January 2, 2019 Read More →

U.S. coal power plant retirements in 2018 topped 14GW

E&E News ($):

A funny thing happened during an unusually cold period in November. Eastern coal generation fell compared with the year before. Normally, falling temperatures would prompt power companies to fire up their coal plants. Not in 2018.

The experience sums up the industry’s challenges. Even as coal prices rose and exports boomed last year, coal plant retirements flirted with all-time highs. About 5 percent of the U.S. coal fleet flicked offline in 2018, making it the second-highest year ever for coal plant retirements.

The shutdowns defined the industry’s year. President Trump tried and failed to subsidize faltering coal-burning facilities. Utility coal consumption fell to a multidecade low. And power companies announced ambitious plans to close coal plants early and slash carbon emissions.

“I think one of the major stories is there seems to be a watershed moment for utilities and their thinking about the future,” said Matt Preston, who tracks the coal industry at Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy. “It seems that the utilities have embraced a carbonless future and proposed drastic emissions reductions. That is a huge turnaround in thinking.”

The retirements are all the more notable given the Trump administration’s attempt to reverse the industry’s decline. The Department of Energy proposed subsidizing coal and nuclear plants that stored fuel on-site, only to see its plan shot down by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Yet the shutdowns continued. Power companies closed some 14 gigawatts of coal capacity at 20 plants in 2018, a figure that does not include plants that were idled or switched to natural gas.

More: Coal got clobbered in 2018. Here’s the damage

 

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