It's unlikely that we'll ever see as many coal-fired power plants close in a single year as we saw in 2015, but 2018 has come awfully close.
For all Trump and congressional Republicans have done to "save" the coal industry, from rolling back clean air rules to allowing the extraction industry to dump their waste into streams, at least 20 plants will shut down by the end of the year.
Twenty U.S. coal-fired power plants have closed or are expected to close by year-end, making 2018 the top year for coal retirements since environmental regulations helped shutter 17 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2015. This year’s widespread closures were headlined by the retirement of four massive Vistra plants in the ERCOT (Texas) market. Coal plants retiring this year produced 127,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2017, enough to power 12 million homes. Replacing just half of that generation with natural gas could boost demand for the fuel by as much as 1.5 billion cubic feet per day. Fierce competition from cheap gas and zero-marginal-cost renewables will continue to drive closures, particularly in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. An additional 37GW, nearly a quarter of today’s fleet, are set to exit the U.S. market by 2025.
It's especially telling to me that the bulk of this year's closures will be seen in the Republican stronghold of Texas.
Economically speaking, it doesn't make sense for Texas or any other conservative state (or any state period) to continue operating coal-fired power plants when cheaper and cleaner alternatives are available. Texas has no shortage of sun, a virtually boundless expanse of flat plains to plant wind turbines on, and easy access to natural gas.
The steps the Trump regime has taken to "save" the coal industry were never truly going to stop the above from happening. Their actions will only line the pockets of coal industry executives who will extract as much as they can from their last remaining workers much the same way those workers will extract as much as they can from the land itself. Only a husk will remain.
As far as we know, the Trump regime's plan to subsidize coal-fired power plants that are due for retirement has been shelved, but that's exactly the kind ill-fated stunt I expect he will pull in 2019 or 2020 as he tries to hold on to the rust belt voters who put him in power in 2016.
Whatever machinations Trump unveils in the coming months, a House Democratic majority will be there to closely scrutinize all of it.