Environment & Energy
7:38 am
Mon February 24, 2014

PA Coal Alliance Says EPA Requirements Hurt the Poor

A Pennsylvania coal advocacy group is claiming that coal-fired power plants can’t meet federal emission requirements, and residents are paying the price.

According to Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy, restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency are causing the shut down of coal-fired power plants that he thinks are still needed as a short-term solution for electricity demands.

Many Pennsylvania coal power plants are being replaced by cleaner energy solutions such as natural gas. However, during recent cold snaps a lack of natural gas caused prices for that commodity to spike in turn sending electricity prices soaring.

“Natural gas has a priority to home heating, so when its very cold like it was the last couple weeks there wasn’t actually enough natural gas to cover some of the power plants and there were some significant issues,” said Pippy.

During the polar vortex that passed over Pennsylvania in January PJM Interconnect - the organization that operates the regional power grid - reported average on-peak power prices up to $268 per megawatt-hour according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The average wholesale price in the PJM region last year was $42 per megawatt-hour.

According to the same EIA report, high demand and increased natural gas prices caused hourly power prices to reach the $800 per megawatt-hour range with 15-minute periods of more than $2,000 per megawatt-hour. Due to these short-term jumps in pricing, PJM has requested special permission to exceed the $1,000 per megawatt-hour price cap on what it can charge your electricity provider for wholesale power.

Power companies usually enter into three types of contracts; long range base load contracts, day-in-advance contracts to cover expected spikes, and hourly or fifteen minute buys based on nearly minute-by-minute demand.

According to Pippy, six coal-fired power plants that are scheduled to close were used to supplement the energy demand. Due to the EPA’s requirements these plants might not be available in future shortages.

“They’re proposing that we get down to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. We’re currently at about 1,800, and it’s just not achievable with any currently available technology,” said Pippy.

According a new study from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCE), 49 percent of Pennsylvania households spend 19 percent of their income on energy. 

“We believe that there’s a strong argument to be made that we have to take a pause and look at long term stability of the grid supply of electricity as well as the impact on low income families before we start moving forward on some of these energy policies that Washington is pushing.”