EPA Rules Help Spell Doom for Montana Coal Plant

Aaron Flint posted on February 10, 2015 13:25 :: 661 Views

They’re no longer talking about simply mothballing the Corette coal plant in Billings. Its an all out closure now, as Ron Catlett reports.

Montana Media Trackers: EPA Rules Help Spell Doom for Montana Coal Plant: http://mediatrackers.org/montana/2015/02/10/epa-rules-help-spell-doom-montana-coal-plant

 POLICYThe J.E. Corette Power Plant in Billings, MT (photo: PPL Montana).

PPL Montana announced Tuesday that it is permanently closing the J.E. Corette Power Plant in Billings, citing low energy costs and the high costs of upgrading the facility to meet more stringent EPA standards on coal-fired power plants.

The company had announced in 2012 that it would “mothball” the plant — which would  have allowed it to come back on line if market conditions changed — by 2015, but, now that 2015 has arrived, PPL Montana has decided that it makes more financial sense to close the facility for good.

“The company re-evaluated a 2012 decision to mothball the plant and retain the option to restart it if wholesale power market conditions in the Northwest changed,” PPL Montana wrote in a press release. “The estimated cost of upgrades that would be required to put the plant back in service has increased significantly since 2012, and wholesale power prices in the Northwest remain low.”

The plant will shut down in August.

In a telephone interview with Media Trackers, PPL Montana Director of External Affairs David Hoffman stated that it was “a very fair assessment” to say that the plant was closing at least partially due to the EPA’s increasingly stringent regulatory environment for coal fired power plants.

Hoffman said that the primary issue for the Corette plant was the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxins Standards.

“It goes back to the MATS rule, Mercury and Air Toxins Standards,” Hoffman said. “We are in full compliance with the mercury standards, but it’s the rules that pertain to particulate matter.”

Hoffman said that meeting standards for the particulate matter would require the the plant to be outfitted with a “baghouse” that helps remove particulates from the air. In 2012, when PPL Montana announced it was mothballing the plant, the cost of constructing the baghouse was estimated to be about $40 million.

Though he could not provide a specific number, Hoffman stated that the cost estimates for bringing the plant into EPA compliance had “increased substantially” over the last three years.

The combination of the EPA regulatory environment and a market where energy prices are projected to remain flat for the the foreseeable future made closing the plant more economical than simply mothballing it, according to Hoffman.

The 154 megawatt Corette plant has been in operation since 1968, burning low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin, and currently employs about 30 people according to PPL Montana. According toa 2012 estimate, the plant generates $3.2 million in property tax revenue.

Environmental groups have long complained that the plant is a major contributor to air pollution in the Billings area.

When asked about the fate of the plant’s employees, Hoffman said that some had already been reassigned to other jobs within the company, while others were taking early retirement. Overall, taking care of the employees remains one of PPL Montana’s “top goals,” Hoffman stated.


Senator Steve Daines’ (R-MT) released this prepared statement in response to the announced closure:

“Once again, good-paying American jobs are falling ruin to the Obama administration’s war on American energy. The closing of the Corette power plant isn’t just a blow to Montana’s economy – it’s devastating news to the Montana families who rely on the plant for a stable income,” Daines stated. “The EPA’s misguided agenda doesn’t just hurt Montana’s coal industry— it directly affects thousands of Montana families, union workers and tribal members who rely on coal for good-paying jobs and reliable, affordable energy. I’ll continue fighting to stop the Obama administration’s war on coal and support the thousands of Montanans who rely on this resource every day.”

Statement from Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT):

“The EPA is causing Montana to bleed jobs,” said Congressman Ryan Zinke. “The J.E. Corette power plant and the 30 hard-working folks who rely on the plant for their paychecks are the latest casualties in the EPA’s war on coal—that doesn’t even take into account the negative impact current and proposed EPA regulations have on home heating prices.”


Zinke continued: “Montana is home to a quarter of the nation’s coal reserves and we have the potential to power the clean coal economy of the future. However, the EPA is more interested in waging a war on coal than researching ways to use it efficiently. The Obama Administration needs to get away from the regulate-first mentality and get back to allowing America to innovate.  America is great when we innovate. Developing Montana’s plentiful energy supply and protecting the beauty of our state are not mutually exclusive.  I am committed to defending Montana against the EPA and crafting legislation that will both conserve our lands and build a strong economy that is powered by sustainable energy like clean coal.”


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