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Another Week, Another String of Coal Closure News

Student Energy

Despite many of the difficult issues facing the clean energy industry today, one trend that doesn't seem to be slowing down recently is the spate of coal plant retirements. Coal is notoriously the power generation source that emits the greatest amount of greenhouse gases, and until recent years it was undisputed king of the energy industry-- both in prevalence and in affordability.

The page has turned, though, on the coal industry as the total generation and percentage of the energy mix accounted for from coal continues to drop. Week after week, month after month, the news wires have been inundated with stories of coal plants retiring, as the economics fail to make sense anymore. Much of these decisions are even without taking into account the economic realities that could be in the future of the generation business, whether through carbon taxes, subsidies for non-emitting energy, or otherwise. 

So, with that in mind here's a quick rundown of some of these most recent reports continuing to track with the decline of the coal power industry:

 

  • In Chile, it was announced that eight coal-fired power stations would be closing over the next five years. This announcement comes as a part of the South American nation's plan to switch entirely to renewable energy by 2040 to meet its climate goals. These eight coal generation plants  will account for 20% of the entire country's energy capacity, to the tune of 23 GW. While the short-term replacement appears to be imported Argentinian natural gas, the long term plan is to be fully carbon neutral by 2050. 

An aerial view of a biogas plant that turns animal manure into electricity in Chile, which plans to switch entirely to renewable energy by 2040

  • Amid the controversial Ohio state bill that looks to continue propping up economically failing coal plants, one community in the state has seen its coal plants close 2 years ahead of schedule as a signal to what the long-term outlook for coal appear to be. This profile, though, shows the hardship such a closure can have on a community, bringing to light how important it is for government to step up and provide assistance for the transition away from coal for those communities that will be economically affected. 

power plant

  • Another consideration that must be taken into account as coal plants close is the economic cloud of stranded assets. This review of a Wisconsin utility that's recently shut down its largest coal burning plants emphasizes that "while the plants sit idle, the meter is still running for consumers and will for the next 20 years until the remaining balance on the plant is repaid, as well as a profit for shareholders. The tab will approach $1 billion over the next two decades, according to recent filings with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission."

Pleasant Prairie coal plant. Photo credit: We Energies/MCT/Newscom

  • Lastly, a notable state of the coal industry demonstrates that even having a friend in the Oval Office hasn't been enough for the coal industry to fight the reality ahead, as officially 50 coal plant closures and 51 announcements of closures have taken place since President Trump first took office. 

What are the other notable trends the utility industry should be watching out for as the sector shifts towards cleaner energy sources?

Matt Chester's picture

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William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Jun 17, 2019 8:10 pm GMT

I'm puzzled why share holders should get a dividend on a coal plant that has shut down and no longer earns money.  Surly they have made a bad investment and too bad.  Where is it legislated that a share holder must get a dividend regardless.

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