Lake Erie to benefit from closure of three coal-fired power stations

27 January 2012

A couple of days back, I blogged about the environmental risks of reliance on coal-generated energy (link).  In the US, under a court order, the Obama administration has cracked down on lung- and heart-damaging air pollution from power plants fired by coal and oil. Courts also have demanded sharp reductions in emissions of mercury and other toxic metals, and steps to curb fish kills from water withdrawals.

In Chicago,

An Ohio-based utility said Thursday that it will close three Lake Erie coal plants and all but one unit at another, scrapping some of the biggest fish killers on the Great Lakes.

Like other power companies that rely on coal, FirstEnergy Corp. faces more-stringent pollution limits and competition from suddenly abundant and relatively cheap natural gas. The company decided it wasn’t worth upgrading the Ohio plants, and others in Pennsylvania and Maryland, to comply with new air and water standards.

The announcement reflects a fast-changing climate for electricity generation and promises cleaner air in the Midwest and Northeast. Nationwide, utilities have mothballed more than 200 coal-fired units during the past three years, most of which were built in the middle of the last century and until recently were largely exempt from the toughest provisions of the federal Clean Air Act.

Closing the Lake Erie plants also could benefit commercial and sport fishing. By sucking up massive amounts of water to cool its equipment, the Bay Shore plant near Toledo killed 46 million adult fish and more than 2.4 billion eggs, larvae and young fish every year in the region’s most prolific spawning grounds, according to reports submitted to Ohio regulators.

In addition to the US government getting involved in these matters (which is both odd and refreshing at the same time),

the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized more stringent rules last month via the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which regulates emissions of mercury and other pollutants.

EPA’s analysis estimates the rules will cost utilities and ultimately customers about $9.4 billion when the rules take effect in 2015 and each year slowly decrease to a low of $7.4 billion per year through 2030. However, an analysis for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity by National Economic Research Associates (NERA) found that the proposed rule and other pending EPA regulations will increase electricity and other energy prices by $170 billion. The EPA acknowledged the regulations will result in 14.7 gigawatts of power supply (or 1 to 2 percent) being eliminated from the U.S. power grid. Many believe this estimate is low.

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