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Lowering carbon emissions: a proposal

July 19, 2017   By Jay Hudson in Environmental Stewardship

Santee Cooper’s Cross Generating in Berkeley County is the state-owned utility’s largest power plant and an important source of electricity for its customers and those served by electric cooperatives.

The administration’s regulatory reform agenda includes a rework of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s proposal to lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at existing coal-fired power plants. The rule is currently being revised and will be published in the Federal Register in the coming months. 

One item that will likely be included is lowering CO2 emissions at existing plants by making them more efficient. The process is simple. The creation of CO2 is the result of burning fuel. Carbon-based coal burned in the presence of excess oxygen creates carbon dioxide. If the same amount of power can be produced while burning less fuel, less CO2 will be produced. 

The issue in the past has been when efficiency projects are proposed, they usually trigger what the Clean Air Act terms “New Source Review” or NSR. This is a lengthy state and federal permitting process where, in order to make a coal-fired unit more efficient (example: add a more efficient heat exchanger) and burn less fuel, the applicant may be required to bring every process at the plant that causes emissions up to the very most current standards simply based on the fact these emissions may increase in the future. 

This puts many coal-fired plants in a bad position. Most would like to upgrade efficiency to save their customers money but if they do, any gains would be negated by the long permitting process and the cost to add additional controls. This antiquated portion of the Clean Air Act is a real barrier to prevent actual CO2 emission reductions.

Late last month, U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., proposed H.R. 3127 and 3128, which will change the current antiquated process. Per the bill, “any energy efficiency project, pollution control project or reliability project” would be exempt from the NSR process.

This is a win-win piece of legislation. The environment gets less CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, and the savings from making the units more efficient can be passed along to customers.