Emboldened by Trump’s efforts to roll back climate regulations on fossil fuels, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) says it is in talks with an unnamed state’s governor and lawmakers about providing incentives for a power company to plan a new coal-fired facility.
“I don’t think any of this is going to happen overnight,” said Paul Bailey, ACCCE’s president and CEO. “There are a lot of discussions and steps to go through to build a new coal plant.”
Bailey said his group is “optimistic” about preserving the existing coal fleet but is also encouraging several states to consider new coal plants. ACCCE is also hammering out federal policy proposals that could support coal.
ACCCE’s push comes as existing coal plants are struggling to compete against abundant natural gas and increasingly cheap renewable power. Plants started shutting down before the Obama administration proposed greenhouse gas cuts. Even though Trump will not implement regulations like the Clean Power Plan, a new coal plant is meant to last for about 40 years and could run up against climate rules from a future administration.
That’s why building a new plant would be a steep uphill battle, according to analysts who study power markets.
“It’s a pretty tough sell,” said Philip Smyth, senior director in Fitch Ratings’ utilities group. “Utilities are looking for ways to save plants they already have in the ground, never mind building new ones.”
Still, under Trump, ACCCE sees a window to tout the benefits of coal in help Trump’s actions may have minor impacts on the direction of the power sector, keeping some coal plants from closing as quickly. But they are likely to exacerbate a long-standing political and technical debate over how much coal-fired power the grid needs to function smoothly.
Solar and wind, which are carbon-free but work only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, go well with gas. While advances in battery storage for renewable power aren’t fully developed yet, new techniques and technologies are making it possible for them to run at higher levels.
Overall, “gas can plug that need to manage the grid as well as coal,” and can do it more cheaply, Smyth said
Grid organizations like the PJM Interconnection in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest take all of these things into consideration when they study impacts on electricity delivery.
To explore these issues, PJM recently released its first fuel mix report, which showed that the regional grid could operate reliably without coal, using up to 86 percent natural gas or up to 20 percent solar power, under different scenarios.
Right now, PJM uses about one-third natural gas, one-third coal and 18 percent nuclear power. The rest of its electricity comes from hydropower and renewables.
Coal lobby says it is exploring building new U.S. plant