Under Clean Air Standards, the Lights Will Stay On

When Congress comes back from summer break, expect a major push from Republicans to stop new air toxics standards proposed by the EPA. One of the top scare tactics from opponents is to claim that if these rules are put into place, the lights will go out.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is making that argument this week — using an informal analysis from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on potential coal-plant closures to claim that retirements “could have drastic consequences for many parts of the country.”

The FERC document suggests that 40 GW of coal capacity are “likely” to be retired, and that 41 GW are “very likely” to be retired if EPA standards are put in place. While FERC admits that a formal analysis still needs to be completed, the numbers are consistent with other projections.

Even on the high side, however, there is already enough excess natural gas capacity to make up for all the coal-plant closures:

Of course, it depends on where those gas plants are located. But when looking at the rapid scale-up of combined-cycle gas plants and renewable energy projects, it’s very possible to make up for lost generation within the three-year time frame allotted under the EPA’s rules — and that’s not even counting energy efficiency, which is the cheapest and fastest resource to deploy.

While shifts in transmission planning will be necessary in areas, a recent study from the Bipartisan Policy Center concludes that wide-spread “drastic consequences” touted by the coal industry and EPA opponents are “unlikely to occur.”

A group of progressive power providers in the U.S. called the Clean Energy Group also issued an analysis of industry preparedness, finding that a large number of generators are already set to meet new standards:

Nearly 60 percent of all coal-fired boilers that submitted stack test data to EPA are currently achieving the Utility Toxics Rule’s proposed mercury emissions standard. This translates to more than 100 boilers (out of a total of 178). These power plants are meeting the proposed standard with a wide variety of pollution control systems and configurations (e.g., wet scrubbers, dry scrubbers, baghouses, and carbon injection systems).

And let’s not forget, these rules have been in the works for more than a decade. With more than half of power plants across 17 states already meeting new guidelines, the suggestion that EPA standards for mercury and air toxics are going to shut down the nation’s electricity grid is disingenuous.

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