Number of coal-fired power plants keeps dropping in US

The government’s released figures showing the number of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. is down markedly and the remaining plants are being used much less than previously.

Newly released figures from the Energy Information Administration show that coal plants in the United States had a “capacity factor” of 47.5 percent in 2019, the first time it’s been below 50 percent in decades of available records. This means that the total electricity production from the country’s roughly 310 remaining coal plants was less than half of what it would have been, had every plant operated every hour at full capacity.

The percentage is remarkably low considering that coal plants also are closing at a rapid rate, which means the plants still operating are some of the most efficient and profitable. The fact that even these plants are being used less than they were shows fundamental changes in the economics of generating electricity, with coal losing ground even more than might be apparent from just looking at plant closings.

It also raises questions about why utilities aren’t being more aggressive in closing coal plants. At least some of that reluctance is because companies are still paying off the costs of building the plants or of environmental retrofits, an obstacle some states are looking to address.

“It’s pretty clear that the decline in coal use is sustained, it’s big and it’s real, and it’s coming mostly from the big drop in natural gas prices we’ve seen in the last decade,” said Catie Hausman, a University of Michigan professor whose research focuses on energy and climate policy.

She said the decrease in coal-fired electricity, whether because plants are closing or because they are being used less, is a public good, because it reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants.

Gas-fired power plants can run much less expensively than coal plants, and the emissions from gas plants are less, although still significant. Another factor is the growth of wind and solar power, which also are less expensive than coal-fired power.

Source: Climate News