75 coal and nuclear power plants to close by 2020 — report

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017

Utilities are planning to retire 75 coal and nuclear generating units in the United States by 2020, according to a new analysis from a well-known environmental organization that is expanding its work on energy policy.

Using data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Environmental Working Group found that utilities have proposed closing 68 coal units and seven nuclear ones, which together supply more than 22,500 megawatts of power.

Almost 100 natural gas generating units are expected to shut down, too, but new natural gas capacity is planned, while no new coal plants are projected.

EWG tied that data to the Department of Energy’s recent proposal to compensate coal and nuclear plants in certain electricity markets for their resilience attributes. FERC is reviewing the DOE plan, which has been the subject of intense debate over the last few months.

“FERC data compiled by EWG show why the Trump administration’s friends in the coal and nuclear industries are desperate for a ratepayer bailout,” said the group’s report.

“Their plants are losing billions of dollars, and without subsidies to make them competitive with renewable energy and natural gas, utilities are proposing to close 75 coal and nuclear facilities in just three short years,” EWG wrote.

“There’s a simple reason for these trends: Solar, wind and natural gas facilities are cheaper and easier to build and operate,” the report continued.

“Operating costs for nuclear and coal-fired plants are soaring because they are old and require more maintenance, and new construction or expansion of existing plants’ capacity is difficult and time consuming.”

Coal and nuclear backers have made the argument that retirements could threaten the stability of the electric grid and that markets should do more to value and compensate resilience as an attribute.

That idea has earned buy-in from both the Trump administration and the head of FERC, the independent agency tasked with making a decision on DOE’s proposal.

FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee told reporters yesterday that he is pushing to come up with some sort of “interim solution” to help keep coal and nuclear plants afloat while his agency continues a long-term analysis on how to fix markets (E&E News PM, Nov. 9).

EWG focus on energy

EWG has in the past worked on a few energy issues including oil and gas, uranium mining, hydraulic fracturing and nuclear waste, but the report released today marks a full entry into the energy policy world.

“Over the years, we haven’t had a direct focus on clean, sustainable energy and energy efficiency,” said co-founder and President Ken Cook in an interview. “But we feel the time is ripe for us to engage our very large online community with energy policy, because it’s now something that is relatable at the household and personal level.

“We no longer have to think of sustainable energy, solar, wind-powered energy as pipe dreams. These are real decisions that families can make now, and they can help make decisions that create a favorable policy environment,” he said.

“We need to get our community into this.”

The organization has brought on Grant Smith, a longtime leader at the Citizens Action Coalition in Indiana, as a senior energy expert.

With the issue hot in the news, said Cook, it felt like the time to make a move.

“There’s something about the newly accessible power sources that are green and clean and distributed that really, to us, was a wake-up call these past five years. We’ve been waiting to find a way in,” he said.