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Texas Electricity and the New EPA Rule

December 8, 2011

Despite several protests and lobbying efforts, the state of Texashas been included in the new clean air regulations that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently implemented to reduce the amount of harmful emissions generated by power plants. The new EPA rule requires electric power plants from 27 different states including Texas electricity generating plants to reduce harmful emissions down to specified levels.

For Texas electric power plants, the EPA rule requires a 47 percent reduction of harmful emissions or estimated as equivalent to the reduction of 244,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions each year. The EPA stated that Texas electricity power plants can utilize several viable options to reduce emissions such as upgrading power plants to include more boilers and scrubber, switch to a different fuel other than coal, or use coal with lower-sulfur content.Texas electric companies have up to March of 2013 to comply with these new EPA requirements. 

Cleaner Air… Better Health… Less Jobs?

Most of Texas electricity is generated through coal-fired boilers that emit sulfur dioxide. This chemical is known to cause several environmental hazards such as soot, haze and even acid rain. Soot is made up of very tiny and fine particles that can be absorbed or inhaled into the body and has been clinically proven to cause breathing problems, heart issues and even premature death.

According to the EPA, clamping down on the amount of sulfur dioxide from these coal-fired electric power plants will give huge health benefits to the people ofTexas and surrounding states. The EPA estimates that the specified reduction of emissions with this new rule could save up to 1,700 Texan lives each year on top of the tens of thousands of lives saved from other affected states.

To comply with this new ruling, Texas electricity producers such as Luminant will be shutting down coal-fired electric plants with the highest emission levels. It will also shut down the lignite coal mines where the fuel used to feed these power plants are coming from. The company will instead use low-sulfur fuel on some of its power plants that will be retrofitted and at the same time the company will also invest over $280 million on enhanced pollution control systems with their other electric power plants.

While the EPA and other proponents of this new environmental ruling is happy that some of the older, outdated and inefficient coal-fired Texas electricity power plants will be shut down, thousands of Texas residents will lose their jobs in the process. As in the case of Luminant that will layoff more than 500 employees from the lignite mines that will be shut down, other companies shutting down their power plants will also encounter the same scenario. However, new jobs will also be created as focus on mining will be shifted towards low-sulfur coal mining.

Impact on Texas Electricity Supply 

Another fear that people lobbying against the new EPA rule is voicing out is the impact on Texas electricity supply. Shutting down the power plants will definitely affect the total electric grid capacity of the state. A 1,200 to 1,400 megawatt reduction in capacity will result in rolling blackouts across the state. Earlier this summer, Texas encountered an electricity emergency due to the significantly immense increase in demand for electricity brought about by the extremely high temperature levels.

What this implies is that new Texas electricity power generation capacity should also be undertaken to supplement the loss in capacity from the electric power plants that will be shut down. While some companies are refocusing investments on low-sulfur coal power plants, other companies that have already invested in new lignite coal power plants will not have enough capital to pour into new capacities. The EPA however is confident that supplies and capacities will be met, while new emission levels are complied with.

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