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Environ Sci Technol. 2013 May 7;47(9):4926-33. doi: 10.1021/es4001642. Epub 2013 Apr 4.

Fuel prices, emission standards, and generation costs for coal vs natural gas power plants.

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  • 1Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


Low natural gas prices and stricter, federal emission regulations are promoting a shift away from coal power plants and toward natural gas plants as the lowest-cost means of generating electricity in the United States. By estimating the cost of electricity generation (COE) for 304 coal and 358 natural gas plants, we show that the economic viability of 9% of current coal capacity is challenged by low natural gas prices, while another 56% would be challenged by the stricter emission regulations. Under the current regulations, coal plants would again become the dominant least-cost generation option should the ratio of average natural gas to coal prices (NG2CP) rise to 1.8 (it was 1.42 in February 2012). If the more stringent emission standards are enforced, however, natural gas plants would remain cost competitive with a majority of coal plants for NG2CPs up to 4.3.

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