Electricity Supply:

Older Plants' Impact on Reliability and Air Quality

RCED-90-200: Published: Sep 10, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 12, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed electric utilities' life extension plans for older fossil fuel power plants and examined the effects of life extension on the reliability of the nation's power supply and air quality.

GAO found that: (1) the number of fossil fuel generating units over 30 years of age will increase from approximately 2,500 in 1989 to roughly 3,700 in 1998, and their share of generating capacity will increase from 13 percent in 1989 to 27 percent in 1998; (2) plants accounting for about one-third of the total generating capacity of fossil fuel plants could undergo life extension by the year 2000; (3) proposed acid rain control legislation could discourage life extension projects; (4) utilities' plans to construct plants will produce only one-third of the additional capacity needed by 2000; (5) while life extension programs would be more cost-effective than building new plants, the long term success of such programs was uncertain; (6) if life extension does not achieve its goal, electric supply could be impaired; (7) older plants exempt from the Clean Air Act emitted 88 percent of total sulfur dioxide emissions and 79 percent of total nitrogen oxide emissions; (8) more stringent emission requirements for currently exempt plants would eliminate those that pollute the most, but could adversely affect electricity supply in the short term; and (9) more stringent emission requirements would increase electricity production costs.

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