December 20, 2017 Read More →

6 Major Plant Closures in 2017 Emblematic of U.S. Coal Industry’s Troubles


We Energies is Wisconsin’s largest utility, with more than 2.2 million customers, and coal supplied 50.6% of its total generation capacity in 2015. This November, the utility decided to close its 1.2 GW Pleasant Prairie coal plant in early 2018, despite having only been in operation since 1985 and undergoing $325 million on pollution controls in recent years. The plant routinely operated at reduced capacity in recent years, and did not operate at all for three months this spring.

In early October, competitive power provider Luminant, which operates nearly 18 GW of Texas generation, announced it would close the 1.8 GW Monticello Power Plant by January 2018 due to ERCOT’s “unprecedented low power price environment.”

A week later, Luminant announced it would close two “economically challenged” coal plants with 2.3 GW capacity due to low wholesale power prices, abundant renewables, and low natural gas prices. All told, within a week, Luminant decided to close 4.1 GW installed coal capacity – roughly 12% of Texas’ total coal power capacity.

Missouri’s largest utility, Ameren Missouri, announced in late September it would invest $1 billion in 700 MW of new wind capacity and 100 MW new solar by 2020 while closing half its coal fleet as part of an initiative to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. Coal power currently makes up 5.3 GW of Ameren’s 10.2 GW generation capacity, and the utility only has 11 MW total renewables capacity today. “We expect this tremendous growth in wind generation to provide great value to our customers, who will save money on energy costs,” said CEO Michael Moehn.

In late August Xcel Energy, which relies on coal for 46% of its Colorado power supply, announced it would close two units of the Comanche Generation Station totaling 660 MW of capacity by 2025. Xcel will replace that generation with up to $2.5 billion investment in 1 GW of wind and 700 MW of solar, along with other resources. This trend is not new for Xcel – the utility has closed multiple Colorado coal plants totaling 1.1 GW since 2011 – but what is new is that these closures happened for economic reasons, not environmental.

New Mexico’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), released its 2017-2023 integrated resource plan (IRP) in April to examine future scenarios and determine which power mix could meet its expected demand at lowest cost. The results were surprising for a utility that served its 510,000 customers with 56% coal in its total generation portfolio in 2015: PNM’s best option for low-cost and reliable power was to start retiring coal in 2022, completely end coal generation by 2031, and replace it with solar energy, natural gas, and energy storage, along with expanded transmission to cheap wind power in eastern New Mexico.

Utilities Closed Dozens of Coal Plants In 2017. Here Are The 6 Most Important.

Comments are closed.