Joined: Jul 2015
When the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona shuts down later this year, it will be one of the largest carbon emitters to ever close in American history.
The giant coal plant on Arizona’s high desert emitted almost 135 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2010 and 2017, according to an E&E News review of federal figures.
Its average annual emissions over that period are roughly equivalent to what 3.3 million passenger cars would pump into the atmosphere in a single year. Of all the coal plants to be retired in the United States in recent years, none has emitted more.
The Navajo Generating Station isn’t alone. It’s among a new wave of super-polluters headed for the scrap heap. Bruce Mansfield, a massive coal plant in Pennsylvania, emitted nearly 123 million tons between 2010 and 2017. It, too, will be retired by year’s end (Energywire, Aug. 12).
And in western Kentucky, the Paradise plant emitted some 102 million tons of carbon over that period. The Tennessee Valley Authority closed two of Paradise’s three units in 2017. It will close the last one next year (Greenwire, Feb. 14).
“It’s just the economics keep moving in a direction that favors natural gas and renewables. Five years ago, it was about the older coal plants becoming uneconomic,” said Dan Bakal, senior director of electric power at Ceres, which works with businesses to transition to clean energy. “Now, it’s becoming about every coal unit, and it’s a question of how long they can survive.”
Coal plant closures have been a feature of U.S. power markets for the better part of a decade, as stagnant demand, low natural gas prices and increasing competition from renewables have battered the coal fleet.
In previous years, most retirements were made up of smaller and lesser-used units (Climatewire, April 27, 2017). That means the emissions reductions were less substantial.
In 2015, the United States closed 15 gigawatts of coal capacity, or roughly 5% of the coal fleet. That still stands as a record amount of coal capacity retired in one year.
Yet the emissions reductions were modest by today’s standards. The units retired in 2015 emitted a combined 261 million tons in the six years prior to their retirement, according to an E&E News review of EPA emissions data. On average, they annually emitted about 43 million tons over that period.
Contrast that to 2018, when almost 14 GW of coal was retired. Those units emitted 511 million tons of carbon between 2010 and 2015. Their combined average annual emissions rate was 83 million tons.
The trend figures to be even more dramatic this year.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects almost 8 GW of coal to retire in 2019, or a little more than half the capacity retired in 2015. Yet the units retired this year emitted more than their 2015 counterparts. Between 2010 and 2015, their combined emissions were 328 million tons, giving them an annual emissions average of 55 million tons.
Other factors are also at play in the retirement of coal’s behemoths. In some cases, federal air quality regulations or an exodus of customers may have contributed to the closure, said John Larsen, who leads power-sector analysis at the Rhodium Group, an economic consulting firm.
The Navajo Generating Station is a case in point. The plant had already planned to shut down a unit to comply with federal smog regulations. Two utilities with a stake in the facility had either divested from the plant or plan to do so. And the plant’s largest customer announced it could buy power on the wholesale market for less.
“You notice the average size of retired plants going up over time. There are not a lot of small plants left, period,” Larsen said. “Once you’ve cleared out all the old inefficient stuff, it’s logical the next wave would be bigger and have more implications for the climate.”
There are several caveats to consider. Units scheduled for retirement generally produce less in the years running up to their closure, meaning the plants that closed in 2015 once emitted more than they did near the end of their lives.
There’s also this: The vast majority of super-polluters have no closure date in sight. That’s because massive coal plants generally benefit from large economies of scale. Because they crank out power around the clock, their cost of generating electricity is relatively cheap.
“The coal plants remaining have generally installed all the environmental controls,” Larsen said. “There are no additional regulatory threats, or they are cost-effective in a world where gas is $2.50 per MMBtu.”
Another caveat: Coal plant closures don’t guarantee power-sector emissions reductions on their own. In 2018, power-sector emissions increased for the first time in many years because electricity demand rose, prompting natural gas generation to spike (Climatewire, Jan. 14).
But if there is a notable trend with the current round of plant closures, it is this: The large coal plants closing today are in places like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
“You’re not seeing climate policy close these plants,” said Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for Energy Innovation, a nonprofit that advocates for a transition to clean energy. “Coal plants are becoming more expensive to operate over time.”
gud, but only if vacuum replaced by renewables
not other fossil fuels
Joined: Feb 2010
i mean most coal ceo already said that unless trump can magically shove out coal from his ass there is nothing that can be done to revive coal industry. coal has been used so much that there is probably not a lot left.
time to move on to a new feul source which we should have done to begin with.
"among monsters and humans, there are only two types.
Those who undergo suffering and spread it to others. And those who undergo suffering and avoid giving it to others."
Joined: Jul 2019
drop in the bucket. Don't get me wrong, China is doing some great stuff for solar panels.
Pakistan opened two plants this year which produce about 1/4 of the power that the Navajo Generating Station did. On the plus side I'm guessing it cleaner then the Arizona plant.
Coal Isn't Dead. China Proves It
"For production, China’s December coal output was 2.1% higher than it was in 2017, hitting the highest level in over three years. The country started up new mines last year and then ramped up production to meet high winter demand. Due to domestic gas supply shortages in recent years, China has been softening its stance to displace coal heating with natural gas.
China approved nearly $6.7 billion worth of new coal mining projects in 2018, and production increased 5.2% to 3.55 billion tonnes."
"For example, Carbon Brief reported last summer that China quietly has 210,000 MW of new coal capacity in the works, or nearly a 25% expansion."
Why Is China Placing A Global Bet On Coal?
from article: "Edward Cunningham, a specialist on China and its energy markets at Harvard University, tells NPR that China is building or planning more than 300 coal plants in places as widely spread as Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Philippines."
"The plants are significant investments at a time when most nations of the world, including China, have committed to fighting climate change. "When you put money down and put steel into the ground for a coal-fired power plant," says Cunningham, "it's a 40- or 50-year commitment.""
if ignorance is bliss why am I not happy?
Joined: Aug 2017
Ironically the only reason they've stayed as long as they have is massive subsidies, we can thank all the dumbass environmentalists who wanted government to pick and choose winners and losers rather than just leaving things an open playing field where all energy sources could compete equally. People just don't seem to realize that when it comes to energy, products, and habits at home; the environmentally sound option is often the most profitable / cheapest. Only energy source government should be getting involved is nuclear, which is BY FAR the cleanest and most efficient energy source; but ironically the one time we need government to get heavily involved in the energy sector all our dumbass voters and their elected representatives refuse to let government open up any more plants. Meanwhile the French are laughing their asses off as they enjoy having the lowest energy bills in the first world.
If we didn't have such an uneducated populace we would have been freed of coal plants and much of the other dirty energy sources long ago. Instead sustaining ourselves off of Nuclear Energy and (where it's geographically profitable) renewable energy sources (like hydro and geothermal) to help slow down the Uranium depletion (not that we'd even have to worry about that for hundreds of years but hey might as well think ahead).