Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rising number of coal-fired plants slated for closure are newer facilities; too soon to call it a trend

While many shuttered U.S. coal-fired plants have been older facilities, a rising number of plants scheduled for closure are newer, Benjamin Storrow reports for Climatewire. Of the five coal plants utilities have announced plans to close since the start of 2017, "four boast a generating capacity greater than 1,000 megawatts, and all were built after 1970. By comparison, eight plants out of more than 150 retired between 2010 and 2015 listed generation capacity over 1,000 MW, according to an E&E News review of federal figures. All those larger facilities came online after 1970."

"Experts say it is too soon to say whether the upcoming retirements constitute a trend," Storrow writes. "The sample size is too small and, in some cases, the announcements are so recent that the plant's fate has yet to be finalized. It nevertheless represents a troubling development for an industry battered by years of low wholesale power prices, tepid demand and increasing competition from natural gas and renewables."

"The upcoming closures represent a stark change from previous coal plant retirements," Storrow reports. "Many of the plants to retire in recent years were among the oldest and least efficient in the generating fleet. While U.S. coal generation fell by 28 percent between 2012 and 2015, 5 percent of that decline was attributable to the 238 coal units closed over that period, according to researchers at Columbia University. Much of that decline, they found, was attributable to reduced electricity demand and coal plant running times."

"Even the largest plants to close between 2010 and 2015 were relatively old by industry standards," he writes. "Six of the eight plants with capacity greater than 1,000 MW began operating in the 1950s. The other two began operating in the 1960s. The plants' advanced age made compliance with U.S. EPA's Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) costly. In all eight cases, utilities cited compliance with federal air quality rules as the reason for the shutdowns."

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