Carbon dioxide controls would cost far more: $430 million to install the equipment, plus annual operating and maintenance costs of $900 million, according to a PPL study from several years ago.
That would equate to $53 for every ton of coal burned, the company said. That's about five times the price of the fuel itself in the nearby Powder River Basin, according to pricing information from the Energy Information Administration.
If the administration pushes forward and the cost of retrofitting Colstrip does not pencil out, life in the surrounding town would be far different. "Go back to 1960 Colstrip, when we had fewer than 200 people," said Colstrip's mayor, Mayor Rose Hanser, adding that there is not much to draw people to her remote corner of southeastern Montana other than coal.
Still, PPL representatives and others in the industry see room for maneuvering before carbon capture becomes mandated. Key details of the administration's plan still must be worked out, including the scope of emissions cuts and their timetable. The broad goal is to achieve a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020.
Assuming the goal doesn't shift, the key question will be how those reductions are spread among different sectors of the economy, from transportation and power production, to manufacturing.
Even without the president's latest announcement, the Supreme Court ruled five years that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants that the government must regulate, said Quin Shea, vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities in the U.S. and has worked with the administration on the climate issue.
"A lot of our friends in other industries and states and on (Capitol) Hill miss the fact that this isn't optional," Shea said. "At the end of the day, we will be protecting as much coal as we can."
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