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Coal-fired plants continue to be retired despite efforts to save coal
January 15, 2019

Despite efforts by the Trump administration to make good on a promise to revive the coal industry in the United States, coal-fired plants continued to be retired at a rapid pace during the past two years.

Data compiled by Reuters and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that more than 23,400 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired generation were shut in 2017-2018 versus 14,900 MW in 2009-2012.

In 2018, about 14,500 MW of coal-fired power were retired. That is the second most in history behind the 17,700 MW retired in 2015.

The number of U.S. coal plants has continued to decline every year since coal capacity peaked at just over 317,400 MW in 2011, and is expected to keep falling as consumers demand power from cleaner and less expensive sources of energy.

Cheap natural gas and the rising use of renewable power like solar and wind have kept electric prices relatively low for years, making it uneconomic for generators to keep investing in older coal and nuclear plants.

Generators said they plan to shut around 8,422 MW of coal-fired power and 1,500 MW of nuclear in 2019, while adding 10,900 MW of wind, 8,200 MW of solar and 7,500 MW of gas, according to Reuters and EIA data.

The predictions come from estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters and U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Donald Trump campaigned for president in part by saying he would save the U.S. coal industry. Since taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration has announced its intention to leave the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and is relaxing Obama-era rules on emissions from power plants as it seeks to boost domestic production of oil, gas and coal.

The Trump administration has also tried unsuccessfully to slow the retirement of coal and nuclear plants through a directive in 2017 from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize the aging units because they make the electric grid more resilient.

U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, spiked in 2018 after falling for the previous three years as cold weather spurred gas demand for heating and the booming economy pushed planes and trucks to guzzle fuel, according to a study by Rhodium Group, an independent research group.

After falling to 5,144 Mt (5,670 million st) in 2017, the lowest since 1992, the EIA projected U.S. energy-related carbon emissions will rise to 5,299 Mt (5,841 million st) in 2018.
 

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