Coal Fleet Transition
Having a diverse resource mix that includes coal is imperative to achieving an affordable and balanced energy portfolio. Our nation’s coal-fueled power plants have delivered significant benefits to the country and our economy for many decades. Today, the coal-fueled power plant fleet in the United States is cleaner and more efficient, thanks to breakthroughs in technology and investments in new environmental controls.
Between 2000 and 2016, AEP will have invested an estimated $8.5 billion to date in its coal units to comply with various environmental regulations. Through 2015, AEP’s carbon emissions have already declined 39 percent from 2000 levels, and we expect further reductions as we transition to more natural gas and renewable resources in the future. Because coal will continue to be important to a reliable and diverse resource mix, we have planned additional investments up to $1.4 billion between 2017 and 2025 to comply with new environmental regulations. This ensures our ability to maintain reliable, affordable service for our customers.
Between 2011 and mid-2016, AEP retired more than 7,200 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled generation. The retirements are part of our plan to comply with the new federal Mercury Air Toxics Standards for existing power plants. At the end of 2015, AEP’s total generating capacity was approximately 32,000 MW, of which approximately 18,000 MW are coal-fueled.
Although we do not see any new coal plants coming online, we support the development of technologies that will allow existing coal plants to remain part of our country’s balanced portfolio. AEP’s John W. Turk Jr., Power Plant in Arkansas is an example of the kind of technology innovation that is needed to keep coal in the resource mix. The 600-megawatt facility, which began operation in December 2012, is one of the cleanest, most efficient coal plants in the United States. It operates the country’s only "ultra-supercritical" steam cycle using advanced materials and combustion technology to consume less coal and produce fewer emissions, including carbon dioxide, than traditional pulverized coal plants. In addition, state-of-the-art emission control technologies and the use of low-sulfur coal enable the Turk Plant to meet emission limits that are among the most stringent ever required for a pulverized coal unit.
To effectively reduce the carbon footprint of fossil generation, ultra-supercritical technologies for power generation such as the Turk Plant are a step in the right direction, but still cannot achieve the stringent new source performance standards for CO2 that will be enforced through Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act.
There are, however, transformational technologies under development that have the potential to build upon the types of innovation that the Turk Plant has pioneered for the industry, further reducing CO2 emissions from fossil-fueled power generation. Technologies currently in early development stages, such as pressurized oxy-combustion, chemical looping and supercritical CO2 power cycles, all rely on alternative fuel-to-energy conversions and fundamentally different ways of energy production and/or efficiency improvements to mitigate and/or easily separate CO2 emissions for other uses or for storage.
Unlike the pre- and post-combustion carbon capture systems that have been inadequately demonstrated at commercial scale to date, we believe these technologies have greater potential to meet industry cost and performance targets. To support development, demonstration and deployment of these technologies, the industry, along with the Electric Power Research Institute, U.S. Department of Energy, technology suppliers and academia are working to test and validate state-of-the-art equipment and components, new metal alloys, alternative materials, and advanced manufacturing techniques. The goal is to have low-carbon fossil-fueled power generation technology options available in the 2030 to 2035 timeframe.