Platts: Hal, the Environmental Protection Agency has some big regulations coming up soon that would seem to accelerate the shutdown of coal power plants. Are there any options that you can see to avoid that situation?
Quinn: Certainly. We can have some thoughtful policies on how we address new plants as well as what the expectations are for existing plants—beginning with the need for new plants because of the shutdown of existing ones. If the president uses the same measuring stick he announced for the keystone pipeline—whether it would seriously exacerbate the climate issue— then new coal plants clearly pass it. New coal plants are 40% more efficient and far cleaner than the ones they are likely to replace. That way, we can preserve the diversity of our energy mix and our electricity supply and at the same time cut our carbon emissions.
Platts: But the super critical plants or gasification plants would not meet the regulations that the EPA is expected to come out with. And certainly carbon sequestration is years off. So is there specifically an option that would come close to meeting these regulations that you can sell to EPA?
Quinn: We’re hoping that the EPA will step back and realize the way to develop appropriate standards is to look at what is the best-in-class technology that is commercially proven today. As indicated, super critical coal and IGCC deliver better performance, providing 40% greater efficiency right there compared to the older and less efficient plants they would replace. So that’s a good starting point. With respect to existing plants, there will probably be a 15% emissions reduction in the coal fleet by 2020 just by virtue of retirements. And let’s be aware we already have tens of billions of dollars invested in them to meet former rules, so let’s not strand that investment.
Platts: Is climate change a threat?
Quinn: Climate change is a risk that we can address, but what we’re overstating is the role of coal plants, particularly new coal plants, which are going to be more efficient with lower carbon exposure. If we stop the building of new high-efficiency coal plants, you’re also going to stop development of high-carbon abatement technologies such as carbon capture and storage. If EPA’s rule for new plants requires that, we don’t have anything that’s been integrated and fully demonstrated for capturing and storing carbon at scale.
Platts: Can you persuade the EPA administrator of that?
Quinn: I think Gina McCarthy really wants to get all the facts before her. I think she’ll weigh these considerations. But I can’t predict what the outcome will be.
Platts: A common cry for the past year is that the Obama administration has been waging a “war on coal.” Is it time to drop that war cry?
Quinn: I’m not a fan of using “war” on anything at this point in time. But that phrase masks the full extent or breadth of the risks associated with some of the policies that are gambling with our nation’s energy and economic future.
Platts: Some say it’s not only gas prices and regulation that’s causing trouble for coal, but also a diminished political clout in the industry.
Quinn: The coal industry has never feared competition, but what we’re rightly concerned about is policies that don’t allow us to compete. As for the industry’s allies, this industry stands for affordable reliable electricity and prosperity for the county. That is perfectly aligned with the public interest and that’s a very bi-partisan plan and outcome for everybody.