by Marlo Lewis
A new MIT study implicitly confirms the obvious: EPA’s “carbon pollution rule” — the agency’s proposed carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standards for new fossil-fuel power plants — is a fuel-switching mandate. Whether through miscalulation or design, the rule does not promote investment in new coal generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Rather, the rule effectively bans investment in new coal power plants.
The study, “CO2 emission standards and investment in carbon capture,” puts the point more delicately:
First, the impact of the U.S. EPA’s proposed emission standard of 1100 lbs CO2/MWh is most likely to be an acceleration of the ongoing shift of generation from coal to natural gas. An emission standard of this level is unlikely to incentivize investment in coal with CCS, regardless of any stated intentions.
Why does the “carbon pollution” rule block investment in new coal generation? Coal power plants can meet the standard only by installing CCS technology. CCS adds significantly to the cost of coal generation, natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants already comply with EPA’s rule without additional technology or investment, and “even in the absence of the standard, low natural gas prices would favor natural gas-fired generation over coal fired generation.” Thus, “fuel switching, rather than investment in emissions control (i.e., CCS), is the lowest cost compliance strategy.”
The charts below show the cost penalties incurred by installing CCS technology. Both variable O&M costs and overnight capital costs (the full cost of building the plant if paid upfront) increase as the percentage of CO2 capture increases.