Brattle report looks at power price impacts of PJM coal retirements

Economists at The Brattle Group released a report on Dec. 5 that examines the likely causes and magnitudes of the feedback effects of coal plant retirements on short- and long-term wholesale electricity prices.

Using a case study for the eastern PJM Interconnection region, the study estimates the potential increase in energy prices due solely to the impacts of retired units withdrawn from the power supply curve to be around $3-4/MWh for on-peak hours and $1-2/MWh for off-peak hours. If natural gas prices also rise due to increased usage of gas-fired plants from replacing some of the generation from the retiring coal plants, the total impact on energy prices could be as much as $9-11/MWh for on-peak hours and $5-6/MWh for off-peak hours, Brattle noted.

Although many studies have projected the amount of likely coal plant retirements and retrofits due to new environmental regulations, the implications of such supply shifts on wholesale energy and capacity prices and the related market feedback effects on plant economics have rarely been investigated, Brattle added. It is likely that reduced supply for electricity generation, increased operating costs, and changes in fuel demands will drive up market prices. Also, because of the uncertainty and time frames for these retirement decisions, not all of these impacts are currently reflected in public forecasts or market forward prices.

“Some feedback effects may already be partly reflected in forward prices, but likely not with strong certainty, because the environmental policies and market participants’ responses are not yet fully known,” said Frank Graves, a Brattle principal and co-author of the study. “Moreover, retirement versus retrofit studies often evaluate whether the plants at risk are profitable at expected market prices, without considering that if enough plants retire, the market prices themselves may increase. Thus, there may be a few dollars/MWh of risk in forward prices that could move either way depending on pending rule resolutions and market responses.”

In addition to energy price impacts of coal plant retirements, the study includes a qualitative assessment of impacts on capacity prices. The report said:

  • The first effect would be to reduce the total supply of capacity in that region until replacement resources come online, hence reducing the reserve margins. This would tend to increase the capacity prices in the short to medium term.
  • The second effect of retirements would be to decrease net Cost of New Entry (CONE) in capacity markets as a result of the higher energy prices. This would tend to decrease the long-run equilibrium price of capacity until the energy price impacts of retirements disappear.

The study also notes that other waves of entry or exit, such as large commitments to renewables, or early retirements of nuclear units, could trigger similar feedback effects. 

The study, “Coal Plant Retirements: Feedback Effects on Wholesale Electricity Prices,” is a follow up to Brattle’s coal retirement forecast report from October 2012 and was co-authored by Brattle principals Metin Celebi and Frank Graves, and associate Onur Aydin.

Overall, in the October 2012 study, Brattle projected PJM and the Midcontinent ISO to have the largest amounts of coal plant retirements. In the PJM region, it estimated 14 GW to 21 GW of coal capacity to retire in the next five years or so, compared to about 20 GW of capacity that had already announced retirements. This was largely consistent with PJM’s estimated 11 GW to 25 GW range for the coal capacity “at risk” of retirements in its August 2011 study. The Brattle projections corresponded to 18%-27% of existing coal capacity and 8-11% of total generation capacity in PJM.

The Brattle Group provides consulting services and expert testimony in economics and finance to corporations, law firms, and public agencies worldwide.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.