Report points out the dangers of nationwide coal plant shutdowns

The Institute for Energy Research on June 25 released a report assessing the implications of the federal government’s “anti-coal” policies.

The report, “Protect the American People: Moratorium on Coal Plant Closures Essential,” was co-authored by Dr. Roger Bezdek and Dr. Frank Clemente and comes in the wake of the EPA’s newly proposed greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants, which will force electricity providers to reduce their emissions of CO2.  

“This report offers fact-based evidence to illustrate why the United States should not abandon coal as a primary source for electricity. The EPA’s latest proposal will send electricity prices through the roof—inflicting the most harm on the elderly, the poor, those on fixed incomes, businesses, families, schools, and hospitals. I compliment Dr. Bezdek and Dr. Clemente for bringing these issues to light,” IER President Thomas Pyle said.

Pyle added: “Our electric grid has been called the most complex machine ever made. When Americans flip a switch they expect their lights to come on. During the hot summer months they can count on their air conditioning to cool their homes. The Obama administration’s anti-coal policies threaten our electric grid and our way of life by promoting policies that deliberately cut one of our most abundant, affordable, and reliable sources of electricity. This report should serve as a wake up call that their policies are already having profound impacts, and when combined with a flurry of new regulations, the way forward for Americans may include an electric system that is not there when we need it.” 

The report calls for an immediate moratorium on closure of coal plants to protect reliability, maintain affordability and security of the energy system for families and businesses. Key findings include:

  • Policies that hurt the U.S. coal fleet will significantly increase wholesale electric rates – and could increase them by as much as 80%;
  • Anti-coal policies harm those who can least afford it – low income families, minorities, children and the elderly;
  • By taking coal out of the U.S. energy mix, huge price increases for other electricity sources will be necessary to make sure the lights stay on;
  • Coal met 92% of the year-over-year incremental electricity demand during the first two months of 2014;
  • In early 2014, without coal plants, parts of New England, the Midwest and other regions would have experienced brownouts and blackouts that would have been economically disastrous and threatened human health and safety, and next winter many of those plants will not operate due to government policies; 
  • U.S. coal used for electricity generation has increased 170% since 1970 as key (i.e. non-greenhouse gas) emission rates have been reduced by 90%;
  • Key states will be especially negatively impacted, including Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The report says: “Not only are EPA regulations essentially prohibiting the construction of new coal power plants, but a confluence of related punitive rules is causing the closure of existing facilities. The EIA projects that 60 GW of coal generation capacity will be forced to close due to existing government policies – more than one sixth of the entire coal fleet. At almost 1,600 terawatt hours (TWh) of output, coal produces about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.

“Further, the cuts into reliable coal capacity are getting deeper into larger and more efficient power plants. Units that retired in 2010-2012 were relatively small, with an average size of 97 MW and heat rate of 10,695 BTU/KWh. In contrast, units currently scheduled for retirement are larger and more efficient: At 145 MW, the average size is 50 percent larger than earlier retirements, with an average heat rate of 10,398 BTU/kWh.”

The Institute for Energy Research is a not-for-profit organization that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets. IER has the position that freely-functioning energy markets provide the most efficient and effective solutions to today’s global energy and environmental challenges. Bezdek is the President of Management Information Services Inc. Clemente is a Professor Emeritus of Social Science at Penn State University.

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.