Myths About Coal Plants

Myth … Coal-fired power plants are dirty.

Since 1970, coal-fired power plants have reduced emissions of three major air pollutants — sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) — by 92% per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. This means that each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated today by the average coal-fired power plant is 92% cleaner than the same kilowatt-hour was some four decades ago.  To achieve this reduction, the owners of coal-fired power plants had invested a total of $111 billion by the end of 2015 and are expected to invest an additional $16 billion by 2018.

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Myth … Coal-fired power plants do not use clean coal technology

There are 16 clean coal technologies being used today by the U.S. coal fleet. These include wet and dry scrubbers to reduce SO2 emissions, selective and non-selective catalytic reduction to reduce NOx emissions, and electrostatic precipitators and fabric filter technology to reduce PM. Every coal-fired power plant in the U.S. uses one or more clean coal technologies.

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Myth … Coal-fired power plants are retiring because of low natural gas prices.

The owners of 431 retiring coal-fired electric generating units representing 70,300 megawatts of capacity (equivalent to the electricity supply of California) have attributed these retirements, either whole or in part, to EPA regulations…In total, EPA regulations were cited by the owners of coal units as the cause of 80% of all announced retirements.

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Myth …The U.S. doesn’t need coal-fired power plants.

Coal-fired power plants are necessary to maintain electricity system reliability and to help assure that electricity prices are stable and affordable. [They] provide base-load power, are dispatchable…[and] provide seasonal reliability.

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Myth … Pollution from coal-fired power plants causes premature mortality.

Claims that premature mortality is caused by fine PM (PM2.5) emissions from power plants are based the supposition that adverse health effects, especially premature mortality, are caused even by safe levels of fine PM. Basically, safe is assumed to be unsafe in order to support these claims.

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Myth … “The Clean Power Plan … takes real action on climate change.”  

The Clean Power Plan has been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court because of questions about its legality raised by 28 states and many other parties.  However, even if the Clean Power Plan is upheld by the courts, it would reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 375 million tonnes per year, which would mean a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of less than 1%.

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