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Almost All Power Plants That Retired in the Past Decade Were Powered by Fossil Fuels

graph of U.S. utility-scale electric generating capacity retirements, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860M, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator InventoryNote: Includes reported retirements through October 2017 and reported planned retirements for November and December.

Nearly all of the utility-scale power plants in the United States that were retired from 2008 through 2017 were fueled by fossil fuels. Of the total retired capacity, coal power plants and natural gas steam turbines accounted for the highest percentages, 47% and 26%, respectively. Most of the planned retirements through 2020 will also be coal plants and natural gas steam turbines, based on information reported to EIA.

Various factors influence the decision to retire a power plant. For example, the coal power plants retired since 2008 were relatively old and small, averaging 52 years and 105 megawatts (MW), compared with the fleet of coal plants still operating, at 39 years and 319 MW. Other influential factors include changes in regional electricity use, federal or state policies that affect plant operation, and state policies that require or encourage the use of certain fuels such as renewables.

Improving technologies also play a part in plant retirement decisions but may not change the overall use of any one fuel. For example, older natural gas steam turbine technologies may retire, even as newer, more efficient, and operationally flexible technologies such as natural gas-fired combined-cycle and combustion-turbine capacity are being built.

The Western, Texas, and Eastern interconnections comprise the power grid of the Lower 48 states. The Western Interconnection covers the area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas covers most of Texas. The Eastern Interconnection covers the area east of the Rocky Mountains and includes some parts of Texas. In this analysis, states are grouped to roughly reflect the three interconnections.

graph of changes in regional electricity generation capacity, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860M, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

The Eastern region contains most of the U.S. electricity generating capacity—736 gigawatts (GW) of the nation’s 1,076 GW, as of October 2017. The East had the largest share of capacity retirements in the past 10 years compared with the Western and Texas regions, at 10% of Eastern region capacity. Coal-fired capacity in particular was disproportionally affected in this region, as 19% of the Eastern region’s coal capacity retired in the past decade, compared with 17% of the national coal capacity.

graph of eastern region utility-scale electric generating capacity retirements, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860M, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Of the three regions in the U.S. power grid, Texas has the least amount of generating capacity, totaling 123 GW as of October 2017. Since 2008, most retirements in Texas were generators that used natural gas steam and petroleum technologies. During that period, a total of 35% of Texas natural gas-fired steam turbine capacity and 66% of petroleum capacity retired. Coal retirements totaling 532 megawatts (MW) accounted for 2% of total installed coal capacity in Texas. However, Texas is expected to have 5,583 MW of coal retirements in 2018, based on planned retirement dates reported to EIA.

graph of Texas utility-scale electric generating capacity retirements, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860M, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

The Western region of the United States has about 217 GW of operating capacity. San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Units 2 and 3 provided 2.1 GW (23%) of the Western region’s nuclear capacity before their retirement in 2013. Since 2008, natural gas steam turbine retirements accounted for 46% of the region’s installed natural gas steam capacity.

graph of western region utility-scale electric generating capacity retirements, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860M, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Principal contributors: Scott Jell, Michelle Bowman

Original Post

Content Discussion

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on January 18, 2018

Just getting started retiring fossil fuels.

Expect about 18-20GW of coal retiring in 2018.

Of the 262 GW of coal listed in the latest Generator data – Oct 2017 – about 149GW is at least 40 years old. Wow!

200GW is at least 35 years old. Double Wow!

Coal is dying quickly across the US and with it CO2 from the Electric Power sector continues to plummet.

Time to switch emphasis to other sectors like transportation. Transportation now emits more CO2 vs Electric sector and the gap widened in 2017.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on January 18, 2018

Scott & Michelle, lest someone be deluded into believing a green revolution is underway, your title might be replaced with another at least as accurate:

“Almost All Power Plants To Be Built in 2018 Will Be Powered by Fossil Fuels.”

Or even more accurately (if not as pretty):

“In 2018, Every Retiring Fossil Fuel Power Plant Will Be Replaced By 2 New Fossil Fuel Power Plants.”

2018 will see 25 gigawatts of new methane-fired generation, an increase of 100% over 2017. On average, these methane plants will last until 2063, spewing 56 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each and every year in between.

This, Rick Perry’s DOE would like us to believe, is progress.

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/images/2017.01.30/chart2.png

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on January 19, 2018

Joe, in 2018 twice as much new fossil fuel generation will be built to replace what’s retired, with reliance on methane in the U.S. rising through 2040. And some see that as progress. Triple Wow!

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on January 19, 2018

Bob,
Agree that more NG plants will get built in place like PA,OH,FL etc…

That said – as you can see below the total capacity of Fossil Fuels across US has actually dropped 20GW from its peak in 2011.

More important the amount of FF generation in the US has dropped 9% in the last 10 years. In 2017 generation from both Coal and NG dropped.

5.8GW of coal capacity dropping off the Texas market this year. Huge.

Solar just getting started there – gonna really hurt coal and eventually NG as well.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on January 19, 2018

Bob,

You might want to think your position through a little deeper.

It will be much easier for nuclear has to get a foothold in the US after a substantial amount of coal is shutdown.

If, like you say, NG replaces most of this coal then US utilities will be overly dependent on NG. NG generation would have to be substantially higher than it is today. 50%, 60? more? Could be really tough for production to keep up with this demand. We are also building more NG LNG facilities of export. So more sources of demand for the supply. Throw in a really cold winter…

This could easily mean a substantial price rise for NG.

Jump ahead to 2025.
According to you – the US will have much higher NG generation. NG prices going higher. Utilities and PUCs will be looking for a hedge against NG. With much lower coal capacity – increasing coal plant utilization will not help – so only alternative will be Renewables. Unless of course, nuclear can actually show up and compete. See how that works?

You should be happy that all of this coal is shutting down. Think different Bob.