Coal Tattoo

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In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011, pigeons fly past as the stacks of Dominion’s power plant tower over a nearby neighborhood in Salem, Mass. More than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states will be forced to shut down and another 34 might have to close because of new federal air pollution regulations, according to an Associated Press survey. Together, those plants produce enough electricity for more than 21 million households, but their demise is unlikely to cause homes to go dark.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

We’re still waiting this morning for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to announce its final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, but in the meantime, Dina Cappiello at The Associated Press had a lengthy story that reports:

More than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states will be forced to shut down and an additional 36 might have to close because of new federal air pollution regulations, according to an Associated Press survey.

Together, those plants — some of the oldest and dirtiest in the country — produce enough electricity for more than 22 million households, the AP survey found. But their demise probably won’t cause homes to go dark.

The fallout will be most acute for the towns where power plant smokestacks long have cast a shadow. Tax revenues and jobs will be lost, and investments in new power plants and pollution controls probably will raise electric bills.

The survey, based on interviews with 55 power plant operators and on the Environmental Protection Agency’s own prediction of power plant retirements, rebuts claims by critics of the regulations and some electric power producers.

They have predicted the EPA rules will kill coal as a power source and force blackouts, basing their argument on estimates from energy analysts, congressional offices, government regulators, unions and interest groups. Many of those studies inflate the number of plants retiring by counting those shutting down for reasons other than the two EPA rules.

Dina also explains:

Combined, the rules could do away with more than 8 percent of the coal-fired generation nationwide, the AP found. The average age of the plants that could be sacrificed is 51 years. These plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being shuttered by the utilities that own them. But that didn’t happen.

While the new rule heralds an incremental shift away from coal as a power source, it’s unlikely to break coal’s grip as the dominant domestic electricity source. Most of the lost power generation will be replaced, and the coal-fired plants that remain will have to be cleaner.

And:

For many plant operators, the new regulations were the final blow. For others, the rules will speed retirements already planned to comply with state laws or to settle earlier enforcement cases with the EPA. In the AP’s survey, not a single plant operator said the EPA rules were solely to blame for a closure, although some said it left them with no other choice.