Power Plan shows how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants

On December 21 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules to curb emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants that burn coal, relying on pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants. According to an EPA press release, power plants are the largest remaining source of air pollutants including mercury, arsenic, and cyanide. Once final, the standards will ensure the remaining plants take steps to decrease emissions of dangerous pollutants.

The Pacific Northwest does not rely on coal to generate electricity as much as other parts of the country because of our abundant supply of hydropower. Still, coal-fired generating plants represent 12.2 percent of the region’s generating capacity and 16.9 percent of the electricity generated on average throughout the year. An Oregon Public Broadcasting story breaks down the amount of coal-fired electricity generation by state in the Northwest.

The Council’s Northwest Power Plan, which guides the Bonneville Power Administration, the region’s largest electricity provider, recommends ways to reduce toxic gas emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels, primarily carbon dioxide.

The Council’s plan explores, through various scenario analyses, what actions must be taken to meet emission targets in state law in Oregon and Washington, Washington and in the Western Climate Initiative.

There are four critical elements to those actions. First is acquiring nearly 6,000 average megawatts of energy efficiency improvements over the 20-year planning horizon (through 2029). Second is reducing reliance on coal-fired generation to about half of current levels. Third is meeting renewable-energy portfolio standards that already exist in three of the four Northwest states. Finally, the region needs to preserve the capability of the hydroelectric system to the greatest extent possible within the limits of fish and wildlife impacts and other obligations. These actions, designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, also will reduce emissions of other toxic air pollutants.