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New Emissions Standards Could Make Natural Gas Cheaper Than Coal

Riverbend Steam Station, a coal-fired generating facility in Gaston County, NC.  Riverbend will be retired by 2015 as part of Duke Energy’s strategy to modernize its power plants.
Duke Energy via Flickr, Creative Commons

A new study from Duke University says new air quality standards could spur a shift away from coal power to natural gas as a means of generating electricity.  A natural gas boom has already made it almost as cheap as coal to turn into electricity, but when researchers factored in new emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, they found that most coal electricity will become as expensive as gas, even if gas prices rise.

Lincoln Pratson, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment, says the findings provide ammunition to both sides of the debate over the new standards.

“From the coal perspective, yes, federal regulations have the potential to have a real impact on the demand for coal-fired power generation moving forward, that it's not just low natural gas prices,” he says.  “From the EPA's perspective, these emissions standards will in fact drive down the use of coal plants that are not outfitted with the appropriate emissions control systems needed to reduce these emissions.”

The study was published this week in the online edition of Environmental Science & Technology.

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