This is a pretty big deal for those of us who care about the environment, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. Two power utilities have announced planned closures of 9 more coal plants throughout Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey, bringing the United States up to a total of 106 retired coal plants since January 2010, flying right by the 100 milestone.
The Fisk and Crawford Plants, two Chicago-based plants owned by Midwest Generation, have been a key target for several local activist groups. With operations starting in the early 1900s and no updates since the late ‘50s and ‘60s, plus violations of air quality standards, the two plants represented the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Chicago area in 2010. Midwest Generation has been put under intense pressure by activists and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to shut the plants down.
GeOn Energy is responsible for the second set of closures, which will close 3,140 MW of aging plants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. All the plants are coal except for one oil-fired plant. The company noted that new, stricter air quality regulations would make it exceptionally difficult for the plants to stay in operation.
With a combination of high domestic coal prices, new air quality regulations, activist pressure, low natural gas prices, and increasingly competitive renewables, coal is becoming a worse and worse choice for power plant operators.
If you’re wondering how the lights will stay on if coal is phased out and the plants go away, there is actually already enough natural gas capacity to make up for more than 100 GW of closures.
However, there are still plenty of questions regarding natural gas, such as the life cycle of emissions and how environmentally effective it will prove to be over time – not to mention the ongoing controversy surrounding gas fracking processes. But with the growing amount of investments getting pumped into renewables, energy efficiency, and cleantech generally, the gap will hopefully begin to close and we will be well on our way to a country, and world, with cleaner, healthier power.