HOUSTON Jan 4 More than 9,000 megawatts of
coal-fired generation were retired in the United States in 2012
as stricter federal pollution standards moved closer to reality
and cheaper natural gas made coal plants less attractive
economically, according to a Reuters survey of power generators.
U.S. companies have retired or announced plans to shut or
convert more than 36,000 MW of older coal-fired plants over the
next few years as they work to reduce emissions in advance of
new environmental rules and shift to less-expensive natural gas.
Eventually, the transition from coal may shut as much as
60,000 MW to 100,000 MW of coal-fired generation across the
country, according to various industry estimates.
See Factbox listing coal-plant retirements:
Coal plants account for about 316 gigawatts (GW) of
generation in the United States, or about 30 percent of the
nation's 1,039-GW electric fleet.
But many coal plants have been in service for decades and
face stiff competition from newer gas-fired plants as the price
of gas falls.
The average price of spot gas last year fell to a 13-year
low, according to Reuters data.
Lower gas prices have depressed power prices to at least
10-year lows in several regions, making it uneconomic for
generators to install costly environmental controls on older and
smaller coal plants.
Those controls are necessary to keep the units compliant
with the latest limits on air, water and waste emissions from
the Environmental Protection Agency and some states.
Coal-fired generators were expected to produce about 38
percent of the nation's power supply in 2012, down from 42
percent in 2011, according to federal data. But the Energy
Information Administration (EIA) expects coal to produce 40
percent of the nation's power in 2013.
Coal produced more than half of the nation's power as
recently as 2003.
Even as coal plants shut, a few new coal plants are coming
online after several years of construction.
Duke Energy put an 825-MW coal-fired plant in
service last month at its Cliffside power plant in North
Carolina while a unit of American Electric Power Co
began operating the 600-MW Turk plant in Arkansas.
LS Power Group expects to bring a 900-MW coal plant in Texas
online this year, one year later than scheduled due to start-up
U.S. power companies began planning dozens of new coal
plants in the mid-2000s when natural gas prices soared and power
demand was rising. Many of the projects were canceled or delayed
as gas prices fell with increased production from shale
formations, the recession pared power consumption and the EPA
moved to tighten existing pollution limits and to begin to
regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
Last month, NRG Energy canceled a plan announced in
2006 to build an 800-MW coal unit at its Limestone plant in
Texas, citing the affordability of gas.
Duke and AEP are among the biggest owners of coal-fired
power plants in the country. Others are Southern Co, the
Tennessee Valley Authority, First Energy, NRG Energy and