Draft N.Y. pollution rule likely to shutter remaining coal plants

New York's newly drafted pollution control rule most likely would lead to the closing in 2020 of the state's two remaining coal-fired power plants -- the 655-MW Somerset and 323-MW Cayuga generating stations operated by Riesling Power, a subsidiary of Beowulf Energy LLC.

The draft rule is designed to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pledge to phase out coal generation in the Empire state by 2020. The governor has established a goal of slashing carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector by 40% by 2030. The draft rule sets new, lower emissions limits for CO2. All non-modified fossil-fuel fired existing major electric generating facilities that are not currently subject to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Regulations would be required to meet an emissions limit of either 1,800 lbs/MWh gross electrical output or 180 lbs/MMBtu of input.

The rule, published in the New York State Register on Wednesday by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said no existing coal plants are expected to continue operating in New York beyond 2020 without significant technology improvements including carbon capture and sequestration.

While the department said it does not have cost estimates for retrofitting an existing coal facility with CCS, "based on a review of existing data for new installations, it is the department's belief that application of that technology as a response to the [rule] would be cost-prohibitive."

It is estimated, the department added, that retrofitting CCS "is unlikely for plants older than ten to 12 years, as total CCS cost would be at least 30% higher compared to new power plants, and possibly much more depending on the specific case."

Somerset, near Barker, New York, is 34 years old. Cayuga, near Lansing, New York is 63 years old.

Minda Conroe, spokeswoman for the Somerset and Cayuga Operating Companies, said the two plants are important to upstate New York's economy and energy grid "because they represent fully interconnected energy capacity available in the state of New York."

New York, she noted, is in the midst of an energy transition, largely away from fossil fuels and older nuclear power to cleaner, safer forms of energy.

"We strongly believe that progress to a better energy future will occur at sites like these two," she said, referring to Somerset and Cayuga.

Conroe added that Somerset and Cayuga officials continue to work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and other local stakeholders "on a path forward to repowering these plants with natural gas."

In addition, large-scale renewable energy and energy storage options continue to be pursued at Somerset and Cayuga.

In his 2016 State of the State speech, Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service and Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a regulatory framework that would ensure system reliability while facilitating repowering Somerset and Cayuga to cleaner fuel or closing the plants no later than 2020.

New York is just one of several states that have taken a proactive stance to develop CO2 mitigation strategies because there are currently no specific numerical federal CO2 emission standards for stationary sources.