Today, the two dominant sources of electricity are coal-fired power plants and natural gas-fired turbine plants. Under the new EPA proposal, newly built large natural gas-fired turbines would be required to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new but smaller natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.
A typical advanced coal plant today emits about 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour compared with natural gas plants that emit around 800 pounds on average – less than the proposed new standards.
But a new coal-fired power plant would have to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. The new rules include an option to meet an average emissions standard over multiple years, a phase-in period intended to give power plant operators added flexibility meeting the requirement.
The new regulations are a bit less stringent for coal plants than the administration’s first proposal in April 2012, a shift that reflects some 2.5 million comments that flooded in following that proposal. A key result: the EPA dropped its April plan for a single standard and instead unveiled Friday’s separate standards for coal and for natural gas power plants – and the phase-in option.
But new coal plants would still likely need to use in their construction some type of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) system to capture CO2 gas before it goes out the smokestack – and instead pump it deep into either underground salt-water aquifers – or alternatively inject it deep into older oil fields to squeeze more oil out of them.
Industry officials and some lawmakers say the new CCS technology is unproven and unaffordable. But EPA officials, citing several demonstration projects – and a pair of coal power plants now deploying CCS, one in Canada the other in Kemper, Miss. – say the CCS technology works.