PSEG Power is retiring two coal plants that generate about 1,200 megawatts of electrics on June 1, 2017. That’s on top of the nearly 18,000 megawatts that was retired over the last year, which was older and mostly smaller units.
It’s a trend. It’s economic, meaning that utilities are finding it cheaper to build modern combined cycle natural gas plants than to retrofit the older coal-fired facilities with new technologies.
“The 2015 coal retirements alone equal as much coal capacity as the US retired in the 20-year period between 1990 and 2009,” says the Sierra Club, which is leading the Beyond Coal campaign with Bloomberg philanthropies.
Altogether, the Brattle Group says that utilities have already announced that 52,000 megawatts have either retired or have announced they will retire. There will be an additional 25,000 megawatts retired without a formal carbon policy and between 50,000 to 90,000 megawatts closed with a national plan in place by 2030.
The Energy Information Administration generally agrees with those figures, adding that anywhere between 138,000 megawatts and 362,000 megawatts of renewable generation will come on line by 2040.
The variance in the number of retirements or renewable additions is contingent on whether the Clean Power Plan that requires 32 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2030.
As for New Jersey-based PSEG Power, a unit of the Public Service Enterprise Group, it is closing its Hudson 2 and Mercer units. It is citing cheap natural gas prices.
All the major coal-burning utilities are doing the same: American Electric Power, Arizona Public Service Co., Duke Energy, NRG Energy and Southern Co., to name a few.
“Much of the existing coal capacity in the United States was built from 1950 to 1990 during a time when electricity sales were growing much faster than population and gross domestic product,” says the US Energy Information Administration. “In more recent years, electricity sales growth has slowed or fallen, and net capacity additions (of all fuel types) have been relatively low.”
The agency says that average age of those that retired in 2015 was 54 years. The rest of the coal fleet that continues to operate is relatively younger, with an average age of 38 years, it adds. In 2016, about 40 coal plants are expected to go.
Ohio, Georgia and Kentucky are among the states that have retired the most coal plants. Meantime, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont have no coal plants.