How will new environmental rules affect Brunner Island?

David Weissman
The Brunner Island coal-burning power plant in York Haven was the third-largest source of a smog-causing pollutant in Pennsylvania in 2011, according to a Sierra Club report released this year.  (John A. Pavoncello -

Recently announced state and federal environmental regulations aimed at coal mining and methane emissions aren't causing concern for Brunner Island Power Plant, according to its owners.

Talen Energy, owner of York County's only coal-burning power plant, has no reason to believe the Obama administration's coal moratorium or Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's methane-reducing efforts will affect operations at the York Haven plant, according to spokesman Todd Martin.

President Barack Obama's administration recently imposed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change, according to the Associated Press.

Tom Schuster, a spokesman for The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, agreed with Martin's assessment that the moratorium wouldn't affect Brunner Island because Pennsylvania plants mostly get their coal from privately owned lands in the Appalachian Mountains, he said.

Wolf recently announced a strategy to reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and has been linked to health issues. His strategies are aimed at reducing emissions from natural gas well sites, processing facilities, compressor stations and along pipelines, according to his administration's press release.

While Brunner Island doesn't currently burn natural gas, Talen Energy announced a $100 million project last June to turn the plant into a co-fire plant, meaning its three units could run off coal, the cleaner-burning natural gas or both. The company is hoping to complete the project by early 2017.

Martin stressed that Wolf's initiative is still just in the proposal phase, but he said Talen doesn't see any current impact on Brunner Island.

"We will be working to actively understand what's being proposed and be active and participate in any discussions," Martin said. "As we sit here today, I don't want to speculate on the future."

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Neil Shader wrote in an email that Wolf's proposals, while reducing emissions, would also ensure more gas is reaching the market, "creating dependable and consistent supplies for facilities like Brunner Island."

Schuster said the potential regulations may affect the price of natural gas, but "it won't be that much."

The federal Clean Power Plan, which Pennsylvania is mandated to submit a plan for by September and have implemented by 2022, should impact Brunner Island much more than any other regulations, Schuster said.

The plan will likely require plants to purchase allowances on carbon emissions, which Schuster said would put Brunner Island at a disadvantage compared to newer, more efficient gas plants and clean energy sources.

The magnitude of its effect will depend on how the state structures its plan, but Schuster said the combination of efforts to clean our air, more competition and reductions in energy waste point to the eventual end of the coal-burning plant.

Adding the ability to burn natural gas might keep Brunner online for a few more years, but Schuster said he'd be surprised if the plant lasts much longer than 10 more years.

"Our focus is to continue to safely operate (Brunner Island), deliver reliable energy in an efficient manner and, in doing so, deliver value to our customers and shareholders," Martin said.

—Reach David Weissman at