Most Coal Plants Have Emissions Controls Needed to Meet Mercury Limits, EIA Reports

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By Jessica Coomes  

March 31 --Seventy percent of coal-fired power plants have the necessary pollution control equipment to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency mercury and air toxics standards, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Another 6 percent are planning to install pollution controls, and 8 percent are planning to close rather than invest in the expensive equipment, the EIA said in a March 28 report.

The remaining 16 percent are uncontrolled, and the owners haven't indicated whether the plants will be retrofitted or retired.

“The big question is whether they're going to have to shut down because of [the mercury and air toxics standards], and a significant amount of that 16 percent will ultimately have to shut down,” Jeff Holmstead, an attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, told Bloomberg BNA March 31.

Clean Air Interstate Rule, Acid Rain Compliance

The already-controlled coal power plants installed the equipment primarily to comply with the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which targeted emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and the acid rain program under Title IV of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Holmstead said. Some companies installed the controls in anticipation of the requirements of the mercury standards, he said.

The EPA finalized stringent mercury and air toxics standards for coal- and oil-fired power plants in February 2012, setting numeric emissions limits for mercury, filterable particulate matter as a surrogate for toxic metals and hydrogen chloride as a surrogate for acid gases.

The agency has estimated the rule will cost the power industry $9.6 billion annually because of the significant investments in pollution controls.

The final rule, which established national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants, set a three-year compliance deadline, requiring companies to install pollution controls by April 2015. The Clean Air Act allows industry to request one-year extensions on a case-by-case basis from local permitting authorities, which would give utilities until April 2016 to comply.

Holmstead said the winter of 2016 could prove to be a strain on the power system if, in addition to the 8 percent of plants that have announced closure, a significant portion of the 16 percent of undecideds choose to close.

Flue Gas Desulfurization Installed

The vast majority of the plants will comply with flue gas desulfurization scrubbers, while only a few are using dry sorbent injection technology, EIA said.

Sixty-nine percent of plants already are complaint through flue gas desulfurization, and 1 percent are complaint through dry sorbent injection, as of 2012, the year with the most recent data available, the EIA said. Another 5 percent of plants intend to install flue gas desulfurization, and 1 percent plan to install dry sorbent injection.

Flue gas desulfurization technology has higher capital costs but lower operating costs and removes more acid gas and sulfur dioxide than dry sorbent injection systems, the EIA said.


To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica Coomes in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

The EIA report is available at