U.S. existing coal-fired power plants could be forced to shut down two years sooner than envisioned under EPA’s power plant rule to be finalized next month. In the EPA’s initial proposal released last year, coal companies generally had until 2040 to shutter their plants. The potential change being seriously considered by Biden administration officials would accelerate the required retirement date for coal plants that opt against installing carbon dioxide-removal technology at the sites—a technology that is not yet economically viable. Last year, the Chamber of Commerce made it clear that the deployment timelines for the technologies that EPA indicated could keep these plants afloat were not technically feasible. EPA’s analysis verified the Chamber’s claim by forecasting low adoption rates for the carbon capture and sequestration technology, which means EPA knows it is shutting down coal plants with its rule. The Chamber also found a number of other problems with EPA’s analysis such as EPA constructing its own baseline to make the results appear larger.

The power plant rule is targeted to coal-fired power plants operating today and new gas-burning facilities that could replace them. The rule is expected to be finalized next month and is designed to force greenhouse gas reductions across all of the fossil fuel electric facilities in order to fulfill Biden’s pledge to the Paris Agreement to cut those emissions at least 50 percent by the end of the decade. Under the proposed rule, existing coal-fired power plants would need to cut almost all of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 or close. Utilities already have announced plans to close roughly half of currently operating coal capacity, according to an EPA analysis. By compelling an earlier retirement for coal power plants without carbon control equipment, the regulation would reduce more carbon dioxide earlier, resulting in 200 million tons fewer carbon dioxide emissions in 2038, according to an analysis by anti-fossil fuel groups, Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Air Task Force.

The changes under discussion underscore the legal, political and environmental challenges facing federal regulators developing the mandates that will have huge impacts on the nation’s electric grid and are widely expected to be challenged in federal court. The U.S. electric grid is already being destabilized by the addition of intermittent and weather-driven wind and solar power that cannot provide reliable power as they cannot operate 24/7. Coal plants and natural gas plants are being used to back them up as are very expensive batteries in some states. Many coal plants have already shuttered as they cannot compete with low-cost natural gas plants and heavily subsidized renewable plants. When coal plants are forced to run on half their rated capacity to back up wind and solar plants, they cannot recover their costs to remain in operation and must shutter.  However, with Biden’s plan to electrify everything, these plants are needed to supply reliable power. Otherwise, Americans can expect power outages that have already been increasing as more wind and solar power have been added to the grid. Europe finds itself deindustrializing because of bad energy policies and now the Biden Administration wants to impose similar programs in the United States.

The effect of the potential shift would be felt unevenly across electric power providers but would likely pose a greater burden on those with more coal-fired power plants in their portfolios. It has potential implications for rural electric cooperatives, as well as Duke Energy Corp., Southern Co. and Talen Energy Corp., among others. Coal producers such as Peabody Energy Corp. would also be affected by decreased demand due to coal plant closures.


The Biden administration wants to get rid of coal plants and is considering changes to its proposed power plant rule to require coal plants to have carbon capture and sequestration equipment added—a technology that is not economically viable today–or shutter two years sooner than the original proposed rule indicated. The EPA is expected to finalize the power plant rule next month, but getting rid of coal plants by 2040 is not soon enough for the Biden administration, so it is considering upping that date to 2038. Coal plants are needed to backup unreliable and weather-driven wind and solar plants and to help meet Biden’s expanding demand for electricity through his “electrify everything” climate program. The Chamber of Commerce indicated many problems with the EPA’s original analysis of its power plant rule, but that has not stopped the Biden administration from moving forward and making it worse as blackouts and brownouts as well as much more expensive electricity will be the result.

It is amazing to think that EPA could run its computer models with that change and show that it is passes the cost benefit test and still make the power plant rule final by next month’s release date or even later this spring. It seems that the science that the Biden administration purports to use can very quickly comply with its political wants, especially when the National Resources Defense Council and the Clean Air Task Force provided the numbers.

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