HOUSTON Nov 13 A new report on the economic
viability of U.S. coal-fired power plants shows as much as
59,000 megawatts may be ripe to retire in the next few years,
the Union of Concerned Scientists said on Tuesday.
That's in addition to an estimated 40,000 MW of coal
generation scheduled to shut or be converted to another fuel in
the next few years, said UCS, a science-based nonprofit
organization based in Washington DC.
The combined closure of 99,000 MW of coal capacity would
represent nearly one third of U.S. coal generation output.
Plentiful and affordable natural gas will make it harder for
power companies to justify the investment needed to keep
smaller, older coal plants in compliance with stricter federal
environmental standards which are being finalized.
Retirement of these aging coal plants "would create an
opportunity to accelerate our nation's transition to a cleaner
energy future," the UCS report said. It would shift investment
from coal toward renewable energy resources - such as wind and
solar - energy-saving technology, a modernized grid and more
reliance on natural gas-fired power plants, the report added.
"Regulators should require utility companies to carefully
consider whether ratepayers would be better off by retiring old
coal plants and boosting electricity generation from natural gas
and renewable energy sources like wind," said Steve Frenkel,
co-author of the report. "Spending billions to upgrade old coal
plants may simply be throwing good money after bad."
UCS issued its report during a national conference of state
utility regulators being held in Baltimore.
Looking at age, size, efficiency and emission controls on
the country's coal fleet, UCS evaluated the competitiveness of
remaining coal plants after adding the cost of needed pollution
controls compared to operating costs of typical gas-fired
The study considered the operating cost of coal plants after
controlling four major air pollutants - sulfur dioxide, nitrogen
oxides, particulate matter and mercury.
Using comparisons to existing and new gas plants and several
future gas price scenarios, UCS said between 153 coal units,
totaling 16,400 MW, and 353 coal units in 31 states, totaling
59,000 MW, would no longer be economical and therefore,
candidates to be shut.
UCS' "ripe for retirement" estimates range from a low of 1.7
percent of U.S. annual output to a high of 6.3 percent.
"Our analysis shows that many of these ripe-for-retirement
units may already be uneconomic even before considering the cost
of pollution controls," UCS said, estimating that even without
new pollution controls, "23,400 MW are already more expensive to
operate than existing natural gas plants."
The U.S. has 316,000 MW of coal-fired generation, accounting
for 30 percent of the nation's total generation fleet, but
coal-plant output has been declining for several years as new
pollution standards were formulated and gas prices plunged to
the lowest level in a decade with expanded production from new
Coal-fired generators were expected to produce about 37
percent of the nation's power supply in 2012, down from 42
percent last year, according to federal data. In 2013, the
Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects coal to produce
40 percent of the nation's electricity.
Coal produced more than half of the nation's power as
recently as 2003.
Meanwhile, natural gas' share of total generation is
projected to reach 31 percent this year from 25 percent in 2011,
then slip back to 27 percent in 2013 as gas costs rise, EIA
Not surprisingly, the U.S. Southeast, Midwest and
Mid-Atlantic regions, areas most dependent on coal plants for
electricity, will see the most retirements.
Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Michigan may see
the most coal-plant retirements, the study said.
Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio also have uneconomic coal
generation, UCS said.
Atlanta-based Southern Co, owns the most coal-fired
generating capacity ready for retirement, the UCS study found,
followed by government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, Duke
Energy, American Electric Power Co Inc and