Renewable Roundup: Coal plant closures in the coronavirus era

  • Published on May 9th, 2020

I have mentioned that some of the usual suspects think that the public will demand more expensive and more polluting power in response to the coronavirus pandemic. I am delighted to have facts to report, showing that this turns out not to be the case.

300 dirty coal plants shut down in 10 years

By Mokurai

Of course, it was malarkey all along. We knew that coal was dying. But we have to step back sometimes to take it all in.

So far, COVID-19 fallout not altering plans to retire US coal-fired plants

In 2019, U.S. power generators retired 13,863 MW of coal-fired generation, the highest amount of coal capacity retired since 2015 when new mercury regulations drove the retirement of 15,124 MW of coal-fired capacity, an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis shows. As of April 17, generators had 9,038 MW worth of capacity slated for retirement in 2020 and another 23,010 MW of coal capacity set to retire between 2021 and the end of 2025.

In April, renewables generated more electricity than coal every day of the month, the first time that has happened in the U.S., an analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recently pointed out. Lower power demand due to the coronavirus pandemic is one of several reasons the transition away from coal has accelerated in 2020, the group added in a May 4 news release.

Here, have some more.

Future planned coal plant retirements

Looming Coal and Nuclear Plant Closures Put ‘Just Transition … — Greentech Media

4 days ago – In Europe, the fate of displaced power plant workers is increasingly a matter of national concern. So far, things look very different in the U.S..

Coal-Fired Power Plants Hit a Milestone in Reduced Operation — Inside Climate News

Mar 9, 2020 – Costlier to Close a Coal Plant Than to Keep it Open

The plant’s owner, American Electric Power, said last year that it will shut down one of the plant’s two generating units in 2028, reducing the plant’s capacity to 1,300 megawatts. The decision was part of a continuing legal settlement over AEP’s emissions.

US power generators set for another big year in coal plant … — SPGlobal

Jan 13, 2020 – Coal plant operators in the PJM Interconnection have retired more than 18,800 MW of coal capacity since 2014 with more than 3,100 MW of shuttered coal plants on the horizon. The Midcontinent ISO will have shut down 20,433 MW of coal capacity between 2014 and 2025 based on completed, approved and announced retirements.

Coal-fired power plants closing at near-record pace: report

An estimated 39,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plant capacity has shut down since Trump took office in 2017, according to Reuters.

About 46,600 megawatts could be reportedly shut down in Trump’s first four years in office if the trend continues, which would be more than the approximately 43,100 megawatts during former President Obama’s second term.

Minnesota’s Great River Energy closing coal plant, switching …

The Maple Grove-based company Thursday announced the closure of Coal Creek Station — one of the Upper Midwest’s largest power plants …

North Dakota’s largest coal-fired power plant will shut down in 2022 unless new buyer can be found

… plant in the state to natural gas, the latest casualty in a string of closures as power companies find alternatives more attractive than coal.

Great River Energy Closing North Dakota Coal-Fired Plant; Replacing With Wind Energy

Doug Burgum called the closure of the Coal Creek Station … North Dakota has seven coal-fueled electric power plants and a factory that …

Looming Coal and Nuclear Plant Closures Put ‘Just Transition’ Concept to the Test

The coronavirus pandemic has not changed the grim reality facing workers at coal and nuclear power plants in the U.S. and Europe. How those …

A coal-fired power plant closed. Another cleaned up. What happened next to asthma attacks

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The researchers found that there were nearly 400 fewer hospital admissions or emergency room visits for asthma attacks in Louisville in the year following the closure and the addition of pollution controls.Tapping into data from an earlier research project, the researchers also found a 17% drop in the use of inhalers by 207 asthma patients in the month after additional scrubbers were installed at Mill Creek in 2016.

Hospital Visits Declined After Sulfur Dioxide Reductions from Louisville-Area Coal Plants


A new study found a 55 percent reduction in lung-irritating pollutants and 400 fewer hospital admissions after one coal plant closed and others added scrubbers.

The findings come at a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been attacking the science used to establish federal air pollution regulations that have helped cities like Louisville clean up their historically dirty and deadly air quality.

The research also has implications for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which amounts to another “natural experiment” where air quality has been suddenly improved—this time, because large sectors of the global economy have shut down.

Coal Suffers as Coronavirus Saps Power Demand

The slowdown is expected to accelerate closures of plants already challenged to compete with natural gas, wind and solar sources, all cheaper [hit paywall here]

Utility giant Duke Energy reports first significant drop in carbon emissions since 2015

There were no major coal plant closures in 2019, though Duke has been retrofitting some coal units to burn a mixture of coal and natural gas.

Sweden becomes the third European country to close its last coal power plant

… its last coal power plant, Sweden has followed suit with the closure of Stockholm Exergi AB’s Värtaverket plant, two years ahead of schedule.

Yes, we took a look at that just recently, didn’t we?

PA carbon cap and fee plan projected to cut emissions, hasten coal closures

Modeling performed for the state Department of Environmental Protection and released on Thursday predicts that a large share of Pennsylvania’s remaining coal-fired power generation would be priced out of the market once plants have to buy credits for each ton of carbon they emit, beginning in 2022.

Mar 31, 2020 —Large electricity generators use lots of water to cool their coal-fired plants. As those units shut down, expect to see battles heat up over how the massive amounts of water can be repurposed.

Now, if we could just get some back into the Colorado River, enough so it could flow to the Gulf of California…

Kentucky coal plant closure spells doom for struggling industry — Fox Business

Mar 24, 2020 — President Donald Trump tried to stop it from happening. The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, did too.

Despite their best efforts to make good on Trump’s campaign promise to save the beleaguered coal industry, including an eleventh-hour pressure campaign, the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant at Paradise burned its last load of coal last month.

Since 2010, 500 coal-burning units, or boilers, at power plants have been shut down and nearly half the nation’s coal mines have closed. No U.S. energy company, big or small, is building a new coal-burning plant. Employment in the U.S. coal industry is the lowest in decades.

US coal-fired power plants are decommissioning —  EIA

Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2019, U.S. power companies announced the retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling about 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. Plant owners intend to retire another 17 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. After a coal unit retires, the power plant site goes through a complex, multi-year process that includes decommissioning, remediation, and redevelopment.

Coal-fired power plants in the United States remain under significant economic pressure. Many plant owners have retired their coal-fired units because of relatively flat electricity demand growth and increased competition from natural gas and renewables. In 2018, plant owners retired more than 13 GW of coal-fired generation capacity, which is the second-highest annual total for U.S. coal retirements in EIA’s dataset; the highest total for coal retirements, at 15 GW, occurred in 2015.

Coal power plants in the U.S. are closing. Here are the companies sticking with coal — LA Times

Feb 4, 2020 — January 2020 began with two coal-fired generators in Montana shutting down for good. A few days later, a subsidiary of billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway committed to closing a coal unit in Arizona this year. The same week, an electric cooperative based in Colorado also pledged to shutter a New Mexico coal plant by the end of 2020.

Two weeks after that, Arizona’s biggest utility promised to retire its last coal plant seven years ahead of schedule.

There are just 20 coal plants in the continental West whose owners haven’t committed to fully retiring them by specific dates, data compiled by the Sierra Club and additional research by The Times show. That’s compared to 49 coal-burning generating stations with units that are slated for closure or have shut down since 2010.

More than half the coal plants without retirement dates are in Montana, Utah and Wyoming — states led by fossil fuel-friendly politicians with little or no regulation requiring cleaner energy. Some of those facilities were built relatively recently and have access to dirt-cheap coal from the Powder River Basin, meaning continuing to operate them is less expensive than transitioning to renewable power, according to Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.

Godby pointed to Dry Fork Station near Gillette, which opened in 2011 and may prove to be the last coal plant ever built in the West. The facility is majority-owned by the nonprofit Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which serves customers in nine states. Godby said Dry Fork “has won awards for being the lowest-cost electricity producer in the country.”

New York’s Last Coal-Fired Power Plant Is Closing – The New York Times

Mar 20, 2020 — Here in the northwest corner of New York, about an hour’s drive from Buffalo, the story is of the plant’s unusually close-knit workplace gradually dissolving over the past decade; of a school district banking for survival on the plant owner’s experimental new business model; and of nearby residents debating whether solar-panel farms and wind turbines should be the landmarks of the future.

The plant’s closure is also an early test of the state’s new climate law, one of the most ambitious in the nation, and whether it can get buy-in from some of the most affected New Yorkers.

The law, passed last year, is supposed to transform the state’s energy grid to carbon-free by 2040, something officials say cannot be done without eliminating coal power. The state has separately committed to eliminating it this year.

Mapped: The world’s coal power plants

Since 2000, the world has doubled its coal-fired power capacity to around 2,045 gigawatts (GW) after explosive growth in China and India. A further 200GW is being built and 300GW is planned.

More recently, 268GW has closed due to a wave of retirements across the EU and US. Combined with a rapid slowdown in the number of new plants being built, this means the number of coal units operating around the world fell for the first time in 2018, Carbon Brief analysis suggests.

Another 213GW is already set to retire and 19 of the world’s 80 coal-powered countries plan a complete phaseout of the fuel, including the UK and Germany.

Meanwhile, electricity generated from coal has plateaued since 2014, so the expanding fleet is running fewer hours. This erodes coal’s bottom line, as does competition from other fuels. It would now be cheaper to build new wind and solar than to keep running half of existing coal plants.

The way coal’s next chapter unfolds is key to tackling climate change. Global unabated coal use must fall by around 80% this decade if warming is to be limited to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, according to recent Carbon Brief analysis.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

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