By Terry Jarrett
Special to the Tribune-Star
That’s the baffling scenario looming ahead as President Obama looks to implement strict rules on carbon emissions. Coal-powered electrical generation is now on the chopping block, thanks to a hastily assembled plan by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to shutter hundreds of domestic, coal-fired power plants.
What’s at stake is “grid reliability,” whether supply exists to meet the current, massive U.S. demand for electricity. For much of the country, the EPA’s mandate is troubling because, right now, roughly 40 percent of electricity in the United States comes from coal-fired generation.
Under new regulations from the EPA, many of these plants would be effectively forced out of operation. And to date, no one is saying how that power will be otherwise produced. Wind, solar, and natural gas have all been suggested, but none is capable of providing reliable and affordable electricity like coal can. Some states are able to rely on alternative sources, like wind and hydropower, but that simply isn’t an option for much of the country.
The importance of coal in generating electricity was all too clearly demonstrated last winter, when coal-fired plants worked overtime to heat homes and businesses during a deep freeze. In fact, American Electric Power, a major utility company, reported that 90 percent of its coal plants slated for retirement under pending EPA rules were running at full speed just to meet peak demand.
Despite record-setting production in the Marcellus Shale and elsewhere, natural gas simply can’t compensate for a shortage of coal plants. This is due in part to a lack of infrastructure to deliver gas where it’s needed. But more importantly, natural gas has already been prioritized for home use, not power generation.
A recent report from PJM Interconnection, the regional power transmission group for 13 states, including Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, concluded that without coal plants there could be insufficient electricity
- On February 23, 2015