Report: Coal Plants Shut Down At Second Fastest Rate On Record During Trump’s Third Year In Office

From The Daily Caller

Energy

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Chris White Tech Reporter

January 13, 2020 11:27 AM ET

Coal plants shuttered at the second fastest rate in U.S. history in 2019, Reuters reported Monday, citing federal data.

Energy companies retired nearly 15,100 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired electricity that year, enough to electrify millions of homes, the report notes, citing data from the Energy Information Administration. The closures come despite President Donald Trump’s promise to bring back the industry.

Roughly 19,300 MWs of coal-generated power were shutdown in 2015 during the latter half of former President Barack Obama’s tenure in office, Reuters reported. (RELATED: More Than 50 Coal Companies Have Been Wiped Out Since Trump’s 2016 Victory)

The report also shows that an estimated 39,000 MW of coal-fired power plant capacity have gone offline since Trump’s first year in 2017. More coal plants will have shut during Trump’s first four years than Obama’s second term if that trend continues, Reuters reported.

Trump has tried to beat back what some people say is inevitable: big coal’s slow decline. The president has nixed nearly 100 environmental regulations during his first three years in office, effectively rolling back much of the rules Obama foisted on the coal industry.

Trump fully eliminated 25 rules designed to rein in air pollution and emissions, as well as 19 that regulate energy producers’ ability to drill and extract oil and gas, The New York Times reported in December 2019. This pell-mell push is generating angst from environmentalists and officials alike.

One of Trump’s biggest accomplishments in the early going was replacing Obama’s so-called Clean Power Plan, which required states to make deep cuts to power sector emissions. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the CPP’s implementation in 2016, though some analysts believe that rule and others nonetheless impacted the business model coal companies employ.

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89 thoughts on “Report: Coal Plants Shut Down At Second Fastest Rate On Record During Trump’s Third Year In Office

  1. What did obama do for the climate scam? He had 8 years to make a big difference, yet I’ve never read or heard of anything he did to save the planet 😐

    Also, no matter what trump does, the u.n and its saintly greta will never be happy.

    • Ah, but he has just bought some jolly expnsive sea-front property presumably because he believed that English King Canute successfully turned back the seas hree in Blighty! 😉

    • Well, he defiled the landscape through incentivizing the erection of “wind farms” and “solar farms.” And stole a huge sum of taxpayer dollars for the “Green(slime) Climate Fund” under a nonexistent “treaty” that he thought only needed to be approved by him as the King, er, I mean POTUS. And he enacted lots of needless and economically damaging regulations.

      Of course, non of that did anything to “save the planet” that didn’t need “saving” to begin with.

  2. 1. Trump is easing regulations on the operation of coal plants.
    2. Coal plants are closing at an increasing rate.

    OK, I’ll go out on a limb here.
    I don’t observe a logical cause and effect between the two facts.

    Maybe; just maybe, there is another factor in play here, like say the cost of operating a gas fueled plant compared to coal?

    Could it be that coal plants would have closed at a slightly faster rate if the Obama era regulations were still in place?

    This is just another attempt to disparage the present administration.

    • Trump eased some regulations, but not nearly enough to make coal plants economically competitive to gas plants (IIRC, new coal plants would still require carbon capture). Also most of the said coal plants were getting old.

      • They quit using horses when automobiles became more practical, plentiful and cheaper.

        And they are quitting to burn coal for power generation ever since NG has become more practical, plentiful and cheaper than coal.

      • From https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/12/6/18127399/trump-coal-epa-carbon-capture :
        “Clean Air Act, the rule established in 2015 said coal plants couldn’t emit more than 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour”

        “EPA announced last year that it was looking to revise the rule. The EPA now wants to relax the limit to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MWh.”

        Ruff calcs show about 1,900 lb of CO2 per MWh without carbon capture. Even if that is enough to avoid carbon capture and sequestration, investors might still be hesitant until this CO2 hoax is dead and buried. https://watervaporandwarming.blogspot.com

        Many homes are heated with natural gas. It’s wrong to waste it making electricity.

      • Also, due to pressure from virtue-signalers attacking execs at shareholder meetings, threatened litigation, threats from the Obama administration that power plants would not be allowed to function profitably, and an attack on the coal industry from exploration, through environmental evaluation, getting permits, even getting permission to build related facilities such as new rail lines and export terminals, investment companies unwilling to buy their stock, and banks facing pressure to eliminate loans to fossil fuel companies, many companies just said the heck with it. Can’t fight city hall. Low gas prices and the age of the facilities also played a role. This current crop of plant closures was “baked in the cake” from 2009 through 2016. You can’t turn an ocean liner on a dime, and you can’t unwind 8 years of constant attacks from all sides in a year or two.

    • It was mostly “too late” … he should have put a freeze on Regulatory ACTIONS and – if we wanted to see coal plants survive – immediately kill all SUBSIDIES to renewables. I’m thinking specifically of the Page (Arizona) power plant, which I’ve had a lot of exposure to (via work). The Navajo Nation tried to work out a deal to buy the facility, but the sticking point was liability for the ash heap (about a mile wide) and … Arizona Power & Light had already contracted to receive power from elsewhere.

      Subsidies – or more appropriately, elimination of red tape, waiver of “impact studies,” and immunity from tort lawyers – need to go toward 4G nuclear, STAT … or IMO we’re in big trouble, cost-wise. Thanks, Obama.

        • …you have to at least make some sort of widget to be considered an industry! Do campaign buttons qualify?

          • Actually, campaign buttons do qualify. We have to elect some people to run the train.

            Unfortunately, we seem to have too many officials and government employees conductors now, so many that pretty soon there will be no room for us taxpayers passengers. They still make us pay taxes for tickets.

      • Especially considering coal wasn’t REALLY targeted until the LAST administration openly said they were going to destroy a primary industry.

    • As long as the Endangerment Finding remains in force at the US EPA, coal fired electrical generation plants will be at a regulation induced economic disadvantage to other source fuels.

    • The planning process for closing down power plants and for constructing new ones takes many years and an enormous investment in capital. The rollbacks of planned regulations intended to kill the coal industry only started 3 years ago, long after the plans to shut down these plants were already in full swing. Besides the time lag, to reverse course on a planned replacement of a coal plant with a gas powered plant would require significant confidence that the dooming regulations reversed will stay reversed. Unfortunately, that confidence has not been gained thanks to the constant onslaught of false accusations and controversies hurled at President Trump. However, if Trump gets re-elected this year, that confidence will likely build and the rate of closure will slow. I am not sure what it would take to instill sufficient confidence to build new coal-fired plants.

    • When I was fresh out of school with an engineering degree I helped modernize a series of industrial boilers(could burn coal, gas, oil, residues). NAT Gas was sky high, coal cheap.

      It is just a matter of time before everyone realizes we need Nat gas to heat homes price goes back up.

    • I’m only going to put in my two cents’ worth by the observation that a gas-fired power plant is cheaper to run than a coal-fired plant, and thus has reduced my electric bill accordingly. 🙂

      You can do what you like with my statement but I have all those bills going back 15 years since I moved into my little house on the hill, and there is a tangible and substantial difference in cost to me.

      • Of course. Gas generated electricity is cheaper and environmentally cleaner. I’m sorry for lost coal jobs, but fewer coal plants are good riddance and most people here would agree.

        And the fact that the closings happen under Trump’s watch means nothing, good or bad. The fracking boom is responsible for coal plant closures and Trump can’t (justifiability anyway) celebrate or do otherwise.

    • Those plants may be replaced by NG and then again they may not be replaced. They shut down a coal fired plant on the Navajo Res outside of Page Arizona last year. No replacement yet.

      That shut down led to the shut down of a coal mine on the res and has impacted the finances of both the Navajo res and the Hopi res. A secondary consequence was the loss of cheap coal to heat res homes. Many have dual use wood/coal heating stoves. Wood isn’t close by and very expensive so they would use coal. With the closing of the mine they are SOL. And yes we have cold winters in N. Arizona.

  3. Not even a little surprising. Energy economics controls production and government subsidies and mandates control that market. The high cost of regulation is now just a small part of the competitive disadvantages imposed on coal. One example would be the ability of wind to bid at negative prices in Teas markets that was cited about 3 months back in a post on this site.

    You don’t take the foot off of coal’s throat without leveling the playing field for all forms of energy.

  4. I haven’t done a search on the age of these plants, but generally speaking most coal plants in the US were built quite a few years ago. From a power company perspective, NG power is by far the best way to boil water vs coal.

    Not only are the economics better due to the strides taken in getting NG out of the ground but running a pipeline to a plant is far superior than coal trains. Plus you have to handle the coal and dispose of the coal ash. Scrubbing the flue gases also is required with coal and even then you still get some heavy metals, etc introduced into the environment.

    NG also can drive gas turbines for use as peaking plants which can supplement grid requirements. All in all I don’t see this as a bad thing. But if we really want to put a clean method of feeding the grid, it’s got to be nuclear. The sooner the better, imo.

    • Upsides to coal, I see, are:

      * Better national security; coal plants have weeks/months of fuel stock onsite vs. gas plants fueled via pipelines that can be disabled for extended periods via accidents, AoG, terrorism, etc.
      * Coal waste ash is a really cheap cement additive; get rid of that and I expect cement prices to increase
      * Huge supply

      • Coal is also a necessary element in the production of STRONG STEEL. Strong steel builds a resilient modern society. Without it, buildings crumble over a few stories in height and tumble in minor quakes. Coal will ALWAYS be necessary!

        • Right. Plant I worked at sold “floaters” from the bottom-ash ponds that were tiny ceramic spheres & used in cement, cinder-blocks and nodular/ductile-iron and steel (embedded ceramic spheres help stop cracks from progressing thru a material).

  5. like I been saying for 10 years. coal is dead.

    maybe the climate red team can bring it back to life.

    oh wait, that died too.

    • As always, alarmists take current trends and assume that those trends must continue uninterrupted into the future.
      I guess it’s easier than actually using your brain.

      • This ‘trend’ was not a natural trend. Let’s just think back on who was president ten years ago.

        Let’s see – didn’t he SAY he was going to bankrupt the industry?

    • Coal is not dead for two reasons:

      1. For developing countries such as India, Southeast Asia, and all of the African countries that do not have large amounts of local ‘natural’ gas, it is too expensive to construct a gasification plant for LNG and the country in question cannot afford higher priced natural gas.

      There are more than 400 million people in Africa that do not have access to electricity. Lack of access to 24/7 electricity is one of the reasons there is almost no manufacturing in Africa. There are 1.2 billion people in Africa. Almost all living in poverty because of lack of infrastructure and a lack of access to 24/7 electricity.

      2. There is now unequivocal hard simple observational evidence that supports the assertion that human CO2 emissions is responsible for no more than 5% of the recent rise in atmospheric CO2. It has been known for some time that atmospheric CO2 levels are tracking planetary temperature, not anthropogenic CO2 emissions. For this to be true there must be a large missing source of CO2 entering the biosphere and a large missing sink of CO2. This is interesting as the evidence is overwhelming and physical.

      Unintentional Consequences of 30 years of CAGW, solution that does work. Environmental damage caused cutting down virgin forest for biofuels, loss of habitat, converting corn to ethanol, and so on.

      Steve, you guys need to help with the solution to the problem which you guys created. You guys have convinced many politicians that it is an existential problem, to stop humans burning hydrocarbons.

      It is impossible to get to carbon neutral using sun and wind gathering. There is a ‘new’ fission reactor design that can be mass produced, that can compete with coal or natural gas in terms of cost. Logically if CAGW was real, this would be the solution.

      Fifty years ago, the US developed and tested at Oak Ridge Laboratories, a no water, no fuel rod fission reactor 50 years ago that is six times more fuel efficient than pressure water, fuel rod fission reactors, that cannot blow up as that design has no catastrophic failure modes.

      A Canadian company Terrestrial Energy has a walk away, mass produce able, atmospheric pressure, fission reactor design (copy of Oak Ridge design with a couple of practical improvements), that produce heat at 600C, that does not require a containment building, as that design has no catastrophic failure modes and that is walk away safe on loss of power to the reactor controls.

      • “Steve, you guys need to help with the solution to the problem which you guys created.”

        You’re assuming Mosher is an alarmist. Don’t think he is. He’s more like Loki, likes to play both sides against each other.

        • No – he’s an alarmist – he just shuts his alarmism safely out of the range of anything that can be proven in our lifetime.

          And he’s a huge enabler.

    • Hey Tonya Harding – think you can win the Olympics like that too?

      Anything else you can help sabotage and call THAT natural?

    • See – Mosher’s inherent deliberate dishonesty doesn’t seem to differentiate between ‘dying’ and being ‘murdered.’

      It disgusts me that I once had even a little respect for you.

  6. As everyone has stated – this is because gas is cheap. BUT – there is a HUGE future hidden cost with gas. With coal, you have a simple furnace (relatively simple) that turns water to steam which drives the generators. With a gas power station, there is no steam. It’s similar to a jet engine – a gas turbine, which drives the generator directly. With coal, the technology is simple, and very “industrial” – it can run for decades. But a gas turbine cant (just like a jet engine), it has a MUCH shorter mechanical life. What I dont know (does anyone else??) is, have they costed in the fact that these gas turbines wont be running 24×7 for 30 years like a coal plant. Google says their life expectancy is 30,000 hours or just over 3 years.

    • Sorry, that isn’t exactly true. The difference between a gas and coal fired large power plant is what fuel is used to boil the water to generate the steam to power the turbine. Same as in nuclear. The heat from the fission boils the water to power the turbine. In fact, there are power plants where they have swapped out the boilers from coal to NG powered.

      Gas turbines (basically a jet engine) are used as way to supply electricity to the grid during high usage times. They can be brought online is a very short time and are shut down when not needed. For more continuous use, gas turbines are part of a combined cycle setup where the waste heat from the turbine is used in a conventional boiler. https://www.ge.com/power/gas/gas-turbines

    • I’ll bet the gas power plants replacing coal are nearly all CCGT with a gas turbine on the front end supplying its waste heat to run a steam turbine on the back end (1×1 configuration), and a duct burner between the two to let the steam plant help supply peak demands. Single cycle gas plants are likely not replacing coal.

    • Some natural gas plants directly turn turbines, some boil water and use the steam to turn turbines.
      The ones that turn turbines directly are mostly used for peaking power.

    • Yes, that is factored in. The contracts have expected maintenance in them. It is kind of like a car, some parts wear out quickly, others not so much. As for the 24×7 – that doesn’t happen. One of the beauties of natural gas is that it ramps up and down, and turns off frequently. Yes the ramps can shorten the operational life, but the flexibility allows better integration with intermittent sources.

  7. Taking coal plants down does not necessarily mean dismantling them. They are off-grid now, but I think it would be wise to have them ready as “auxiliarii” for times of increased demand. This may even be the case when gas turbines need to be refurbished.

    • Even moth-balled plants need to be maintained. Granted the maintenance cost is much, much lower, but it doesn’t go away.

      • Well, South Australia fixed that! They closed their coal plants and blew them up the same day, to guarantee that they could never be used again. South Australia now has the world’s most expensive electricity (ahead of even Germany and Denmark).

  8. Dave Johnson Power plant near Casper, Wyo. was built in the early 1960s; Jim Bridger near Rock Springs was built in the mid 1970s. Good grief. They are 60 and 50 years old. Neither is on the chopping block right now, but the utilities involved have to consider these things each year. One could spend money upgrading them, but CCGT plants are more economical and more nimble at handling peak loads. There is no coal technology to compete. I have no idea what fraction of power plants in the West are nearing the end of life.

    One of the great ironies is that Jim Bridger supplies energy for California. I hope to soon see California relying on B.C. Hydro for dispatchable supplies.

    This is like trumpeting that used automobiles were retired at the fastest rate in history during the second year of Obama.

    • I’d like to see California (and South Australia, and every other country or portion thereof that has gone batshit over “renewable” electricity requirements) cut off from any interconnection that allows a single MW of fossil fuel generated electricity to be accessed, and see how they like the results!

      • I am in this camp as well. The downside of this is more bat…. crazy Californians will move and bring their bat…. craziness with them at a faster rate.

  9. Yes, but the problem is that the market economics have been manipulated to push worse-than-useless wind and solar “power” on an industrial scale.

    And another problem with gas-fired plants is this – no good way to store it on-site. A coal-fired plant can keep weeks or even months of supply on hand to deal with any supply disruptions. And it won’t “go bad” or “escape” in any way, it’s always ready to burn and produce energy.

    Since one of the functions of government should be to promote security and reliability of basic services like electricity, maybe one of the “market distortions” they should actually use (as opposed to “renewable” mandates and subsidies, which should NOT be done as they make the grid LESS stable and reliable) is to maintain a certain percentage of coal-fired generation for base load and back-up generation, so that a pipeline rupture or other gas shortage doesn’t bring down the grid.

  10. It is mainly natural gas low prices which have caused the transition from coal to natural gas. Renewables have had little impact in all this. This could never have happened but for fracking, which increased the supply of natural gas to such an extent that it is now cheaper than coal, and actually is being exported as LNG to many places – Japan, Europe, China, etc Coal is still being exported to China, Japan, etc. often replacing dirty coal

  11. I believe a lot of you are making the mistake of looking at the current and near future conditions.
    Trump has a most 5 years and a couple of days. Who comes after Trump?
    If it’s someone like Sanders I have no doubt that he would issue orders to have all coal plants shut down and demolished with no compensation to the owners. (The courts wouldn’t let him get away with that, at least not until he finishes packing the courts. FDR threatened to add justices to the Supreme Court because the current occupants get voting against him.)

    Power plants last for 30 years or more. Given current political trends in this country, nobody in their right minds would be building coal plants. The reason is 100% political, not economic and certainly not environmental.

    • These five years of presidency may just be enough time to show the world that the moronic ideas haunting Australia, the “EU” and Germany will never work. It will turn out that the elephant’s rule is the wiser rule. The donkey will be put out to grass once again.

  12. Context…

    The US consumes as much coal today as we did in 1985 and our exports are higher than ever.

    Almost all of the coal consumed in the US is for electricity generation.

    Despite the ongoing closures of mostly older, less economically viable power plants, coal will likely still account for nearly 20% of our electricity in 2050.

    While global coal consumption in 2050 will likely be more than it is today.

    Because coal consumption in Asia will likely continue to rise.

    https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39792
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/11/20/iea-forecast-solar-to-surge-past-coal-natural-gas-by-2040/
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/10/04/coal-to-remain-king-in-southeast-asia/

    • If you look at EIA projections for coal going backwards you don’t have any of them predicting the decline in coal usage. All of them have coal roughly flat at the then current level. If EIA couldn’t ever predict coal’s decline in the past then I suspect they can’t do it in the future either. However, thank you for pointing out the data showing that most coal consumption is not in the US (under sight of EPA restrictions) but in China and India which are lacking in environmental protections.
      Personally I think wind will continue to go in through the midwest, plains, and Texas. I also suspect there will continue to be coal to gas switching in the midwest and southeast. I could be wrong, but I bet that coal will drop to less than 10% of power production in the US within 5 years (a slower decline rate than the last 5 years). But we shall see.

  13. Learn to love living like California, with no power for a week or two at a time. It’s your future. Further into the future, it looks like North Korea.

      • How can they be economic? UK coal plants have a capacity of 10 gw, and yet because of climate bedwetter-inspired restrictions, they are barely producing 3 gw. How can you make a profit, under such restrictions?

        But do remember that during the cold winters of 2010 and 2017, coal was running at maximum generation (no wind or solar), and the lights would have gone out without it.

        They close the last 9 coal stations at their (and our) peril…

        Ralph

        • some of the younger coal stations are being repurposed as “bio fuel” which basically means they burn wood pellets, many of which are imported from the US. Due to some political trickery, electricity from these wood pellets is counted as carbon neutral, even though it’s quite destructive to the environment in the US.

  14. Isn’t this just market forces at work? Coal plants are older using out of date technology. They are being replaced by more modern more efficient gas plants. This is a feather in Trump’s cap as the American consumer is getting cheap reliable electricity as opposed to UK consumers.

    Minsters warned Britain’s electricity network needs URGENT upgrade to cope with increased demand from electric cars or risk future blackouts
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/cars/article-7894719/UK-electricity-network-needs-upgraded-cope-rising-EV-demand.html

    • oh dear, Ben Vorlich, you’ve been reading and believing the daily fail and their “EVs will burn down the national grid” which is total crap. even the head of the national grid said there’s no problem back in 2018.

  15. Energy production from coal is impacted by more efficient (cost) gas powered generators. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to operate, less polluting, easier to move the gas around. As long as gas is cheap, coal will not be able to compete. Economics as it should be.

    David M. posted a projection of power production sources and I am still laughing at some of the graphs. They (our U.S. Gov) are projecting that production of electricity from Natural Gas remains nearly stable, nuclear decreases, and production from “renewable” increases to 38%. What planet are these people living on?

    A lot of the renewable increase is from Wind, and I don’t know if people are keeping up but most of that is from the plains in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. There are not enough power lines to move the existing capacity efficiently to cities, and people are starting to wake up and reject having dozens of new huge power transmissions lines built through their farms, homes, and landscapes. You can’t even have a stable power grid with 38% renewable power generation unless you solve the energy storage problem – so I guess this projection should be caveat-ed by “a Miracle Happens Here”.

    Most of the increase appears to be solar – well I assume they mean rooftop solar (which would work less than half of the time in about half of the U.S.) Again, without large storage capacity this will only serve to reduce daytime use of distributed power, but the backup capacity has to be there (for the cloudy days). It is the PEAK demand on base power generation that counts, not the average.

    Unless a major breakthrough in energy storage is achieved, the only viable long term solution is nuclear. Fossil fuels *WILL* become more scarce and expensive over time (might be 40 years, might be 100, but it will happen), and when that happens nuclear power is the obvious replacement. It has all the advantages that natural gas has (power density, reliable 24×7) and does not trash your landscape. Once MSR comes online, there will be far less risk and far less waste. This country needs a far looking strategy about nuclear power, not more whimsical dreams about wind power.

    Coal plants? Who needs them in 20 years? They are great if you have locally available coal and are just getting started, but there are so many better options now for advanced economies. They either compete or they fail – good old capitalism.

    • “might be 40 years, might be 100”

      Closer to 400 for oil and gas, 1000 for coal.
      Far enough into the future that it’s not worth worrying about at this time.
      It’s like asking the people from 1030 or 1630 what they think we should do to solve the problems that we face today. (Even worse actually, since the rate of scientific progress has been accelerating)

    • “A lot of the renewable increase is from Wind, and I don’t know if people are keeping up but most of that is from the plains in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.”

      I was sickened to hear on my local tv the other day that thre are still 44 new Windmill Farms planned for Oklahoma.

      Last year the Oklahoma legislature stopped all future subsidies for Windmill Farms, saying that to continue to pay the subsidies would eventually bankrupt Oklahoma.

      I don’t know if these 44 new Windmill Farms fall under the old subsidy regulations and will get paid by Oklahoma taxpayers to build their projects, or if the Windmill Farms are relying solely on Federal subsidies to keep them profitable. I’m assuming they couldn’t make a profit on their own, without subsidies.

      Anyway, it looks like more Oklahoma landscape will be blighted, and more animals killed, for no good reason.

  16. Not really surprising is it? Trump, as an econ driven person, simply is letting the energy folks compete with one another. Today natural gas and fracking is cheapest.
    Sadly, the fools of renewables compete only with the heavy hand of government and sucking up tax monies that would be better spent then subsidizing these fear mongrels.

  17. Coal-fired power plants are being shut down because natural gas is an intrinsically cleaner and more efficient fuel, and the recent advances in fracking technology have made natural gas abundant and relatively cheap.

    Burning coal efficiently requires an extremely hot furnace, and the flue gases need to pass through a baghouse to remove particulates, and scrubbers to remove sulfur oxides, according to EPA rules dating back to the 1970’s. A coal-fired plant generally produces about 35 to 40% of the heating value of coal as electric power.

    Natural gas can be used to generate power in a gas turbine, where air is compressed to high pressure, mixed with natural gas for burning, and the heat released from burning natural gas increases its pressure and temperature, and the high-pressure gas is used to drive a turbine to produce electricity (some of the energy is used to drive the air compressor). In a combined-cycle plant, the hot, low-pressure gases leaving the turbine can be used to boil water and generate steam, which is then used to drive another turbine to produce additional electric power. Overall efficiencies of combined-cycle plants usually exceed 60%. Emissions of particulates and sulfur oxides from natural gas are negligible, while the only pollutant of consequence is nitrous oxides, which can be neutralized by reacting them with ammonia to produce nitrogen and water vapor (selective catalytic reduction).

    President Trump’s energy and environmental policies are not intended to favor one fuel over another, but only to have them compete on a level playing field, without concerns over CO2 emissions (which are NOT a pollutant). In areas where both coal and natural gas are readily available, natural gas will tend to displace coal due its higher efficiency and lower emissions of real pollutants such as particulates, sulfur oxides, and nitrous oxides. But in areas located far from natural-gas pipelines but well-served by railroad, coal may still be favored since it can be delivered by rail, and no pipelines are needed.

    Just because some coal-fired power plants in the USA have shut down during Trump’s term does not mean that Trump has failed the coal industry. Coal is much cheaper to export (particularly by sea) than natural gas (which must be compressed and refrigerated to liquefy it), and the rapid construction of coal-fired power plants in China provide an ample market for exported American coal, since China does not mine coal fast enough to fuel them.

    • Yes, China will remain a ready market for US coal for some time to come. I heard that an increase is part of the new Phase 1 trade deal with China.

      As for the ‘renewables’, get rid of the government subsidies, and they won’t be competitive with coal and natural gas.

      It would be neat to see nuclear make a comeback, perhaps with the molten-salt reactors that William Astley talks about above.

  18. I’m a major buyer of natural gas, electricity and coal for a chemical company in Houston. This is all driven by the changes in the PJM market. Most of the coal generation retired was operating at less than 40% run rate. Marcellus is massive and natural gas cost $2/MMBtu in that area. Today you can lock natural gas at $2.50/MMBtu for 10 years! A natural gas plant produces power at 1.7 cents/kwh at that price. A coal plant is far less efficient, has a more costly delivery method (rail), has more frequent outages, more stringent emission controls because of higher pollution (PM2.5, PM10, Sulfur, etc.) and creates a mess with the coal ash waste that has a cost to addressed. All in, a very good coal plant generates power at ~4 cents/kwh. Gas power reacts instantly, coal can’t. The phase out of thermal coal in US is a done deal and a good thing, nothing to do with the environment. This is market forces doing its job. We are swimming in natural gas. Coal main markets in North America will be steel production and exports. The smart coal miners that will be around in 10 years already know this. The rest are just running for another 2-3 years, go bankrupt and retire. They are not naïve, this is their actual plan.

  19. The roots of the decline of coal at the utility I work for began way back in the 1990’s (perhaps even earlier). A combined effect of EPA redefining existing CAA rules on older coal-plants and the prospect for emerging rules (PM2.5 and other emerging regulations) pushed us to sign agreements with EPA that we would shut down coal plants over the next two decades.
    There were certainly other factors involved as well.
    We were the largest coal-fired power generator of electricity in the US until the last decade.
    The current administration is the first in my 35 year career to provide relief from ever increasing regulation – but sadly too late for coal-fired generation at my company.

  20. I can’t speak for other utilities capacity planning teams; but, my team recommended the closure of several coal plants with replacement using natural gas plants for reasons that had nothing to do with any threat of green house gas regulations (I’m now retired). These included:

    1) From 2008-2014 economic activity had dropped significantly and the demand for electricity with it.

    2) Forecast demand for electricity was flat or falling due, in part, due to demographic changes resulting from the baby boomers retiring and the existence of a much smaller working population behind them.

    3) Due to factors 1 & 2 above we had excess production capacity – to the extent that some coal plants had dropped their capacity factors into a non-economical 20% range.

    4) Many of the no longer economical coal plants needed pollution upgrades for NOx, SO2, and/or particulate.

    5) All of the coal plants were in the range of 60+ years old. So, decreasing the age of our fossil fleet made sense – since some of these plants were nearly at the end of their practical life.

    6) The cost of labor and commodity prices were relatively low, consequently construction cost were forecast to be temporally low and remain low in the time frame needed to build natural gas plants.

    7) The capital cost of a natural gas plant was considerably lower than that of coal plants.

    8) We had a regional excesses of natural gas pipeline capacity.

    9) We had service regions where the historical price of delivered coal and gas had been nearly even before the advent of gas fracking and where the price of gas was likely to dominate well into the foreseeable future.

    10) We more far more likely to the limited by our NOx emissions that Green House Gas emissions in states where potential increased industrial electrical demand was highest – being relatively heavy in nuclear. So, shifting from coal to gas increased decreased NOx emissions and increased our ability maintain a load profile that could support heavy industry, manufacturing, and (ironically) the appetites of high tech server farms and cloud facilities.

    11) We knew that States going the full “renewables” route had a load profile that could not, in the future, provide electricity to heavy industry, manufacturing, and high tech facilities. So our planned load profile meant the States we served would have a very significant economic advantage over renewable heavy States. (Meaning more higher paying jobs over the full spectrum of our population & more customers for us as the U.S. population fled liberal states for the South Eastern U.S.)

    12) The flexibility of natural gas plants meant we could cost effectively start them as intermediate plants and shift them to serve as base-load plants should electricity demand increase more than expected. In comparison, a coal plant needs to start as a base-load unit and normally shifts to an intermediate plant role later in life.

    13) We could build in (or retain) some of our previous “lost” capacity as a contingency for guessing wrong on our forecast for the “flat to decreasing” electrical demand forecast. Or in other words, as a contingency for our expectation of population shifts into our region as more people choose to live in the Southeast U.S.

    14) By shifting, we could retain all of the advantages above while providing electricity at prices at the lowest ends of the U.S. market… thus not subjecting our population to energy poverty and increasing their economic opportunities… while decreasing emissions below that required at the same time.

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