Will West Virginia Ever See A New Coal-Fired Power Plant?

Jun 10, 2014

The EPA has proposals on the table to regulate not only existing power plants, but new ones, based on carbon emission restrictions.
Credit Robb Kendrick / National Geographic

There’s been much deliberation over the last week regarding new Environmental Protection Agency proposals for regulating coal fired power plant carbon emissions. State officials are very discouraged by the ideas. But as Ben Adducchio reports, there are also proposals on the table for how to regulate future power plants, and some are asking whether any will be built again in West Virginia.

The EPA has issued new ideas on how to regulate existing power plants, which would call for a 30 percent national reduction on carbon emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels. Congressmen David McKinley and Nick Rahall  co-introduced  legislation to essentially strike down not only emissions standards  concerning current power plants, but additional proposals that would apply to  future power plants.

Those proposals came out last year, and would require new plants to use cleaner methods—like carbon capture and storage, and natural gas technologies, to ensure fewer carbon emissions. Jamie Van Nostrand with the West Virginia University Center for Energy and Sustainable Development says these new technologies will present many challenges for anyone wanting to build a new plant.

"It’s very difficult given the rules under 111 b, which really restrict the greenhouse gas emissions associated with new power plants, and pretty much require carbon capture and sequestration, either through a gasification process before you generate electricity, or capturing it and sequestering it afterwards, and those are very very expensive, particularly in the absence of having oil recovery nearby," said Van Nostrand.

American Electric Power attempted this type of technology at a plant in southern West Virginia. That didn't  completely succeed, due to funding issues. Jeffrey La Fleur with AEP says the technology needs more research and funding.

"I think we would be a lot further down the road now if we had a little more foresight on the government’s part to develop the technology. For new coal units, the EPA proposed rule is that you will have to have carbon capture to build a new plant and because of all of this has stopped, that technology is not commercially available," he said.

But Jamie Van Nostrand believes with the new power plant proposals, it can be done.

"The CCS technology is continuing to improve, there’s a lot of money being spent on clean coal technology, and I think the expectation is down the road, the regulation under 111 b would allow the technological advances that would allow a coal plant to be constructed in the future," he said.