On Thursday, November 17, 2016, Lee Meadows of the Severn River Association and Sara Via of the Univeristy of Maryland spoke on the impacts of coal-fired power plants. This is a summary of their presentation.
Lee Meadows provided a basic overview of the two, coal-fired, electricity-generation plants in Anne Arundel County: H.A. Wagner Power Plant and Brandon Shores Power Plant. Both are located on the same property on Fort Smallwood Rd in North County on the Patapsco River. Both were operated by Constellation but have been sold to Raven Power Holdings to facilitate Constellation’s merger with Excelon. The first unit opened in 1956 and the most recent unit went online in 1991.
Pollution from these power plants include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, heavy metals, ground level ozone, fine particulate matter, smog, and haze. Scrubbers have been installed that have reduced pollution emissions in the past 6 years. Sulphur dioxide is down 85%, nitrogen oxides 75% and mercury 90%. Ozone alerts in the area are down 85%.
However, the US EPA has determined that the plants are in a nonattainment condition for sulfur dioxide. The Maryland Department of the Environment disputes the EPA holding, based on alternative measurements allowed in the EPA regulations. Most of AA County has air that is above the EPA maximums for sulfur dioxide. The area around the Severn River and Annapolis is over twice the EPA maximum. Areas around the power plants into Baltimore are 4 to 8 times the EPA maximums.
AA County has higher than average incidents of asthma, lung cancer and kidney cancer. The power plants may account for $1.8 billion in health costs. The US Department of Energy estimates that the health costs attributable to the power plants if internalized would add 41 cents/KWh—the highest health-care cost per KWh in the nation. Electricity prices are currently at about 8-10 cents/KWh. The State of Maryland’s largest budget item is health-care spending.
Benefits of the power plants are economic. The plants provide 360 jobs with a payroll of $20 million. The output capacity of the plants is 1,865 MW. However, the plants do not operate at capacity because coal plants are more expensive to operate than other plants bidding to provide electricity to the PJM grid.
Demand for electricity produced from coal is falling because of the current low cost of natural gas. Maryland’s fraction of coal based generation has remained stable while the national fraction has declined. However, there are currently more natural-gas power plants planned for Maryland. Geothermal, on-shore wind, natural-gas power generation are currently all less expensive than coal-fired power generation. Nuclear is about equal to coal. Photovoltaic solar is a more expensive than coal, but the cost has been dropping. Off-shore wind and concentrated solar are currently significantly more expensive than coal. Federal policies are unlikely to change the relationship between coal and natural gas prices.
There is little future for these coal-fired power plants. The only way for coal-fired power plants to remain economically viable is through subsidies. Forty percent of coal-fired power plants have closed nationally in the past two decades. Three coal-fired power plants are scheduled to close in Maryland by 2018.