Jeffrey Energy Center, Kansas. Image credit:Washington Post.
You read that right. The corporate owner of a Kansas coal-fired electricity generation plant has agreed to a half-billion dollar settlement for Clean Air Act non-compliance. Per the EPA news release: Westar Energy to Spend Approximately $500 Million to Settle Clean Air Act Violations. Emissions to be cut by more than 75,000 tons annually. That's roughly 6.7 million dollars per ton of excess pollutants emitted since they first modified their coal-fired plant without proper permit approvals.
With the Cheney protectorate gone, they, and many other coal-fireds have to do what the law long required. "Under the settlement, Westar will install and operate pollution control equipment at the Jeffrey Energy Center that is expected to reduce combined emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by roughly 78,600 tons per year, which is 85 percent below 2007 emissions." Here's the big picture.
In a complaint filed in February of 2009, the government alleged that Westar modified all three units at the Jeffrey Energy Center, its largest coal-fired electric generating station, without installing required pollution control equipment or complying with applicable emission limits, in violation of the Clean Air Act. The government discovered the violations through an information request submitted to Westar.Two million tons of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, illegally emitted for years. Think about that for a sec.
The settlement is part of the EPA's enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review requirements. The total combined sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission reductions secured from these settlements is more than 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.
Back now to the EPA release.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can cause severe harm to human health and the environment. After being emitted from power plants, they are converted to fine particles of particulate matter that can lodge deep in the lungs, causing a variety of health impacts including premature death. Sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides are also significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. Air pollution from power plants can drift significant distances downwind and degrade air quality in nearby areas.Let's consider what this means for the future competitiveness of coal fired electricity. Having just the needed SOX scrubbers in place may 'parasitize' 12%-20% of the plant's name-plate generating capacity. There will also be increased operating costs going forward: purchasing and maintaining bag house media, purchase of water and scrubbing chemicals, management of waste gypsum from settling ponds, and so on.
Wind will beat coal down before Cap & Trade can get into action.
I know some of you are tempted to offer a comment to the effect that 'wind power is intermittent and won't be competitive against coal without subsidies.' Give it a few years.
Once the full cost impacts are felt from implementing legally required SOX and NOX controls on combustion units, and later for mercury controls, and for safe, long term fly ash management, the true strength of wind power will be revealed. It incurs none of these costs. And, wind does not make kids become asthmatic. See the related posts below for explanation.