Existing coal-fired power plants could boost electrical production by 40,000 Mw, if plant upgrades could be made without triggering government emissions sanctions, said the National Coal Council.

In a series of policy recommendations to Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham, the council said the capacity of coal burning plants could be increased by making standard improvements and installing clean coal technologies. The federal advisory body also called for a return to pre-1999 interpretations of the new source review regulations under the Clean Air Action.

If the Environmental Protection Agency returned to its old interpretation of the new source review, it could result in more than 11,500 Mw being added to the current fleet, the result of decreases outages and higher efficiency, while continuing the downward trend in emissions, the council said.

EPA’s reinterpretation as violations of the Clean Air Act what had been considered routine maintenance has had a “chilling effect” on all maintenance and efficiency projects, including clean coal technologies, at existing power plants, according to the report.

As a result, no new efficiency, availability, or environmental improvement has occurred since 1998 when EPA changed its enforcement policy, the council said.

The 1970 Clean Air Act grandfathered existing plants and exempted them from requirements to install new emissions control equipment with the thought the plants would be phased out. Plants which underwent major work were subjected to a 5-year review under the new source regulation and could be subject to stricter controls and penalties for violations.

Before 1999, industry and the EPA had a general mutual understanding of what constituted a major upgrade, compared to routine maintenance. But the EPA sued eight large utilities for violations under a 1999 interpretation of the regulation, claiming the companies violated the rule by making major upgrades to their plants. The suits alleged billions of dollars in violations. The companies said they were doing routine maintenance. The suits could become moot if the policy were changed.

The study estimated retrofits could produce 40,000 Mw of additional capacity within 3 years without increasing emissions at existing facilities, and, in some cases, lowering emissions. It noted repowering of old existing coal plants with a single modern generating unit equipped with proven emissions controls will result in significant reductions in emissions while boosting total electric output of the plant.

Specifically, the council recommended the Department of Energy begin a “dialogue” with EPA, with the goal of returning to the traditional pre-1998 interpretation of the new source review section of Clean Air, and of promoting coordinated regulations for ozone attainment into a single compliance strategy.

It also asked DOE to begin discussions with EPA and industry to establish “credible and uniform emissions targets” for a sufficient period in the future to insure electricity generators can achieve a return on investments for performance and environmental improvements.