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December 12, 2013
Coal plants topple as MATS nears

We can only imagine how discouraging it must be for the coal industry—both its officials and its workers—to read the regular announcements by energy companies that they will be retiring older coal-fired power plants.  The retirements are prompted mainly by two factors—the increased availability of cleaner-burning natural gas and federal regulations such as the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS), which carry prohibitively high compliance costs for many coal-fired units. 

Moreover, the EPA seems determined to issue additional regulations to control CO2 emissions from coal plants, which will likely incite a new wave of retirements.  The news of closures is also dreaded by the thousands of people employed at those plants.

Brayton Point tops list

Here are few of the more recent announcements:

  • Energy Capital Partners announced that it will shutter Brayton Point, which has three coal-fired units with 1,095 megawatts (MW) of capacity.  The plant, which supports 240 jobs, is the largest fossil-fuel power stations in New England. 
  • Duke Energy will retire nearly 6,800 MW of older coal- and large oil-fired units.  Nearly 6,300 MW of the capacity targeted for retirement is coal, which represents 25 percent of Duke’s coal fleet.  By the end of 2013, Duke Energy will have retired more than 3,800 MW of this older coal capacity.
  • Georgia Power announced that it will retire its 319 MW-capacity Plant Branch Unit 2 in Eatonton, Georgia, after 46 years of operation.  Unit 2 is the last of the plant’s four units to be scheduled for retirement.  Unit 1 will be taken offline April 16, 2015, the effective date of EPA’s MATS.  Approximately 195 people currently work at Branch.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced that it will retire eight coal units at three plant sites in Alabama and Kentucky.  The units have more than 3,000 MW of combined generating capacity.  TVA president and CEO Bill Johnson said the TVA must respond immediately to challenging trends in lower power demand, a slow economy, uncertainty in commodity pricing, and tougher environmental requirements, particularly on air emissions.
  • American Electric Power (AEP) announced the retirement of its 500-MW Tanners Creek Unit 4, in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  Retirement of the three other Tanners Creek units was announced in June 2011.  Approximately 115 people are employed at Tanners Creek.  “The plant’s age, combined with new environmental regulations, our successful energy efficiency programs, and the fact that we currently don’t need additional generation make retirement the best decision for our customers,” said an AEP official.

155 and counting

This short list represents just a fraction of announced retirements across the country.  According to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program, energy companies have announced 155 retirements of units, with a collective 63,544 MW capacity; the Sierra Club states that there are still 368 retirements of “dirty coal plants” with 279,468 MW of capacity “to go.”

"New England is leading the nation in the move away from dirty coal and toward innovative renewable energy solutions like our growing offshore wind industry," James McCaffery, a Beyond Coal campaign representative, said of the Brayton Point announcement.  

The coal industry had a different reaction. 

“Even as the economy struggles to supply jobs for families that need them, activists at the Sierra Club used the Brayton plant closing as an opportunity to rejoice,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association.  “This ability to callously celebrate lost jobs is hard to fathom given all the ways this reverberates throughout affected fami

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