The Environmental Protection Agency is set to make final new air-pollution standards for coal-fired power plants by mid-December, sparking disagreement among power companies about how quickly aging coal plants need to be pushed offline.
The EPA wants to give coal-fired plants three years to comply with the new standards—either by shutting down or going through expensive retrofits—with the possibility of a one-year extension.
The maintenance of baseload power is likely to be appropriate in many locations, meaning some coal fired and natural gas fired plants will not be de-commissioned. However, the likelihood of investors preferring the lower costs of green energy will mean that they will replace most sources.
The new rules will make some coal powered plants to shut down as it will not be economical to retrofit them. They will most likely be replaced by the new plants powered by natural gas. Renewables will pick some slack, but that is negligible in the big scheme of things. Unfortunately, US nuclear industry is still not ready to come back. We will probably wait another 10 years, and at that time probably buy nukes from Chinese who will perfect new technology and get experience building AP1000 reactors (AP1000® pressurized water reactor or PWR. It is the only Generation III+ reactor to receive Design Certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)) long before we put one on the drawing board permitting process.
But in summary, EPA is moving to regulate climate change via The Clean Air Act, and because of the coal power plants shut down we may very well meet the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill–aka the American Clean Energy and Security Act, ACES, H.R. 2454. The bill would put a cap on emissions of greenhouse gases, and would require high-emitting industries to reduce their output to specific targets between now and the middle of the century. The bill covers 85 percent of the overall economy, including electricity producers, oil refineries, natural gas suppliers, and energy-intensive industries like iron, steel, cement, and paper manufacturers. Emission cuts would start in 2012 and EPA is right on track.
The goals for U.S. emission reductions, below 2005 levels are 3 percent cut by 2012; 17 percent cut by 2020; 42 percent cut by 2030; more than 80 percent cut by 2050. We may achieve 2020 goals with retrofitting and shutdowns of coal powered plants and slowing economy. We will not meet other goals without injecting nuclear power.