Coal-fired Power Plant Renaissance Just a Bunch of Hot Air

posted by Rainforest Action Network
Coal-fired power plant near Emmitt, Kansas

There has been a flurry of discussion about a new coal-fired power plant boom, sparked by this article last week by Matthew Brown for the Associated Press, and continuing on the New York Times blog today.

According to these articles, more than 30 traditional coal plants, representing 17GW of power, have been built since 2008 or are under construction. This is being billed as a record: the coal industry’s “largest expansion in two decades.”

However, the record that the press isn’t talking about is the record set by the anti-coal movement, which stopped the construction of more than 100 coal-fired power plants since the beginning of the coal rush in 2001.

Overall, we are seeing a wane, not a surge, for the coal industry.  Our friend, Ted Nace at CoalSwarm, explains what is really happening here:

“According to industry analysts, an expected 20% of the coal fleet is expected to be retired by 2016 due to tightening control of “criteria pollutants” like SO2, NOX, and mercury, even without any regulation of carbon dioxide. The plants that are going to be shut down are the older, smaller plants that are just not economical to retrofit. So yes, utilities are adding 17 GW of new coal plants, but they are going to lose about 66 GW of old ones over the next 6 years or so.”

“Overall, the grip of coal is noticeably weakening. As late as 2004, coal represented 50% of electricity generation. In 2008 it dropped to 45%.”

And here’s an in-depth look at the nation’s current energy mix, from David Roberts at Grist.

This isn’t a battle over data, but a battle over framing. Do not believe the hype, the power of the coal industry is in decline. Our work to combat the coal industry is succeeding, join with us to ensure it stays that way.