Coal Advocates Warn The US Grid Is Growing More Vulnerable

From The Daily Caller

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) released a white paper Wednesday warning of the U.S. electric grid’s growing instability as coal plants are phased out.

The coal industry has suffered years of decline and coal plants in the U.S. are struggling to stay open. The industry’s waning is causing downstream effects to workers who must find new jobs and miners’ pensions that are in danger of going unfunded. (RELATED: Coal Company Bankruptcies Are Putting Coal Miners’ Pensions At Risk)

The ACCCE white paper, titled “The Value of Coal and the Nation’s Coal Fleet,” argues for the value coal power provides to the grid. Along with nuclear energy, coal is the most reliable baseload energy, the paper says. Both coal and nuclear energy are in decline.

“This grid that produces and delivers electricity to consumers is undergoing profound changes that include the retirement of baseload sources of electricity, as well as increasing reliance on natural gas and renewable energy sources (mostly wind and solar),” the paper says.

“These changes can affect — even impair —the reliability and resilience of the grid and, therefore, create challenges for electricity generators; state public utility commissions; independent system operators and regional transmission organizations; the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; the U.S. Department of Energy; the North American Electric Reliability Corporation; and others with a stake in ensuring the grid is able to produce and deliver affordable electricity 24/7,” the paper continued.

Steam rises from the stakes of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant supplied by the neighboring Jim Bridger mine that is owned by energy firm PacifiCorp and the Idaho Power Company, outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming, March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Steam rises from the stakes of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant supplied by the neighboring Jim Bridger mine that is owned by energy firm PacifiCorp and the Idaho Power Company, outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming, March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Natural gas is the leading cause of the downfall of coal as the United States’s chief source of energy. Coal has bounced back slightly since the election of President Donald Trump and implementation of his fossil fuel-friendly energy agenda.

The main coal-producing regions in the U.S. all increased production from 2016 to 2017, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. West Virginia’s coal production increased by 10 percent, Pennsylvania’s production increased by 6.8 percent and Eastern Kentucky’s production increased 8.4 percent.

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March 28, 2019 2:19 pm

Instead of closing and shuttering coal fired base load, a good effort should have been made to keep existing facilities open to at least their natural end of life expectancy. If any monies were to be spent on these coal fired plants, it should have been to clean them up to new standards regarding air quality and efficiency. Just up and closing these facilities that gave us a steady bed rock of base load of electricity for so many years has assisted in raising the overall price for electricity as there are costs of construction for brand new Nat Gas plants and eventual higher gas prices, decommissioning costs for an early closing, not to mention an economic write-off for just destroying a perfectly good generating asset.

And then to replace some of that shuttered capacity with unreliable low density wind and solar energy is an insult to to our national energy security. The demonization of coal was made much too soon, and efforts to clean up the air quality should have been the priority, not the CO2 output of the fuel. How do we compete with China and India, especially if we just outsource our ‘dirty’ coal to them to make our products that we can’t make at home because of emissions? We are committing collective economic suicide by such a national plan embraced by so many western nations. Which is exactly what China and other competitors would love to see us do to ourselves.

Komrade Kuma
Reply to  Earthling2
March 28, 2019 5:36 pm

In Australia closing coal fired plants has lead drectly to the energy companies deliberately gouging the now under supplied market causing overall price hikes, short term price spikes of one or two orders of magnitude as a “Wall Street – Greed is Good ” culture takes over.

Its lunatic to not have an orderly transition to any new generating capacity irrespective of what type it is which must include consideration of the overall system supply vs demand balance.

Reply to  Earthling2
March 30, 2019 1:54 am

“a good effort should have been made to keep existing facilities open”

No, no, no. The eco-freakos all want to dynamite the coal plants, like they did in South Australia. That way, nobody can ever use them again. Even if it means he entire state will go “black system”.

Paul Penrose
March 28, 2019 2:23 pm

The answer from the “renewable power” advocates is to implement “flexible demand” schemes using smart meter technology. In their eyes, the expectation of being able to have electricity whenever you want it 24/7 is a luxury that the “planet” can no longer afford. The expect us all to accept austerity to “save the world”, but of course these self-styled “green” leaders would not have to suffer themselves because they are doing such “important” work on our behalf. Sound familiar?

nw sage
Reply to  Paul Penrose
March 28, 2019 5:16 pm

Not having electricity available 24/7 is something no one in the US is used to. ‘flexible demand’ sounds good to some but VERY FEW realize the personal sacrifice involved. Kids want to watch a show on TV? Sorry kids, not tonight – tonight is the neighbor’s turn to have power.
I guarantee that concept hasn’t sunk in.

George V
March 28, 2019 2:31 pm

Several weeks ago in my part of Michigan there was a fire at a major natural gas pumping station. The gas supply was actually endangered. Reserves in underground storage (who knew that existed?!) were tapped but would not have been enough if the major industries had not shut down for some days. It made me wonder what would have happened if the gas supply to all these power plants was interrupted.

There’s something to be said for your electrical plant having a big honkin’ pile of fuel sitting right next to it.

March 28, 2019 3:19 pm

I know, let’s make the entire auto industry financially vulnerable with focus on EV R&D spending and production ramp without ask the customers, destabilize the grid, double the standby capacity needs of electric utilities, and build whole consumer sectors based on tax credits. What could possibly go wrong? And if it does go wrong simultaneously, just bailout 4x more industries with more stimulus than the next generation can produce over its lifespan to pay for it….or two generations if you get the midnight votes.

March 28, 2019 3:21 pm

Not correct. The problem with coal is NOT reliability. It is cost relative to CCGT and age of the existing fleet. In reverse order:
1. The FERC database is available on line. Since 2000, the average age of retirement for coal plants is ~44 years. The average age of the existing fleet ( I last looked it up in 2014 for an essay in ebook Blowing Smoke) was 42 years. Based on ‘normal’ retirement, about 1/3 of the existing coal fleet capacity will be retired by 2025.
2. CCGT is 61% efficient as base load, and still 58% efficient when cycled down to 40% providing grid flex. (CCGT cannot operate below 40% load.). Coal cannot do that, and ultra suoer critical is only 41-45% efficient depending on scale. CCGT takes <=2.5 years to install at under $1500/kw (depends on greenfield or old coal replacement with grid infrastructure in place). New USC coal takes 4 years and costs ~$4000/kw (based on the only US USC coal, Turk in Arkansas).

Reply to  Rud Istvan
March 28, 2019 3:31 pm

How much of the costs are due to red tape?

Planning Engineer
Reply to  SMC
March 28, 2019 5:12 pm

In the 90s although combined cycle gas plants were costly to operate it was hard to impossible to justify the fixed cost of building new coal plants. Forecasts showed that already built coal plants would operate at capacity but it just did not save enough to justify the increased construction costs of a new coal plant. Since then due to fracking and low gas costs in the southeast the incremental cost of newer gas combined cycle plants overwhelmingly beats the incremental costs of existing coal plants. Practically you face a lot of problems building coal and potential areas where you could get permitting may be vanishingly small. But assuming you could build coal: Costly scrubbing and environmental costs do add to the fixed costs of coal plants, but that is not a factor of major significance (like with nuclear). Coal just does not beat gas incrementally, so you can’t begin to justif.y the greater construction costs.

Reply to  Planning Engineer
March 28, 2019 6:21 pm

The question then becomes at what price point for NG does a new coal project again make sense? The fuel price differential will become relevant at some point. Red tape and permitting notwithstanding…a hypothetical question because I think it will be next to impossible to ever get any new coal fired infrastructure built in USA, Canada or Europe. But we should insist on keeping our coal fleet open until end of useful life.

If LNG exports consume a healthy chunk of our domestic gas for a premium price, then what is the future price of domestic electricity going to be, especially when adding on any carbon taxes to the tally. This will be the next shoe to drop the next 10 years as nat gas prices rise due to supply and demand. I think someday in the future, we will look back at the good old days when coal was king and we could rely on it both technically and economically for the backbone of our electricity grid.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Earthling2
March 28, 2019 11:21 pm

Thankfully, turning natural gas into LNG, then putting it on a ship, and moving it 5,000 miles across the globe has a hefty premium over the price of domestic use through a pipeline from an underground saltdome storage. Pipelines matter for domestic use. That’s why the people who fund the eco-marxists fight every new pipeline so forcefully.

March 28, 2019 3:41 pm

Help us get this in front of President Trump and Secretaries Perry and Wheeler.

We started looking for a way to help the coal miners and the coal industry in 2010 when we realized what the administration was doing to this industry.
We turn the CO2 into money.
We have developed and patented enough tools to make a coal power 14% more energy efficient. Equal to a natural gas power plant. We can produce clean coal ash, by removing the bad particulate. (which is also saleable)

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Sid Abma
March 28, 2019 11:27 pm

Your CCS hustle needs to find another venue. Serious.
Ain’t no one here gonna buy into the extra cost of that to their electric bill simply for removing plant food from the air.

Bruce Cobb
March 28, 2019 4:17 pm

“Natural gas is the leading cause of the downfall of coal”
False. The leading cause was the demonization of and the war on coal, led by the Obamanation and his EPA thugs. NG fracking was certainly a big factor as well. On a level playing field, the two would compete, and consumers would benefit from that competition.

March 28, 2019 5:14 pm

Well US electric consumers are putting all of their eggs in one basket, natural gas. True or not there are articles out there that claim that fracking is not sustainable due to high depletion rates and high drilling costs. If this is true we will soon be paying 3x more for electricity.

Reply to  MR166
March 29, 2019 9:30 pm

Well we can always go back to using coal again can’t we. After all we have hundreds of years worth of untouched coal reserves, maybe more…

March 28, 2019 5:16 pm

Competition is what causes any industry to produce what we need at the lowest cost. Yet many if not all solar and wind sources are shielded from competition almost entirely and most of the cost they impose on electricity grids are not assigned to them thus making them appear much cheaper than they truly are.

First, they are highly subsidized with your taxes thus much of the cost to build and operate them is hidden from consumers. Assign the subsidy cost to your electricity bill and their apparent low cost would be higher.

Second, in most (and perhaps all) jurisdictions electricity from solar and wind must be accepted by the grid operators before any other source of electricity. Therefore as the irregular power from of solar and wind increases the power of dispatchable backup variable sources must increase. The cost of ever increasing backup sources is not assigned as part of the cost of solar and wind as it should be.

Third, as the amount of irregular solar and wind energy on the grid increases (all of it mandated by rule to be accepted first) the unpredictable dips in electricity become larger and larger and eventually force base load sources to decrease their output. There is little or no change in the cost to operate baseload plants under this situation therefore their cost per unit of electricity delivered increases sometimes to the point where they must be shutdown. This is not a consequence of the the technologies involved but instead the rules under which they must operate.

Forth, in many jurisdictions rooftop solar energy not used by the owner of the rooftop must be accepted by the grid (first of course) and the owner of the rooftop must be paid the full retail price for what they dump on the grid, not the much lower wholesale price. The cost of this very expensive and very irregular source must be paid by other users of the grid.

Solar and wind companies have worked closely with politicians to develop a complex system of regulations and subsidies to compel construction of solar and wind sources and make the cost of such energy appear cheap. But as Warren Buffet has noted, the only reason to invest in such machines is the subsidies and regulations. Do away with the them and require solar and wind project owners to pay for the costs they impose on the grid and such projects would shut down. The only reason for solar and wind projects is to reduce CO2 emissions yet it is not clear that they even do that considering the CO2 emissions from their manufacture, the increasing CO2 emissions from most backup sources, and the increased CO2 emissions caused by closure of baseload plants.

Joel O'Bryan
March 28, 2019 6:09 pm

The real problem in the US is people don’t really have any idea what electric grid power unreliability would mean for their lives, unless they’ve lived in country where sudden black-outs lasting hours or days is not uncommon. Reliability is under-priced by the market because most people in the US have never had to live like that.

The area that coal can find footing is on-site storage. This is a similar argument to nuclear power argument that a freshly fueled reactor can run for up to 2 years at near-full power before a refueling becomes necessary.
Any CCGT or OCGT plant the natural gas is a JIT delivery model. The gas arrives via hundreds of kilometers of pipes and compressors from underground storage reservoir “just-in-time” to be burned. Anything that disrupts that complex linkage of pipes and compressors, even for an hour, will shut down every gas-fired generator on-site that depends on that pipeline.

While a coal plant can store several months supply of coal on-site so that rail disruptions of a few weeks or even a month are not going to shut-down the plant. How do you put a value to that? We’ve always had a (in the last 60 years) reliable grid power from coal and nuclear. But now that wind and solar, which are inherently unreliable as increasing their % of the grid, the JIT model of gas could be a very serious problem for a complex technical society given the unreliable nature of wind and solar.

Imagine LA or Chicago in another decade when Diablo Canyon NP is gone, and Illinois shuts down more nuclear and coal generation. Either of those cities without power for 4 days in the middle of summer would turn them into night-time war zones when the winds go still at night and a gas pipe-line breaks somewhere and the lights and AC go out. Price the damage, the lost economic activity. And then the likely loss of lives.

The average person just does not appreciate reliability and security of knowing that every time they flip a light switch the light will indeed come on.

Beta Blocker
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
March 29, 2019 11:41 am

As coal and nuclear baseload generation is systematically removed from the grid, some combination of wind, solar, and gas-fired generation will replace it.

The process of systematically removing baseload capacity is being forced by renewable energy mandates and will go on for the next twenty to thirty years until most, if not all, of the grid is powered by variable energy resources (VER’s), i.e., wind and solar plus gas-fired backup, along with a relatively minor contribution coming from battery and hydro energy storage.

In the absence of coal and nuclear, we know that gas-fired generation must carry a very large fraction of the total future load. We also know that those who are pushing wind and solar and who control public policy in their own states and localities aren’t inclined to allow construction of the additional pipeline capacity needed to keep a major expansion of gas-fired generation on track.

As America’s power grid becomes increasingly less stable over the next twenty to thirty years, the gas-fired generation facilities needed to stabilize the grid will be hastily constructed wherever it is convenient to build them, and wherever these facilities can be easily served by rail transported LNG, bypassing the problem of a growing lack of gas pipeline capacity.

In thirty years time, we could see huge volumes of LNG being transported by rail hither and yon throughout the country — if energy policy makers allow it. The alternative would be increasingly frequent blackouts. So, unless they are completely stupid, they will probably allow it.

Reply to  Beta Blocker
March 30, 2019 1:59 am

They are completely stupid and won’t allow it.

March 28, 2019 6:52 pm

You can’t miss what you have if you don’t know you have it. Grid reliability is taken for granted in the US.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  markl
March 28, 2019 11:13 pm

People understand car reliability. Had friend who had Toyota’s his whole life. Never a problem. One day he decided the Fiat 500 looked cool. He sold his everyday commuter car Corolla for a used Fiat 500. It was like an auto shop magnet. Breaking down – borrowing cars to get by, a week in the shop every few months.
Finally he got tired of cool and traded for a Toyota Celica.

You just can’t really get your head around reliability or how much un-reliability costs until you’ve been there. I suspect like South Australia, places like California are going to find out one day.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
March 29, 2019 12:45 am

SA’s failure was because of 23 pylons being knocked down by extreme weather. A 100% fossil fuel grid would also have gone offline.

The wind should never have tripped: Germany solved that issue back in 2006 and I assume they’ve now set it up properly – AND! the SA grid scale battery is expressly designed to stop grid outages.

SA grid is safer (and more renewable) than ever…

Reply to  griff
March 30, 2019 2:09 am

Not true. The 23 pylons that were knocked down were supplying coal power from NSW. It was only necessary because the fools in the SA government dynamited two coal fired power plants. A total capacity of around 750 MW was lost.

You don’t appreciate how small the inter-connector was, only about 145 MW. Without those, it was either wind, or interstate inter-connectors, which both failed simultaneously. And now, with the closure of Hazelwood in NSW, they don’t have power to support SA.

March 29, 2019 12:43 am

UK – 33% renewable electricity… no grid problems.
Germany – 38% renewable electricity – most reliable grid in the world
Spain – 42% renewable electricity…

…you getting the picture here?

Reply to  griff
March 29, 2019 2:46 am

and this part of the German grid had over 505 renewables across it – no problems – last year

(note the section about preventing load dumping into Poland etc too…)

and a reminder of this from Eire:

“EirGrid Group has this week announced that it can successfully manage record-breaking levels of renewable power on the grid in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
On Monday 9th April 2018, the grid operator in Ireland, EirGrid, and the grid operator in Northern Ireland, SONI, confirmed that up to 65% variable renewable energy can be handled on the grid at any given time. This is predominantly made up of wind power, along with contributions from solar and interconnector imports.”

Robert of Texas
Reply to  griff
March 29, 2019 11:25 am

2017, Australian article, I have tried to convert Australian cents into U.S. cents. Rounded to nearest cent.

UK – $0.25 (US)
Germany – $0.34
Spain – $0.26

U.S. – $0.13

…you getting the picture here?


Retired Kit P
Reply to  Robert of Texas
March 30, 2019 7:04 am

The three most important factors in almost everything is location, location, location.

This should have been explained to Griff by his parents. Maybe they tried.

West Texas and eastern Washington state has good wind resources and people who like to work. They like to suck $$$$ out of California.

College professor in California will explain why farmers in Indiana should not grow animal feed and energy crops such as corn and soy beans.

The point is that few in the US care how tiny countries make electricity.

This location thing applies to the US. For thirty years I have been waiting for 30 years for the one nuke plant and 2 coal plants in Washington and Oregon to close. Every election promises are made but never kept when in office.

It is very simple. Every year there are a few brutal days. Without the very reliable sources of power the governor would have to declare an emergency. There would then be a recall election and the people would fire the governor for not doing his job. Recalls are very rare in the US but the lesson of Greyout Davis is not that old.

Since retiring I no longer spend winters in the north but it was a brutal winter the last two years where I have my boat. Two boats were sunk because of high winds out of the north.

March 29, 2019 4:19 am

Ah, “interconnector imports”. And pray tell us oh wise griff…might that be reliable (dispatchable) coal or nuclear? I wonder why Germany is building coal plants and why the French are clinging to their nukes, oh wise one? I wonder why regulators are shielding industrial users from the frightening costs of renewables, by making other rate classes pay extra?

The renewable energy game is a shell game.

March 29, 2019 5:25 am

Griff, you did not mention that those towers which the wind blew over were Ell Cheapo ones, half the size of real ones. This is what happen s when your windmills are a very long way from the user.

Also look at the figures, the initial shock to the system when the towers fell over was contained, but the rest of the windmills closed down as they could not handle the wind speed.

Wind too slow no power, wind too strong, no power. Lets face it they are not realisable period.


Johann Wundersamer
April 2, 2019 2:04 am

“The pension Gamble:


vom staatsdienst in die armut: wenn der staat die altersversorgung seiner beamten verzockt;

“from state service to poverty: when the state gambles the pensions of its staffers.”

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