Sierra Club says one third of U.S. coal plants now doomed

The Sierra Club, which for years has pushed a Beyond Coal Campaign at governmental bodies, including state utilities commissions, said Dec. 6 that its latest tally shows that one-third of all coal-fired power plants in the country are now scheduled for retirement.

The club said that is a significant milestone in the effort to move the country beyond coal by no later than 2030. The latest announcements, coming this week from Maryland and Pennsylvania, bring the total up to 158 of the nation’s 523 coal-fired power plants, the club said.

“As the country invests in more clean energy, polluting coal plants are now obsolete,” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies which has contributed $50m to Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Every American will benefit from the retirement of these 158 coal plants with cleaner air, lower healthcare costs, and less climate-disrupting pollution. Make no mistake – coal is going away for good.”

“When the Beyond Coal campaign began in 2010, few people could have imagined that within four years, this country would revolutionize the way that it produces and uses energy,” said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign.

“America is at a transformative moment in its history,” Nilles continued. “We’re fundamentally changing the way we power the country. But it’s a feat that would have been impossible without the continued dedication of our allied and partner organizations, community members, local groups and citizens who are fighting for a cleaner environment.”

The Beyond Coal Campaign, which began in January 2010, is committed to replacing coal with cleaner energy by mobilizing grassroots activists in local communities.

As utilities and energy companies realize that coal is an increasingly bad investment, they are transitioning their resources to cleaner, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, the club said. The price of solar panels has dropped 80% in three years, and the cost of wind has dropped 90% over the last decade. As a result, companies like Xcel Energy’s (NYSE: XEL) utility subidiary in Colorado, which will triple the amount of solar and wind that it’s bringing online, are increasingly investing in homegrown renewable energy solutions, the club pointed out.

The club didn’t specify what new coal plant retirements triggered its Dec. 6 statement. Apparently it is a reference to a Dec. 5 updated pending plant deactivation list put out by PJM Interconnection showing 1,349 MW of new coal-fired capacity, mostly in Maryland, that were covered by recent requests for deactivation.

NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) requested deactivation as of May 31, 2017, of Units 1-3 at the Dickerson plant in Maryland. For these three units, PJM gave the capacities as 182 MW apiece. The GenerationHub database shows that these are the only coal-fired units at this plant. Also located at the site are three oil- and gas-fired turbines.

NRG also requested deactivation as of May 31, 2017, of Chalk Point Unit 1 (337 MW) and Unit 2 (341 MW) in Maryland. Again, the GenerationHub database shows these as the only coal units at that plant, with the rest of the plant being made up of nine oil-fired turbines. Note that some units at both Chalk Point and Dickerson are dual-fueled and can fire both oil and gas.

Also, on Nov. 14, the AES Beaver Valley subsidiary of AES Corp. (NYSE: AES) requested approval from PJM of the June 1, 2016, deactivation of its 125-MW coal-fired power plant in western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.

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.