EPA Attacks Only Coal Fired Power Generation

Posted on Sat 10/12/2013 by


Perhaps a somewhat obscure, yet nonetheless entirely correct title might be the following:

EPA Concedes That Climate Change Is No Real Problem And That Renewables Just Can’t Cut It

TonyfromOzProfileImageBy Anton Lang (TonyfromOz) ~

201006011_epalogoThe EPA recently released its proposals to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuel to generate their power, and these are the two major conventional types of power plant, Coal Fired power, and Natural Gas (NG) Fired power.

The new proposals mean that new Coal Fired power plants can actually be constructed, provided they have CO2 emissions less than 1,100 Pounds per MegaWattHour (MWH) of power generated. A similar total of 1,000 to 1,100 Pounds/MWH has been set for NG Fired power plants as well.

This second total for NG Fired power is the key figure here upon which this whole Post is based.

While this seems to be an even handed, and possibly a fair approach in the eyes of the general populace, it is specifically aimed directly at only one of these two methods of power generation, Coal Fired power, and as you read this, it will become quite obvious how this has been done.

Before I actually start to explain what all this means, let’s actually pretend for a minute that the two important things with respect to this proposal are actual facts.

1.  Pretend that the emissions of CO2 actually do cause what we are told is dangerous Climate Change/Global Warming, and because of that, the EPA has proposed these exact totals.

2. Pretend that those CO2 emissions can actually be captured and stored using the Carbon Capture and Sequestration process (CCS) on the scale required. That’s the capture of the CO2 as it is being emitted from the power plant, and then storing it back into the ground, a seemingly quite simple sounding process, but one that is almost impossible to achieve on the scale required, and I’ll explain that a little further down.

So then, why would the EPA select this specific total of 1,100 Pounds of CO2 per MWH of generated power?

Let me show you some data and then carefully explain it for you. This data comes from the Energy Information Administration, (EIA) the Government’s own database for all information with respect to energy.

This first link shows the total electrical power generated by each of the major sources in the U.S.

Net Generation by Energy Source

Note across the top it indicates what the source is, and here, the one I want to point to is for Natural Gas, the fourth column of those sources. Note the total for the year 2012, which is 1,230,708 and this is shown in Thousands of MWH, so that’s 1,230,708,000MWH

This second link shows the total consumption of NG to generate that electricity.

Natural Gas: Consumption for Electricity Generation

The total for 2012 shown there is 9,465,207, and this is shown in million cubic feet. The most commonly used term for the measuring of NG is in MCF which is 1,000 cubic feet, so that means this total is 9,465,207,000MCF of NG burned in the generation of that amount of power shown at the previous link.

As NG is burned it emits CO2, and this is in the amount of 122 Pounds of CO2 for every MCF of NG that is burned. So now we have a total CO2 emission of 1,154,755,254,000 Pounds of CO2. (and excuse the huge figures here, as this is the only way it can be shown correctly) While that figure is huge, I have kept it in Pounds here so the calculation is easier to understand, but that total is 577,377,627 TONS. That’s the CO2 emissions from all the NG Fired power plants in the U.S. and that’s just for one year, 2012, and, as you can see from that second link, the burning of NG for power generation is increasing, and increasing at a huge rate, so those CO2 emissions will be rising each year, and rising considerably.

577 MILLION tons per year and rising.

So now we can calculate exactly the emissions per MWH of CO2 from all the NG fired power plants in the U.S.

That figure comes in at just a tick under 940 Pounds of CO2 per MWH of power generated.

Notice how close that is to the amount proposed as the limit by the EPA. Their total is 1,100 Pounds per MWH and why they selected that figure is that different sized generating units, and the different processes used for the power generation at the plant, OCGT (Open Cycle Gas Turbine)  and CCGT. (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine) will vary, with the upper limit close to that 1,100 Pounds/MWH, and some plants a little lower, as can be seen by the current average 940 Pounds/MWH.

So the figure is set at around 1,100 Pounds/MWH, and now, all NG units now fall under the umbrella of being able to operate without any added things to do with respect to their CO2 emissions.

Why Natural Gas Fired Power Gets A Free Pass

This move to NG Fired power generation started a few years back now, and it has its roots in Coal Fired Power generation.

Barely 6 years ago, Coal Fired power supplied 50% of all electrical power being consumed in the U.S. from a huge number of power plants. That is now down to 38%, and seeing that bland statistic, you may think that the emissions lowering meme is actually getting through, but, is that the truth, or are there other factors that contributed to this?

Those plants each had anything from 1 to 6 separate generating units on site, and the average for a large scale plant of 2000MW+ would be about 4 units. Now, while no one was really concerned, because, well, electric power was just assumed to always be there, all of those generating units were old, using technology from the 50’s and 60’s and even earlier. In fact, they were so old, that the AVERAGE age of all units in the U.S. was around 49 years old, and here you need to consider that the average total lifespan for a power generating unit is around 50 years old. Hardly any new (large scale) power plants had been constructed since the early 80’s. Most of the units in the US were rapidly reaching their use by date.

Then along came this Climate Change/Global Warming scare, which virtually ensured that no new coal fired power plants would be constructed. So those old power plants just kept getting older without any replacement on the horizon.

Along came the NG boom, and the availability of NG drove the price down.

So now, power plant operators could actually begin to replace those old, and sometimes ancient generating units. Over the last two or three years this has increased almost exponentially, as you can readily notice by looking at the power generation totals for the last three years or so. In fact the power generated from NG has doubled in the last ten years, and coming from an already large base, that makes that increase absolutely huge.

Now, go back four or five years or so, when there was all that talk of closing down those coal fired plants, and how that ramped up. The perception then was that those coal fired plants could be closed down, and replaced by renewable power plants, and in the main, these were the two generation methods of choice, Wind Power, and the 2 versions of Solar Power on a commercial scale.

To that end, there was a considerable ramping up of construction of mostly Wind Plants as literally hundreds of thousands of those huge towers started to be constructed.

However, what has now become obvious is that those wind plants cannot actually replace coal fired plants, and that is borne out graphically when you look again at the data at that first link for power generation. Go back to nearly every one of the last ten years and note the power delivered from both sources coal fired and NG fired. You’ll see that the amount of power reduction from coal fired power has virtually been replaced by the increase in the NG sector of power generation. In fact over the last two to three years that increase in the NG sector has been greater than the reduction in that coal fired power sector.

These NG plants can be constructed at the same site as the existing coal fired unit, so it’s not that it’s a completely new plant, but just an Upgrade. Also, NG plants come on line in the shortest time since the start of construction.

This is actually what is happening. Those old and even ancient plants ARE being replaced by NG fired units, and that construction of NG plants is continuing on quite a large scale, as even more of those old coal fired plants are closed down.

Even so, if you notice the chart at this link, you’ll see that even after all this huge construction of NG plants, the age of those still remaining coal fired plants had barely fallen, and still that AVERAGE age is currently around 45 years, and as you can see at that chart, there are still more than 700 units older than 50 years old, and some even more than 90 years old, still generating power and delivering it to grids for consumption. However, even though a large number of coal fired plants are closing, not one power plant with a Capacity greater than 1,000MW has closed, which literally screams out that these plants are actually essential to be kept in operation.

Coal Fired Technology

So then, why not replace an existing coal fired plant with a new coal fired power plant? Surely the technology is so much better now than it was when there was no restriction to constructing coal fired plants.

Shanghai Electric GW Class USC Turbine Generator Unit

Shanghai Electric GW Class USC Turbine Generator Unit

Yes, that technology is now not only better, but considerably better. The image shows a typical new technology USC coal fired unit connected to a 1000MW generator. (You can click on the image to open it in a new and larger window)

The technology of the existing plants is from the 70’s and 80’s, now almost 40 years old itself. Those old units were state of the art when they were constructed. The largest generators that could be connected were up around 660MW each, and in later years, some even had generators capable of making 800+MW, driven by huge turbines which require enormous amounts of steam to drive them, that steam made in boilers heated by burning huge amounts of crushed coal. On average, the amount of coal being burned was around 339 grams of coal per KWH of power generated. Now this takes some Maths to work out with respect to the new emissions proposal from the EPA. The multiplier for CO2 emitted for coal being burned is 2.86 (as shown at this link to my own Post, and also at this link from the EIA under the heading titled Coal Combustion and Carbon Dioxide Emissions, shown in the last couple of lines there in the third paragraph) and then on top of that we need to convert from grams to the form used by the EPA, Pounds/MWH.

So, that burn rate of 339grams/KWH equates to 2,137 Pounds of CO2 emitted for every MWH of power generated, almost double the proposed EPA standard.

Let’s then look at the latest technology for coal fired plants. These are the new USC plants. (UltraSuperCritical) These plants have better furnaces/boilers/pressurisers, well, better everything really. Because the furnace /boiler is so much better, less coal is burned in them, and burned more efficiently, in fact, as low as 282 grams of coal per KWH, and as you can see from that, this is an emission reduction of 17% for an equivalent power generation, which is quite a substantial reduction in emissions. However, when you convert that to the EPA pounds/MWH this comes to 1778pounds of CO2 emitted per MWH of power generated, and as is plain now, that is well over the 1,100 Pounds/MWH that the EPA has proposed.

So then, the EPA says that, hey, new coal fired plants can still be constructed, provided they only emit a maximum of that figure of 1,100 Pounds/MWH. Now, even while coal fired power is still making technological advances, there is no way they can get down to those levels of emissions.

So, how does the EPA propose that new coal fired plants can still go ahead?

The EPA says they can be built, but to stay under that emissions level, then they must use Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to sequester that excess CO2 into the ground. So to get the emissions rate down to the EPA proposal, then those CCS plants have to get down to 1100Pounds from 1778 Pounds, which is around a 40% reduction, so that means the plant will have to use this CCS process to capture and store in the ground 40% of their total emissions. Now, some might say that seems reasonable, but even that amount is totally unobtainable.

At best, this CCS process has proven to be all but impossible, even on small scales, and while some CCS has been achieved, it has only been on the scale of capturing CO2 in the amounts of a hundred or so tons. Because of that, the EPA says that because it is a technology that has been achieved, then this can be done for new coal fired plants that apply for approval. While every advisor has said that CCS cannot be done on the scale required, the EPA still says that this is the only way new coal fired plants will be approved.

So then, let’s look at the scale required, if a new large scale coal fired plant was to go ahead.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)  It is also referred to as Carbon Capture and Storage.

CCS 03The image makes it seem such a simple thing to do, with just a pipeline from the plant to the Sequestration site, and then piped into the ground. (You can click on the image to open it in a new and larger window)

Let’s look first at one of those new USC power plants.

These plants are being constructed mainly in China, at the rate of one new large scale plant every 7 to 10 days, so it’s not just an isolated thing, as the Chinese have been using this USC technology now for 7 years, and they now have around 60 of these units in operation for a total Nameplate Capacity of 60,000MW. They have actually got to the stage where they are now the World leaders for the technology. The Chinese are also assisting with the construction of these USC plants in India, in Africa, and also in the Middle East. Germany is also constructing these plants, where they are used to burn Brown Coal, and they are having as much success as the Chinese are with these types of plant.

The Chinese have also improved the technology of the generators (turbo alternators) and have connected generators of 1000MW and now up to 1100MW to their units, and in fact are almost at the stage where they will be using the next phase of the technology, even better than the current USC, and able to drive generators capable of generating 1350MW, from one generator, considering that the large units in the U,S. from the 70’s can only run a generator of around 660MW.

Let’s apply this proposed EPA standard to one of these currently operational USC units running a 1000MW generator.

A 1000MW generator operating for a full 24 hour period will generate 24,000MWH.

Using the EPA standard of 1100 Pounds per MWH, that gives us an allowable emissions total of 26,400,000 Pounds, and see now how we are talking huge numbers here, so then for ease, let’s convert that to a more workable weight, in this case 13,200 Tons ….. of CO2 being emitted EVERY day, and that’s the proposed EPA standard.

At the current burn rate of 282 grams of coal per KWH, then that means an emission of CO2 in the amount of  21,336 Tons of CO2 emitted in that same 24 hour period it took to generate that huge amount of power.

So now we see that if this new technology USC plant was to go into operation, then they would need to sequester 8136 Tons of CO2 ….. EACH DAY.

In virtually every case, large scale plants have 2 units per site, hence 2000MW of Nameplate Capacity, and so now, the plant would need to capture and sequester 16,272 tons of CO2 every day, which equates to 11.3 tons every MINUTE, or one ton every ….. 5.3 SECONDS. Are you now beginning to see just how impossible this really is, and yet the EPA thinks that this is doable enough to actually make it a requirement.


The best that has been currently achieved is for a plant to capture and ready for storage a couple of HUNDRED tons of CO2 a day, and the EPA has said that because this CCS technology has been done on this virtually tiny scale by comparison, then it is reasonable to make its proposal that CCS can in fact be achieved on this huge new required scale.

This latest technology USC plant now needs to capture and store more than 16,000 tons a day.

So then, this CCS process that has not been explained accurately by either the EPA, or probably by anyone else where it can be accessed and readily understood by the average person, is now set in stone at this absolutely ridiculous level.

So then, just what is this process?

Keep in mind here the critical phrase ….. AT THE SAME RATE.

All the exhaust, (not the 40%, but all of it) from the furnace where the coal is being burned needs to be captured, and here that is the original total, that 21,336 tons of just the CO2, which equates to capturing one ton of the exhaust every 4 seconds.

Then, all that exhaust has to have the CO2 part of it separated from it. This can be achieved with a couple of process, and one of these is to pass the exhaust through a solvent which absorbs the CO2, and this needs to be done at the same rate it is being emitted.

Then that solvent needs to be boiled so that just the pure CO2 is given off, and this also must be done at the same rate it is being emitted.

Now we have just the CO2, and for transporting purposes this needs to be liquified. To do this the gas has to be pressurised to a very high pressure, and in doing this, the temperature is lowered to well below zero, and it has to stay at that low temperature so that it stays in liquid form.

Now the steps where the CO2 is separated from the exhaust with the solvent, and the cooling and pressurising are the most difficult parts of the process, so here is where a little time may be gained, as we only have to have 40% of the gas that is needed to be sequestered. So now we are at the stage where one ton of the CO2 needs to be collected, liquified and cooled every 10 or so seconds, and to stay even with the same rate of emissions, that is every 10 seconds.

Now, even though we have converted the gas to a liquid, the weight is still the same, so let’s now convert that weight to a more easily understood measure for a liquid, gallons. One gallon of CO2 weighs weighs 8.8 Pounds, so, one ton of CO2 comes in at 255 gallons. From that we now have to produce 255 gallons of liquified CO2 every 10 seconds to comply with the EPA’s regulation to capture and store 40% of the CO2 emissions.

Keep in mind that this is just for the one Unit at that plant, which will have two units, so now we need to add that 255 gallons to the same amount from the second unit. So now we have 510 gallons every 10 seconds, or 51 gallons a second, and equate that to how long it takes to pump gas into your car.

That 51 gallons a second now needs to be pumped to where it is to be sequestered into a geostable rock formation where it will be stored FOREVER, never to seep back to the surface, and it needs to be pumped at that same rate while ever the plant is in operation, keeping that gas pressurised and cold so it stays as a liquid.

Once at the storage site, it needs to be pumped into the ground at the same rate, keeping in mind here that the further it goes into the ground, it heats up, converting back to its gaseous state.

Can you see now how this is something that is all but impossible to achieve.

The process itself adds almost 40 to 50% to the original cost of the construction of the plant. While in operation, which is all the time, it is an extremely high user of energy just to make it work, in fact between 30 and 40% of the plant’s power that it is generating is consumed just by this CCS process.

Now can you also see that besides this being an almost impossible thing to achieve, the economic worth of the process means that the plant now has a lot less electricity to sell to recover the now hugely increased cost, making the electricity more expensive for all consumers.

Has the EPA actually told you this in a manner that can be readily understood.

Well, no!

Because as soon as people see that it’s almost impossible to achieve on the scale required, then what they have done here becomes just what it is, a transparent attack only on one method of power generation.

So, right back up at the top of this Post, I gave an alternate title for the Post saying that the EPA, with this new proposed emissions limit concedes that Climate Change is no real problem and that Renewables just don’t cut it. Just how accurate is that statement.

Well, you be the judge here.

If Climate Change caused by CO2 emissions was so dire, and such a problem, the EPA, with its access to all the Science, and all the Scientists telling them that it is, then it would recognise this and make the emissions rate so low that it would have to close down ALL CO2 emitting power plants, and not just target specifically those coal fired plants.

If the EPA believed that CCS actually worked, or could be made to work, then they would also apply it to the NG sector as well as the coal fired sector, considering that the NG power generating sector is currently emitting 600 million tons of CO2 each year, and if all existing coal fired units convert to NG over the years ahead, then CO2 emissions will be around 1.4 BIllion tons of CO2 each year.

If the EPA actually believed that Renewable power could replace coal fired power or NG power, then again, it would have proposed no emissions level. By proposing a level of 1100 Pounds per MWH, then coal fired power will just move directly across to NG power generation.

I mentioned above that the Chinese will soon be able to run a 1,350MW generator connected to one USC coal fired unit. That’s ONE generator.

For an equivalent Nameplate Capacity Wind Plant of 1350MW, well, that would be two or even three plants, because it would mean between 400 and 500 huge towers.

On top of that, over a one year period of operation, that one USC coal fired generator would deliver three times the power to consumers than all those wind towers would deliver, and have twice the life expectancy.

Effectively, the EPA has abandoned this new technology, which will be constructed in most other places around the World.

This is a transparently cynical move aimed only at coal fired power, usung the basis of technology that can never be made to work on the scale required.

Link to EPA Standards for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Power Plants (pdf document of 16 pages)