AEP / Coal

What’s the problem with AEP’s Muskingum River Power Plant?

AEP’s Muskingum River plant. photo by Art Smith, The Marietta Times

Our nation is in the midst of a transition away from dependence on coal-fired electricity. Markets are shifting as coal is replaced by natural gas, as the country moves away from the deplorable practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, as businesses and consumers are purchasing energy efficient appliances, machinery, decreasing the electricity usage, and demanding renewable energy sources,  and as the “endless supply” of coal seems to be much less than previously thought. Ohio can play a pivotal role in accelerating the shift away from our dirtiest form of energy. Ohio has more installed coal-fired generating capacity than any state in the nation, including 18 plants that have over 200 megawatt capacity. While some of the plants have upgraded their pollution controls, many have not. American Electric Power’s Muskingum River Power Plant, located on the Muskingum River in Beverly, Ohio, is an older coal plant with very limited pollution control technology. This plant should be replaced by cleaner energy sources.

The most recent pollution data for Muskingum is from 2010. All numbers are in pounds:

Total air emissions 215,636,000
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions 195,069,000
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions 17,760,800
% of SO2 and NOx 98%

The Muskingum plant has a total of five electricity producing units with a combined 1,529 megawatts. In 2010, the entire plant released 141,030 pounds per megawatt.

In 2008, AEP installed pollution controls for nitrogen oxides on unit 5. No other pollution controls are currently being installed on unit 5. Units 1-4 do not have any modern pollution controls.

Coal-fired plants make people sick

Coal pollution damages all major body organ systems and contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Ohio ranks first in the nation in toxic air pollution with coal-fired power plants as the major contributor. Ohio ranks second in the nation in deaths from coal plants.

The market is shifting away from coal

We are already in the midst of a transition away from coal in the U.S. The overall demand for electricity in Ohio is likely to remain flat, and energy efficiency is most cost-effective method to deal with demand. Alternatives and renewables are being developed in Ohio right now. Natural gas prices are low and are expected to remain there for many years. The utility industry has begun identifying coal plants that they consider “vulnerable”- those coal plants that are smaller, older and cannot meet future regulatory upgrades, and the medium-sized ones that may or may not be able to meet the coming regulatory upgrades but doing so would not be economically feasible in this climate. AEP has already upgraded other coal plants with modern technology, but continuing to do so for the rest of their outdated coal plants would not be cost effective. The economic part of the decision to retrofit or replace a coal plant is major: technical experts have estimated that a 500 MW plant, if it needed all of the possible future regulatory controls, may spend $392.5 million at just one plant ($785/kw.) This cost would be passed on to rate payers.

Future regulations would make it very expensive –  for the ratepayers – to operate this dirty old coal plant

Possible future federal regulations may make old coal plants too expensive to operate. It is most likely that any additional costs to maintain and upgrade these old coal plants would be passed along directly to ratepayers. There are four regulatory proposals that both industry and citizen groups believe could affect the operations at old coal plants, depending upon what is adopted and enforced:

Coal ash regulations

The USEPA proposed two competing coal ash regulations. One, favored by citizen and citizen groups, would regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste and provide stringent, enforceable rules for coal ash. The other, favored by industry, would not classify coal ash as a hazardous waste and would not provide enforceable standards. Eight public hearings were held in the fall of 2010, and the EPA received over 400,000 comments about the proposed coal ash regulations. The EPA is in the decision-making part of the process now. Congress, meanwhile, is attempting to not allow funding for the strongest of the two proposed regulations on coal ash.

Clean Air Transport Rule

This proposal would require significant reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions that cross state lines. These pollutants react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone and are transported long distances, affecting the health of people inside and outside of Ohio. The Clean Air Transport Rule could be issued in draft form early this year.

Maximum Achievable Control Technology rules for mercury at fossil fuel power plants

This would limit mercury emissions from coal plants. A draft of the regulation was released March 16, 2011. According to the U.S. EPA the regulation as drafted would cut U.S. mercury emissions by more than half and would significantly cut other pollutants from boilers, process heaters and solid waste incinerators. These pollutants include several air toxics that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems and environmental damage. The proposed rules are estimated to yield more than 5 dollars in public health benefits for every dollar spent. We are currently in the 45-day comment period. The final could be issued before the end of the year.

Experts estimate that if a medium-sized 500-megawatt plant needed all of the future pollution controls it could cost an estimated $785 per kilowatt. Any potential upgrades at Muskingum would be paid for by AEP’s ratepayers.

AEP was court ordered to clean up or retire Ohio coal plants

In October, 2007, AEP settled a lawsuit, agreeing to eliminate 1,626,000,000 pounds of air pollution and save $32 billion in annual health care costs. The settlement lists five Ohio coal plants, including the Muskingum River Power Plant.

Parts of AEP’s coal plant fleet in Ohio have been modernized with scrubbers and other pollution controls to limit the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot and other pollution. 80% of the Muskingum River Power Plant has not been given these upgrades.

In AEP’s 2010 Fact Book, the company lists unit 5 of the Muskingum plant’s nitrogen oxide pollution control as ‘in-service’ but does not list any other upgrades. Units 1-4, the dirtiest and oldest parts of this plant, are not listed for any upgrades. This plant needs to be retired now.