Coal Plant Closures Reach a Near Record High

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

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.

From Bloomberg:

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.

  • muselet

    The coal industry is dead, it just hasn’t stopped moving yet (apologies to the late Douglas Adams).

    It’s past time to move to post–Victorian-era technologies to generate power.


  • Draxiar

    Fuck coal.

  • katanahamon

    Well, this can’t possibly be right. Rump “digs” coal! Rump is going to bring coal jobs back!

  • Somewhat related…Ashby, don’t know if you knew but a ballot initiative here in AZ to force power companies to increase the percentage of renewable energy sources to 50% by 2030 failed. So one of, if not THE, sunniest states in the country can’t even force our energy companies to use more solar power. Arizona voters are not the brightest bulbs in the box, that’s for sure.

    • katanahamon

      Yep..here in UT we have about 300 sunny days a year too..it’s ridiculous. That and mountains..it’d be perfect to put wind turbines at the ridgelines. Considering the impending fresh water crises, I’ve thought they should begin pipeline construction from the gulf as they get monstrous amounts of rainfall, and use solar power stations along the way to power water to the western states.