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A View from the Altar / Quicksilver in the coal
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Quicksilver in the coal

The Edison Electric Institute has stated that the EPA’s new rule on mercury emissions from power plants is the most expensive in the agency’s history.  Nobody’s in favor of releasing mercury into the environment.  The regulatory approach and schedule for getting rid of it are what it at issue. 

The power industry can certainly find technology to get rid of mercury.  The question the public should be asking is whether power customers can pay the price. 

The most likely outcome of the new emissions rule is that scores of coal-fired power plants will be prematurely shut down and replaced with power plants that burn natural gas.  This shows why the EPA’s estimate of the cost of complying with the rule is absurdly low at $10 billion per year. 

Even if old plants are modified, retrofitting them with mercury removal processes and equipment can cost upwards of $500 million per plant, and scrubbers can consume millions of gallons of fresh water per day.  Also, utilities do not want to trap mercury and then have to find an EPA-approved way to dispose of it — only to have the EPA later change the rules on disposal, creating future costs which cannot be predicted.

Even though the price of natural gas is falling, power produced from it is still more expensive than what’s generated from coal.  Power prices will go up; it’s just not yet known by how much.  And as we’ve noted many times at AVFTA, the contention that wind and solar can replace coal is sheer fantasy.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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