August 8, 2019 Read More →

Utilities reaping financial benefits from coal plant closures and turn toward renewables

S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):

Power generators across the U.S. are not only sticking to plans to retire coal-fired power plants despite the pro-coal Trump administration, they are touting the cost savings of doing so while pushing a further transition away from the fuel.

Several utilities with the largest planned coal plant retirements confirmed they are not changing course after the administration finished the Affordable Clean Energy in mid-June, S&P Global Market Intelligence recently reported. Retiring coal plants and investing in other forms of generation is helping utilities across the country hit their own emission reduction targets while mitigating some of the risks coming from increased scrutiny around climate change, a review of power generators’ second-quarter earnings calls so far suggests.

About 9.7 GW of coal capacity is expected to retire in 2019 alone, nearly as much as the 13.5 GW that came offline in 2018 when power generators recorded the second-highest level of coal retirements completed in recent decades. With natural gas prices at 20-year lows and showing no signs of increasing significantly in the near term, pressure on coal generators is likely to continue.

“You know there was once a time when we had to make a sucker’s choice between clean and expensive energy or the cheap and dirty stuff,” said CMS Energy Corp. President and CEO Patricia Poppe on a July 25 call. “That just isn’t true anymore.”

The Michigan Public Service Commission recently signed off on a CMS Energy plan that sets a path for the retirement of the company’s coal plants while adding 6,000 MW of solar energy in the longer term. The result, Poppe said, is not a “trade-off” but a “trade-up” as the transition supports “affordable bills, a cleaner environment and a higher quality mix of earnings.”

WEC Energy Group Inc. Executive Chairman Gale Klappa said recent coal-fired power plant closures decreased the company’s operating and maintenance cost by an estimated $100 million on an annual basis. The utility recently shut down three of its less efficient coal-fired power plants in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.

More ($): US power generators reporting savings, other benefits from phasing out coal


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