Potential impacts of 316(B) regulatory controls on economics, electricity reliability, and the environment. Page: 4 of 14
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POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF 316(B) REGULATORY CONTROLS
ON ECONOMICS, ELECTRICITY RELIABILITY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
John A. Veil
Argonne National Laboratory
955 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Suite 6000
Washington, DC 20024
Nearly half of the U.S. utility-owned steam electric generating capacity is cooled by once-
through cooling systems. These plants withdraw cooling water primarily from surface water
bodies. Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires that the location, design, construction,
and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available (BTA) for
minimizing adverse environmental impacts. At present, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has not yet promulgated applicable implementing regulations governing intake
structures; however, the Agency is required by a Consent Decree to develop such regulations.
EPA has presented a draft tiered regulatory framework approach that, depending on site-specific
factors, may impose various regulatory burdens on affected utilities. Potential new requirements
could range from compiling and submitting existing data to demonstrate that existing conditions
at each unit represent best technology available (BTA) to retrofitting plants with closed-cycle
cooling systems (primarily cooling towers). If the final regulations require installation of cooling
towers or implementation of other costly plant modifications, utilities may elect to close some
generating units rather than invest the funds necessary to upgrade them to meet the 316(b)
requirements. Potentially, some regions of the country may then have a higher proportion of
closed units than others, leading to a concern over the reliability of those regions' electricity
supply. If a significant number of plants convert from once-through cooling systems to cooling
towers, the environment will face secondary adverse impacts, such as additional fuel usage, air
emissions, and water evaporation, and utilities will need to construct additional generating
capacity. This paper describes a study that Argonne National Laboratory will conduct for the
U.S. Department of Energy to explore some of the potential outcomes of EPA's 316(b)
regulatory process and their impact on economics, electricity supply reliability, and the
Use of Cooling Water
Water is used in many industrial applications for cooling machinery or for condensing steam.
The largest industrial user of cooling water is the steam electric power industry. A 1996
summary of cooling systems at utility-owned power plants' reports that 44 percent of U.S.
steam-electric generating capacity utilizes once-through cooling systems. Once-through cooling
systems withdraw large volumes of water from a river, lake, estuary, or ocean, pump the water
through the condenser, and return it to the same or a nearby body of water. About 50 percent of
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Veil, J. A. Potential impacts of 316(B) regulatory controls on economics, electricity reliability, and the environment., article, March 19, 1999; Illinois. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc620772/m1/4/: accessed July 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.