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Texas Electric Power Plants and the New EPA Emission Limit

November 9, 2011

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced new regulations that would require Texasas other states to reduce the amount of harmful emissions that could be detrimental to the nation’s air quality. This means that Texas electricity generating coal-fired power plants should considerably reduce the amount of nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions which the EPA deemed harmful and could cross to other states and cause serious issues against public health.

Many have applauded this new regulation from the EPA, particularly sectors in society who believe they have the power to choose energy options, particularly with regards to cleaner and renewable energy resources for generating electricity. However, many also expressed concerns that this new regulation will only result in unemployment and power plants shutting down, practically affecting both commercial and business electricity generation. EPA however responded that they are giving enough time for power plants to comply and that the technology is available to turn this into reality. 

The New EPA Emission Limit

Under the new EPA regulation, Texas electricity generating power plants and other electric power plants from 27 different states are required to reduce harmful gas emissions down to targeted levels. In the case ofTexas, the regulation is requiring at least 47 percent reduction of harmful emissions (with 2010 levels as reference for reduction) which is equivalent to reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by as much as 244,000 tons each year.

Several sectors have been trying to persuade the EPA to exclude the state of Texasfrom the affected states, as initial proposals where only focused on reducing smog-causing nitrogen oxide. However, further analysis performed by the agency indicated that the current levels of emission for sulfur dioxide which Texas electric plants are generating warrant inclusion in this new regulation.

According the EPA, Texas electricity power plants have several potential and viable options to choose from to reduce emission levels. These techniques include the use of more scrubbers and boilers, switching fuels as well as the use of lower-sulfur coal. While certain sectors complain that these recommended techniques will not be feasible, the EPA is adamant that such emission reduction techniques are quite possible and can be perform within the allocated time stated in the regulation.

Implications on the Texas Electricity Industry 

Politicians and Texas electric companies and providers have expressed concerns that power plants may not have enough time to be able to meet the emission reduction deadline and may result to power plant shutdowns. Not only will these shutdowns decrease the Texas electricity grid capacity, it will also result to more unemployment. According to the Texas Public Utility Commission, up to 18 power plants in the state can be affected, which will put up to 11,000 megawatts of Texas electricity capacity at risk.

The EPA however, made clear that power plants still have up to March of 2013 to comply with the requirements without incurring any serious penalties. The agency believes that this provides enough time for these power plants to prepare and gradually reduce emission levels. Still, politicians and power plant operators still express doubts on whether full compliance to this new regulation can be achieved.

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