August 24, 2017 Read More →

What U.S. Coal Recovery?

Gas to Power Journal:

Rebuking reports about a recovery of U.S. coal industry, IEEFA energy data analyst Seth Feaster stressed that in actual fact coal companies keep losing money. AEP, one of the country’s largest electric utilities, just purchased a wind farm while it is looking to retire, or sell two coal power plants by 2022.

Nicholas Akins, AEP chairman and CEO, announced in the second-quarter earnings call that the company would buy a 2,000-MW, 800-turbine wind farm to be built in the Oklahoma panhandle, along with a 350-mile high-voltage transmission line to bring the power east. All done with a view to diversifying the utility’s fuel mix and expected earnings from wind power.

Asked about coal, Akins pointed at AEP’s efforts to persuade the Ohio legislature to enact income guarantees to bail out two of its failing coal-fired plants there.

Coal-fired power generation once made up nearly half of AEP’s installed capacity, but now the utility plans to retire the J.M. Stuart coal power plant (2,318 MW) in Ohio by the end of 2018, and either retire or sell coal-fired units in that state at the Conesville and Cardinal plants by 2022.

“Coal-fired power has gotten so uneconomical that even coal-mining companies can’t make it work,” Mr Feaster writes with reference to Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal, which built and recently owned two now-mothballed coal-fired units in Weldon, N.C., at the 230-MW Roanoke Valley Energy Facility (ROVA), built in 1994-95.

Yet, as of late the North Carolina plant was losing money. Once the operator realized more than a year ago that the value of the plant was effectively “zero,” they wrote them off to $133.1 million at the end of 2015, and got approval to deactivate the plants from PJM, the regional grid operator effective March 1, 2017. Earlier this month Westmoreland sold the plant for $5 million.

Quoting public filings by U.S. energy and mining companies, Feaster writes that Foresight Energy lost $16.3 million in the second quarter of this year, Westmoreland lost $21 million. Furthermore, Cloud Peak lost $6.9 million and Contura pulled its coal IPO in mid-August allegedly because it “could not generate enough investor interest in it.”

($) Critics questions ‘recovery’ of U.S. coal power utilities

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