Saturday, November 15, 2008

The End of Coal Plants? Nah

The death of Bon Scott didn't kill AC/DC and a ruling in Utah by a U.S. EPA panel isn't going to kill coal plants. I live in Michigan (one hand up, middle two fingers down), where there are eight coal plants proposed. I think that's more than in any other state. 

Green folks here have rejoiced over news of this Utah decision. Makes sense. They don't want to see more coal plants built in the state. And if coal plants are forced to regulate their CO2 emissions, well, that really drives up the cost to build. And the economy's not doing so good around here. 

But enviro groups are being too quick to jump to the conclusion that this ruling will have an effect on the permitting of new coal plants in other states like Michigan. 

First of all, utilities don't pay to build new coal plants. Customers do, through their rates. 

But state regulators won't let utilities build risky coal plants, you say. When was the last time you commented on a utility rate case? You need to read the state study that's driving new power plants in Michigan. Electric demand is going up, baseload power is needed. Period. 
Here's the deal: The EPA panel has rejected a permit for a plant in Utah. It said the EPA's Denver office granted a permit without requiring the best available control technology, or BACT, for CO2.               

Let's just say that this somehow leads Michigan regulators to require BACT for CO2. They already require BACT for other pollutants

So ... the state will spend time reviewing the EPA decision. Then, the state will come out with a plan for implementing "BACT review for CO2" (give that a couple of power chords and you've got a hit).

There will be a public comment period. More review. A final plan. That plan will require years of study, because utilities will argue (quite well) that there are no commercially available controls for CO2. So the state will do some (more) demonstration projects. 

Years are going by while all this is happening, and the plants are being built. They'll be "grandfathered in," don't worry.

And what makes you think this Utah decision won't be appealed for years to come? Remember the big landmark ruling in 2007? Where did that lead? Nowhere. 

Oh, but you blame it all on Bush. We have Obama now. He's vowed to regulate CO2. But he needs Congress, too. Think that will happen in the first 100 days? In his first term? 

I'm not trying to be Mr. Negative here, but if people don't want to see so many new coal plants, they have to turn down their stereos and USE LESS ENERGY. You can't have it all. And don't give up on nuclear, please. Of course, don't give up on solar, wind and biomass and all that. But don't kid yourself about this Utah thing. 

- GM. 

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