The Cost of EPA’s Senseless CO2 Capture

by Frits Byron Soepyan at

In April 24, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) passed a new rule that would require coal power plants that plan to continue operating after January 1, 2039, and new natural gas power plants that plan to begin operation on or after 2035 to capture at least 90% of their CO2 emissions.

How much would this cost? And is it worth it?

Well, as they say, we ran the numbers. Thankfully, researchers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have provided the cost and performance estimates for retrofitting an existing coal power plant with Shell’s CANSOLV CO2 capture system.

For the performance and cost estimates, I will use the NETL estimates for 90% carbon capture. (Here, I am using the term “carbon capture,” rather than “CO2 capture,” because NETL uses the mass of carbon, rather than the mass of CO2, in its calculations.)

Before the retrofit, NETL’s baseline coal power plant had a net output of 650 megawatts (MW). But after retrofitting it with the CO2 capture system, the power output was reduced by 24% to 495 MW. In terms of money, the retrofit cost is about $988 million, or about $2 million/MW of net power output.

What do these numbers mean for the United States?

Based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of March 2024, the United States has 148 coal power plants in operation in the electric utility sector, with an average capacity of about 139,000 MW. Of these, 36 plants plan to retire completely on or before December 2040 and 8 plants plan to retire at least one steam turbine on or before December 2034, but not entirely. Taking the difference of 148 and 36, there are 112 coal power plants in the United States without any planned retirement year, having a total average capacity of about 96,000 MW.

Using the NETL estimates, if we were to retrofit these 112 coal power plants to enable 90% carbon capture, the 24% net power output reduction would bring electricity production down to about 73,000 MW. Applying the retrofit cost of about $2 million/MW of net power output to the plants’ reduced power output, we arrive at a projected cost of about $146 billion.

Keep in mind, these estimates are only for coal power plants. We haven’t even gotten to retrofitting natural gas power plans, nor have we addressed the cost of replacing the tens of thousands of megawatts lost in the 24% production decrease of converted plants.

And what about constructing brand new natural gas power plants? How much would that cost?