U.S. coal-fired electric power dying fast!
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a revised forecast for coal-fired electric power plant retirements on Friday. It’s way up from just a couple months ago.
The revised projection is for 60 gigawatts (GW) of coal generated electric capacity to be retired by 2020 instead of the previous December prediction of 43 GW. In 2012, coal supplied 309 GW of total electricity generating capacity for the United States.
The EIA credits three things for the increase in coal retirements:
- MATS (Mercury & Air Toxics Standards) enforcement in 2016
- Rise of cost competitive natural gas
- Low demand due to the Great Recession
MATS is an Obama Administration EPA initiative began in Feb. 2009. MATS has been designed, approved and goes into effect in April 2015 with a built-in one year grace period. MATS applies to all new coal-fired power plants coming online.
It requires plant operators to install expensive scrubbers to reduce toxic chemical pollution. Ninety percent of coal retirements before 2020 are expected to be done by 2016 because of MATS.
MATS, though, only accelerates a private-sector, market driven conversion from coal-fired to natural gas-fired electric power plants made possible by the shale gas revolution. Eco-friendly natural gas doesn’t have coal’s toxic emissions.
The exodus from coal began in 2007. It’s informative to compare scheduled electric plant retirements with planned new ones. Only one electricity source shows a decline – coal! It’s a big decline, too.
Natural gas will supply the bulk of new electric plant capacity coming online in the near term. Nuclear, wind and solar will also make contributions.
The few new coal plants coming online or planned use CSS (carbon capture and storage) technology. CCS has never been proven feasible in full scale commercial plants. The ones being built are behind schedule and among the most expensive electric power plants ever built.
EPA is considering new regulations to reduce coal-fired plant carbon dioxide emissions by half. That is expected to be approved. When that happens CCS will be required. EPA is considering requiring it and MATS on existing plants, too. Then coal will no longer be cost competitive.
Even in 2020, though, existing coal electric plants will still supply 32 percent of all U.S. electricity. Coal isn’t going away anytime soon, but the writing is on the wall.