SALEM, Ore., February 15, 2014 — The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a revised forecast for coal-fired electric power plant retirements on Friday. It’s up considerably from just a couple months ago.
The revised projection is for 60 gigawatts (GW) of coal generated electric capacity to be retired by 2020 instead of the previously predicted 43 GW. In 2012, coal supplied 309 GW of electricity generating capacity for the United States.
The EIA credits two things for the increase in coal retirements:
- MATS (Mercury & Air Toxics Standards) enforcement in 2016
- Rise of cost competitive natural gas
MATS is an Obama Administration EPA initiative that began in February, 2009. MATS has been designed, approved and goes into effect in April, 2015, with a built-in one year grace period. It applies to all new coal-fired power plants.
It requires plant operators to install expensive scrubbers to reduce toxic chemical pollution. Ninety percent of coal retirements before 2020 are expected to be done by 2016 because of MATS.
MATS, though, only accelerates a private-sector, market driven conversion from coal-fired to natural gas-fired electric power plants made possible by the shale gas revolution. Eco-friendly natural gas doesn’t have coal’s toxic emissions. The exodus from coal began in 2007.
It is informative to compare scheduled electric plant retirements with planned new ones. Only one electricity source shows a decline — coal. It’s a large decline, too.
Natural gas will supply the bulk of new electric plant capacity coming online in the near term. Nuclear, wind and solar will also make contributions.
Even in 2020, though, existing coal electric plants will still supply 32 percent of all U.S. electricity. Coal isn’t going away anytime soon, but the writing is on the wall.