EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards ‘Costly’ and ‘Time-Consuming’ for Coal Plants

by | May 14, 2012

Compliance with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) poses “significant challenges” for coal plants, forcing many to retire rather than make the required retrofits, according to a study commissioned by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO).

Economists at the Brattle Group evaluated the MATS, which requires the US coal and oil fleet to meet certain emissions standards—or close—by April 2015, with a potential one-year extension. The projected retrofits and new construction will require as many as 7,590 boilermakers, which is more than four times the number of boilermakers currently employed in the utility system construction industry, the Brattle Group says.

The study says the projected amount of retrofits on coal units, and the amount of new generation required to replace retiring coal units in the MISO region, will exceed the historical maximum achieved for simultaneous deployments of retrofits and new builds by 51 to 162 percent, based on MISO’s current projections of retrofit requirements and announced projects.

While the EPA estimates 93 to 248 GW of coal (measured in Wet Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) equivalent GW) will require environmental controls upgrades around the country, MISO projects 51 to 58 Wet FGD equivalent GW will require upgrades in the Midwest alone.

Dr. Metin Celebi, a Brattle principal and lead author of the study, calls the EPA estimates “optimistic” and MISO’s estimates “pessimistic.”

About 30 GW of coal plants have already announced retirement plans nationwide. To replace these plants and meet load growth requirements by 2015, another 30 to 84 GW of new generation may be needed nationally, while 5-26 GW may be needed in MISO, the study says.

Some upgrades can be implemented before 2015 without difficulty, according to study authors, including activated carbon injection and dry sorbent injection, which coal plants can implement within a year and a half. It says most projects, however, have a longer lead time of about three to four years, including wet and dry FGD, baghouses, electrostatic precipitators, and selective catalytic reduction, as well as new gas combustion turbines and combined cycles.

Complying with MATS will ramp up labor, engineering, equipment and construction needs, which will likely create “substantial bottlenecks” in MISO and nationally, the study says. Study authors expect these bottlenecks to result in construction delays and cost escalation.

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