Less pollution, costlier energy?

Cleaner air could mean higher electric bills.
Associated Press
May 22, 2014

 

Electricity prices are probably on their way up across much of the U.S. as coal-fired plants, the dominant source of cheap power, shut down in response to environmental regulations and economic forces.

New and tighter pollution rules and tough competition from cleaner sources such as natural gas, wind and solar will lead to the closings of dozens of coal-burning plants across 20 states over the next three years. And many of those that stay open will need expensive retrofits.

Because of these and other factors, the Energy Department predicts retail power prices will rise 4 percent on average this year, the biggest increase since 2008. By 2020, prices are expected to climb an additional 13 percent, a forecast that does not include the costs of coming environmental rules.

The Obama administration, state governments and industry are struggling to balance this push for a cleaner environment with the need to keep the grid reliable and prevent prices from rocketing too much higher.

"We're facing a set of questions that are new to the industry," says Clair Moeller, who oversees transmission and technology for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which coordinates much of the electric grid between Minnesota and Louisiana.

Coal is the workhorse of the U.S. power system. It is used to produce 40 percent of the nation's electricity, more than any other fuel. Because it is cheap and abundant and can be stored on power plant grounds, it helps keep prices stable and power flowing even when demand spikes.

Natural gas, which accounts for 26 percent of the nation's electricity, has dropped in price and become more plentiful because of the fracking boom. But its price is on the rise again, and it is still generally more expensive to produce electricity with gas than with coal. Also, gas isn't stored at power plants because the cost is prohibitive. That means it is subject to shortages and soaring prices.

During the brutally cold and snowy winter that just ended, utilities in several states struggled to secure natural gas because so much was also needed to heat homes. Some utilities couldn't run gas-fired plants at all, and power prices soared 1,000 percent in some regions.

As Indiana has reduced its reliance on coal to 84 percent from 97 percent over the last decade, its power prices rose far faster than those of its neighbors and the rest of the country.

That makes things tough on customers, especially big power users like Rochester Metal Products Corp., in Rochester, Indiana. The hulking furnaces it uses to melt scrap iron consume enough electricity to power 7,000 households.

"As Indiana's price of electricity becomes less and less competitive, so do we," says Doug Smith, the company's maintenance and engineering manager.

Burning coal releases toxic chemicals, soot and smog-forming chemicals, as well as twice the amount of carbon dioxide that natural gas produces. The Supreme Court last month gave an important approval to one Environmental Protection Agency clean-air rule. That cleared the way for a new rule expected to be announced by President Barack Obama early next month.

This rule, the first to govern emissions of carbon dioxide from existing power plants, could accelerate the move away from coal — if it survives the legal and political challenges that are sure to come.

Already, the current rules are expected to force power companies to shut down 68 coal plants across 20 states between 2014 and 2017, according to Bentek Energy, a market analysis firm.

The Energy Department estimates coal plants with the output to supply 33 million homes will close by 2020.

"We haven't operated at those low levels (of generation) for at least 30 years," says MISO's Clair Moeller.

To meet high demand this past winter, American Electric Power, which serves 5 million customers in 11 states, needed to run 89 percent of the coal plants it will soon have to shut down, says AEP CEO Nick Akins.

This raises concerns that the power system soon won't have enough wiggle room to handle extreme weather, making blackouts more likely.

"It's a warning of what may be to come," Moeller says.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, responding to critics, notes that pollution also imposes costs on the economy because it harms human health and the environment. And she has also forcefully promised that the coming carbon dioxide rule will keep costs in check and power flowing.

"EPA is not going to threaten electric reliability," she told a gathering of executives in Houston in March. "That is our No. 1 priority."

Richard Sedano of the Regulatory Assistance Project, which advises officials on regulatory policy, says the transition to cleaner sources can be smooth with proper planning.

States, utilities and the federal government have helped reduce the need for more power plants through efficiency programs and standards for energy-conserving lights and appliances. Utilities are building new transmission lines and updating grids. And customers are generating more of their own power with solar panels and managing their consumption through digital meters and other technology.

Also, power prices across the U.S. are relatively low compared to those in the rest of the developed world. Adjusted for inflation, the national average residential price is nearly 30 percent lower than in 1984.

 

Comments

MrSandusky

Think about this. With the GLI local power plants are facing mercury limits of 2 parts per trillion or less for their discharge water. Your bottled water is legally allowed to hold 2 parts per billion. So in other words, your drinking water is allowed to contain 1,000 times more Mercury than a power plant can discharge.

Now, with that in mind, look up how much it costs to remove Mercury from water. That cost will get passed along to those that pay for electricity.

Also keep in mind that rainfall in this area is usually around 10 to 19 parts per trillion. Far above what the GLI allows you to discharge. In other words, you even have to clean the rain...which is less polluted than the drinking water standards.

bnjjad

In other words, you even have to clean the rain...which is less polluted than the drinking water standards. - Think about it this way, why is it they have to clean the rain in the first place?

WeThePeople1965

It's condensation from clouds that were formed from water evaporation, and water evaporation occurs in freshwater and saltwater. Both waters are polluted not only with man-made pollution (such as oil spills that contain mercury), but they are also polluted with biological wastes, like dead things, sewage, etc.

2cents

And when deep sea volcanic activity spews tons of heavy metals and other things we call contamination, who is responsible? Fine Mother Nature next!

Restless1

Just like Johnson who wrecked the black family's bond and other's work ethic, now Obama will is wrecking America's standard of living and economic stability with his Global Warming policies.

downthemiddle

BINGO !! BULLSEYE !! Every word true.

coasterfan

If I have to choose between:
A) paying a little more for electricity, if it allows us to save the planet by slowing down global warming
OR
b) saving money, but killing the planet in the process

...I'll go with Option A.

Isn't it interesting that Republicans are worried about leaving a Federal Deficit for our children and grandchildren, but don't care a whit about what sort of world they'll leave for their kids/grandkids?

Contango

Re: "paying a little more for electricity,"

So the millions of folks on a tight fixed income do what?

Maybe you should also pay a "little more" in taxes, eh?

Donegan

Pretty sure the homeless could give a dam about the weather when they are begging for food and living on the street.
Only a liberal would be ignorant enough to think that they could control the climate let alone think that throwing money at the problem will fix it.
The fact is even if the US produced no emissions the Chinese and Indians create 5 times as much as we do. Go preach to them, They are communist and might listen to one of their own.

downthemiddle

donegan.. Thanks....

coastie and the rest.. actually I love the Earth and drive myself nuts recycling the tiniest things.

BUT

donegan is 100% correct about the Chinese and Indians. That's an inconvenient truth. Bankrupting the US will not fix the problem.

Bluto

The finer things in life are never cheap . I prefer my air crisp and clean with no after taste ; )))))

Restless1

Drink 100 proof Southern Comfort, it isn't cheap and leaves no after taste. (in a smoky bar if you can find one)

coasterfan

Thank you Bluto, for providing a bit of sanity to this discussion.

Here's something the anti-climate change folks never mention: when the ocean rises the 10' the experts are now predicting by 100 years from now, how much will it cost to relocate every city now on the coast, or to build seawalls to keep the sea out? We're now past the point of no return, and can only slow down the process, rather than prevent it. And they're whining about a small increase to their current electricity rates.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Is this where the moving target is today? I'll have to note that. I'll also note that your general use of "experts" and a "prediction" for one hundred years in our future are quite literally a reach. Experts also say the sun will go nova and consume our planet in a billion years. Who will pay for sun walls and relocating our cities out of the solar system?

Have you finished your plan on diminishing the population of mankind to actually reduce manmade global climate [cooling/warming/change/disruption]? Or are you going to support programs that actually do little to nothing to help and cost the so-called "middle class" more money? After all, those who receive bill assistance pay little to nothing with the rest being made up by those who pay taxes. The super-wealthy (I think you refer to them as the 1% to try and dehumanize them) won't be impacted as much. So where does that leave everyone else who both pay their own bills AND through taxes pay the bills of others, both of which will go up?

The first comment on this story makes a lot of sense and precludes partisan knee-jerking. If you are a man of science perhaps figures and context like the above are important for considering before posting things like this. For a man who vehemently denies religion you sure do cling to nebulous, far-flung suppositions like this hundred year prophecy of the sea which commands that the cities of man shalt be flooded with seas over a man's head. This shall be done in punishment of their waste and other sins and for forty years there shall be wandering as the pious gather to sate the angry thunders in the heavens.

Nor'easter

We had ice 4 miles high over Sandusky 12,000 years ago. The result was the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls. Try a fact once in a while. If ice four miles high didn't raise the oceans, there is no way that there will be a 10 foot rise in the oceans. Fill a container with water and freeze it, it will expand the container. Let the ice melt and you won't even have a full container, let alone an overflow. Try a course in Physics and quit worrying.

The Big Dog's back

Since you were around back then, what caused it? Do you think maybe a meteor hit the earth and it wasn't natural? You have no facts for back then.

Maggdi

You're surely not speaking of the meteor reported to be the demise of the last specie of dinosaur?

Nor'easter

Apparently you have never been on Kelleys Island and seen the Glacial Grooves.

Donegan

I thought your god was holding back the oceans? Another lie then, That makes lie # 15,736.

Really are you ...

Why raise the price? Supply and demand does not apply here. Oil can because it has to be located, extracted, and refined. The price at the pump really has not reduced driving. Take Norwalk for instance, soon there will be hardly any jobs and people will have to drive greater distances for employment. More fuel consumption for the same or less pay, but to maintain an honest living... You can not make more electricity. We will have problems across the United States like the problems they are having out west right now. People losing electrical power because there is not enough power being induced into the grid. You can not make more of something that is not made, electricity is induced not made.

I find it funny that I can fix this problem, but when is the right time? I have been studying this problem for years, and there are other ways to induce electricity that we are not currently using right now. Then people would be able to generate their own electricity on demand, eliminating a utility bill instead of paying more.

thinkagain

The time is now, quit yappin’ about it and make it happen.

The Bizness

Dirty energy should cost more, because its costs us and the world a lot. Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and others are the way to go....

Use less energy, and install your own system on your house, and you will not need to worry about this. :)

I say raise dirty energy prices, and fuel prices...force us to change to a better world and economy.

Contango

Re: "...force us to change to a better world and economy."

Be VERY, VERY careful what you wish for.

Historically, central planners are dangerous because their incompetency is back by "force" at the point of a gun allied with egotism.

The Bizness

Oh contango, you know if I had my way there would be solar panels on every roof and every city would be using its own micro grid.

2cents

Great, so we get free electricity shipped to us all winter from sunny Southern California : )

The Bizness

Actually solar panels are more efficient in cooler weather. Sun still shines in winter.

Contango

Re: "if I had my way,"

Just hope that you're always politically in sync with those 'best intentioned' central planning societal engineers.

So do you still eat meat? BIG source of methane you know?

The Bizness

As usual you deflect.

Yes I eat meat, but very small amounts, and as much as I can comes from small fish such as sardines.

Contango

Re: "deflect."

It's ALL connected.

coasterfan

Meh...I'll take my chances with green energy. There is a huge upside, since it's renewable and doesn't hurt the planet. Also, there really aren't any reasons to not move forward with it, since we already know about the HUGE downside to using carbon-based old-fashioned fuel sources.

Below is a list of mine explosions, oil spills, and environmental problems due to Solar energy and Wind Farms in America:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Hmm..I guess there aren't any, are there?

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