Forbes

Posted by: David Schwedel

As executive director of Coalview, David Schwedel has a vested interest in the future of the coal and related energy-based industries, and 2014 marked serious change for such industries. In April 2014, three rulings were put into effect regarding mercury, sulfur dioxide/nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide, which place considerable pressure on coal-based power plants to either shut down or retrofit their operations. The mercury ruling is particularly impactful, calling for a 90-percent reduction.

As a result of new standards, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that a significant number of coal plants will be retired in the next several years, estimating a decrease in coal-based generation amounting to 60,000 megawatts by 2020. 

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (“CSAPR”) also is a driving force behind these changes. This rule, which stemmed from complaints by northeastern states about air pollution resulting from coal production, placed caps on the amount of emissions (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide) by power-generating units across multi-state regions. As a result of CSAPR, coal companies will require updated technology and equipment, or a transition to cleaner fuels.

Although coal is expected to maintain a steady share of the supplies to the power market through 2035—approximately 60 percent—it’s role in the electric generation market has fallen 10 percent in less than 10 years and coal prices have dropped dramatically with no sign of recovery. Increased regulations like those instituted by the Clean Air Act offer serious challenges for coal, which releases double the allowance of some pollutants and accounts for a third of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Embracing advanced coal technologies, such as those adopted and offered by Coalview, will be critical to the industry’s livelihood. Convenient for the coal industry is the fact that the same retrofitting efforts that will work to meet new mercury standards will also work for other pollutants, effectively enabling coal companies to comply with requirements without additional exorbitant costs.