republican presidents since 1989. That’s when President George H.W. Bush initiated a proposal that evolved into the Clean Air Act Amendments.

"We are not pursuing these rules because just because the Clean Air Act requires it or because the court told us we had to do it," McCarthy explained. "We are pursuing these rules because they will dramatically improve public health, they are affordable and they are technologically achievable."

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