Baseload Coal Investment Decisions under Uncertain Carbon Legislation

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Table of Contents

More than 50% of electricity in the U.S. is generated by coal. The U.S. has large coal resources, the cheapest fuel in most areas. Coal fired power plants are likely to continue to provide much of U.S. electricity. However, the type of power plant that should be built is unclear. Technology can reduce pollutant discharges and capture and sequester the CO2 from coal-fired generation. The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides incentives for large scale commercial deployment of Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) systems (e.g., loan guarantees and project tax credits). This analysis examines whether a new coal plant should be Pulverized Coal (PC) or IGCC. Do stricter emissions standards (PM, SO2, NOx, Hg) justify the higher costs of IGCC over PC? How does potential future carbon legislation affect the decision to add carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology? Finally, can the impact of uncertain carbon legislation be minimized? We find that SO2, NOx, PM, and Hg emission standards would have to be far more stringent than twice current standards to justify the increased costs of the IGCC system. A CO2 tax less than $29/ton would lead companies to continuing to choose PC, paying the tax for emitted CO2. The earlier a decision-maker believes the carbon tax will be imposed and the higher the tax, the more likely companies will choose IGCC w/CCS. Having government announce the date and level of a carbon tax would promote more sensible decisions, but government would have to use a tax or subsidy to induce companies to choose the technology that is best for society.