New EPA Regulations On Illinois Coal-Fired Plants Are Economic Busters

August 25, 2011

 

If electricity in Illinois is not supplied by coal, and not by Nuclear, then by what?  Surely not by solar and wind power!

Not only has coal been blocked through a recent Executive Order by President Obama — the rules of which are now being finalized over the next 18 months to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants — but politicians have also blocked Nuclear, oil and shale oil, etc., and have used our tax monies to subsidize windmills, solar farms, grain to alcohol, etc., all of which are inadequate or impractical pipe dream sources of power highly rated by politicians, which will never be able to fulfill this nation’s increasing future energy needs.

Consider the fate of the Zion Dual Nuclear Plant here in Illinois. Two operating, safe, least expensive cost per kilowatt, PWR electricity generation plants were prematurely closed back in 1998 are now being demolished.  It’s tremendous source of 2,100 MG of power will soon be no more, lost forever, because of a foolish, short term decision made by Exelon Corporation.

It is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPR), under Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, that is responsible for putting in place the regulations issued through Executive Order by President Obama last month for mercury, smog, ozone, greenhouse gases, water intake, and coal.  According to Jackson, since pollution goes across state lines, no longer can states be trusted to deal with it.

According to an article written by Brad Plumer, “Getting ready for a wave of coal-plant shutdowns,” industry groups such as the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, claim that the regulations will cost utilities up to $129 billion and force them to retire one-fifth of their coal-fired, electricity generating plants, resulting in higher electric bills, more blackouts and fewer jobs (Presently coal provides 45% of this nation’s power).

Meanwhile Environmental groups are claiming that the EPA rules will bring sizable public health benefits, with further claims that industry groups have been exaggerating the costs of environmental regulations since they were first created.

Who is right?  And why is there so much concern over the EPA’s flurry of new rules, which some have dubbed as “EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck”?

Curious about coal plants here in Illinois and how Illinois might be affected by the new EPA rules, I located two articles on interest in searching the Internet.

The first article, titled, “Why is Coal Important?”, informed me that coal is mined in 32 states and that one of the three major U.S. coal producing regions is found in the Illinois Basin (Illinois, Indiana and Western Kentucky).  Also of interest is that the Illinois Basin mines primarily bituminous coal, generally below the surface, yielding coal that is high in energy content, but also high in sulfur.

Because acid is an important environmental issue, the fact that Illinois produces coal high in sulfur content could adversely affect the future of Illinois coal plants, given that the stiff new government emissions regulation for sulfur must be met by every company that burns coal.  One solution to curb sulfur emissions is to install scrubbers in coal plant stacks, but this comes at a considerable expense.

As a matter of interest, Illinois ranks #6 in the ten top coal producing states by rank and tonnage produced (2,246,000) and #2 in the top ten states with the largest reserves of coal (% of Total in U.S. – 16.5%),

The second article of note, published by CLEAR THE AIR, portrays a rather over-the-top presentation, as could be expected from its title, with its report: “Illinois’s Dirty Power Plants.

According to thereport issued by CLEAR THE AIR, titled, “Illinois’s Dirty Power Plants, “Chicago ranks as the second hardest hit city in the entire country for the impacts of power plant pollution.  In addition, power plant mercury pollution has contaminated fish, ozone smog is causing thousands of asthma attacks, pollution cuts short the lives of over a thousand Illinoisans every year, and global warming caused in part by carbon dioxide pollution from power plants threatens the the economy and health of the Prairie State.”

Moreover, “Coal-fired power plants throughout the nation are responsible for more than 68% of the total annual emissions of sulfur dioxide from all sources, the primary ingredient of deadly fine particle pollution.”

In light of the shocking claims made by CLEAR THE AIR, citizens of Chicago and Illinois should be experiencing horrific death rates and health problems linked to the twenty-five operating Illinois coal-fired plants spewing pollution into the air.  After all, coal-fired power plants are being tagged for the lion’s share of dangerous pollution attributed to the electric power industry.

What a difference from 1903 when the Fisk Generating Station in Chicago had its first steam turbine installed.  Engineers hailed the new coal-fired power plant as a marvel!  Once perched on the outskirts of Chicago, the plant (rebuilt in 1959) now sits in the middle of the working-class Hispanic neighborhood of Pilson.  Also in operation after 86 years is Fisk’s sister plant, Crawford station.

One-third of the coal plants now operating in the U.S. came on-line, as did  Fisk, Crawford, and other coal-fired plants here in Illinois, before the Clean Air Act of 1970 was written.  This 1970 bill exempted existing power plants from its clean act provisions under the assumption that older plants would soon be retired.

Utility companies, however, found it profitable to keep the older plants in operation.  Congress then failed in 1977 to clarify what exactly was meant by the “major” modifications that had to be made for older plants to continue operating, as dictated by the1970 Clean Air Act.

As for Illinois, the new 2011 EPA standards require that aging coal-fired power plants (like Illinois’s Fisk and Crawford) will either have to install costly new retrofits or shut down altogether.  Additionally, the new EPA standards will likely force up to one-fifth of the nation’s oldest coal-fired plants to retire in the next five years, largely in the Midwest and the South.

The National Center For Public Policy Research has accused the EPA of misleading the public with claims that it had worked with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in determining the impact of its new regulations on the reliability of the nation’s electricity capacity.

The FERC chairman revealed that  a formal assessment was never done by the EPA to assess the impact of its regulations on the ability of the power grid to reliably deliver electricity to the nation’s homes and businesses.  As such the chairman deplored the EPA’s zeal to regulate without regard to the consequences of its actions, which could affect the reliability of this nation’s electricity supply.

Tom Borelli, Ph.D., director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project had these strong words to say: “Congress must step in and get control of the EPA which is operating under its own rules with arrogant disregard of Congressional oversight and the interests of the American people.”

Also a matter of common sense is that by removing a significant amount of affordable electricity from the power grid, it will have an impact on this nation’s economy.  At a time when this nation’s economy is faltering, the last thing the American people need are power outrages and skyrocketing utility bill because of a rogue EPA agency.

Outside of Nuclear power, which is clean, green, cheap, safe and reliable, the advantage of coal is that it is cheap, abundant and available domestically.  It is estimated that this nation has coal reserves capable of meeting current demand for more than 200 years.  Already mentioned was the abundance of coal Illinois has at its disposal.

Because the EPA focuses on the possible health benefits of its regulations, it does not weigh in on the impact on jobs.  The National Economic Research Associates estimates that the new EPA cross-state rule will result in an employment loss of 1.4 million jobs by 2020.  Many of them will be in Illinois.

In states like Illinois who rely on coal for electricity, electricity prices will increase immediately and may rise by 17% by 2016.

Of concern to many power companies is that the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, and which deals with the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, will cost an estimated $130 billion by 2015.

Because of its speed of implementation, utility companies are complaining that adequate time was not allowed for the installation of cleaner coal technologies and other efficiencies.  Many utilities have already indicated that they will be closing their coal-powered power plants because of the compliance costs of meeting the EPA’s new air emissions standards.

Regarding the grave concerns expressed by the EPA and others over the health hazards of coal-fired plants, are not poverty and joblessness also health hazards with their own health risks?

Energy security should be a top concern of the Obama administration, along with the ramifications caused by the absence of a sound energy policy. Illinois, with its massive and unsustainable debt level, cannot afford more job losses or an increase in electricity costs.  Illinoisans are already hurting, not unlike the rest of the nation in these difficult economic times.

And why should Illinoisans pay more for electricity just because the EPA is playing bureaucratic games while putting this nation’s economy at even a greater risk?  Higher electricity rates would limit what Illinoisans have available to spend on other goods and services.

Illinois is blessed with huge coal resources to supply its energy needs far into the future.

As I stated in my opening sentence:  “If electricity in Illinois is not supplied by coal, and not by Nuclear, then by what? Surely not by solar and wind power!

It should concern all Illinoisans that the state is losing forever Zion’s massive 2,100 Megawatts of energy through its decommissioning by ZionSolution. Troubling is that its premature shutting down in 1998 was never fully explained or justified by its owner, Exelon Corporation of Chicago.

Hopefully Congress can get control of the rogue EPA before it drives this nation’s economy off the cliff.

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