Like “The War on Christmas” – “The War on Coal” is also a Fox News Fable

December 25, 2013


We in the US are now in a de facto moratorium on new coal construction. What few projects may be currently underway will most likely be the last ever build in this country.


Coal-fired power plants are shutting their doors at a record pace — and for the most part, nobody’s building new ones.

The latest round in the war on coal? Not exactly. The reality is that Americans’ lights will stay on just fine even as coal plants continue to close, thanks to a quiet revolution in energy efficiency and a boom time for cheap natural gas. Throw in some stricter rules for older plants, and the result is a sharp drop in the economic viability of coal-fired power.

Since 2008, coal has dropped from nearly half the U.S. power market to about 37 percent. In the next several years, industry analysts say, hundreds of older coal-fired units will power down for good.

The coal industry and its supporters have blamed these trends on a “war on coal” by President Barack Obama, but the facts on the ground don’t entirely support the political rhetoric. True, Environmental Protection Agency regulations are forcing older plants to reduce pollution and upgrade their equipment, helping drive the wave of shutdowns. But increasingly efficient homes, office buildings and factories and a fall in demand for electricity are big reasons why power companies don’t need to build replacements right away — possibly for another two decades.

Even in coal-heavy Kentucky, utilities have decided that at times, closing a big coal plant is the least costly option. And many customers won’t even notice that the plants are gone.

“While many coal plants are expected to close, for a variety of reasons we are unlikely to feel it at the light switch,” said Jennifer Macedonia, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Midwest Energy News:

A new report warns that Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness could be at risk if the state doesn’t diversify its electricity sources.

The Badger State is already burdened by the second highest electricity prices in the Midwest, with only Michigan customers paying more on average.

Those rates are likely to climb faster than inflation and prices in surrounding states in the next decade due to Wisconsin’s dependance on coal-burning power plants, according to Gary Radloff, director of Midwest policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute.

His recent paper, “How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World,” says better planning and more investment are needed to shield the state’s economy from fossil fuels’ risk and volatility.

“Wisconsin will fall behind in global and domestic economic competitiveness unless it moves towards a balanced energy portfolio with less reliance on high-cost coal and more reliance on clean energy technology solutions,” Radloff writes. “That is not the case today in Wisconsin, and in fact, there are troubling signs Wisconsin has slipped behind other states in the path to long-term energy innovation and economic success.”

‘Misguided planning’

Wisconsin may be locked into higher energy prices because of “misguided energy planning in the past” that made long-term commitments to coal plants that are increasingly expensive to operate, Radloff writes.

The report says concerns about electricity supply and reliability in the 1990s and early 2000s led to over-building of coal plants in the state, and customers will be stuck paying for them for the next 20 to 30 years.

They include the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, the largest construction project in state history. The $2.2 billion project came in 8 percent over budget. Wisconsin regulators last year approved a rate increase passing most of that overrun on to customers.

Radloff cites a Sierra Club forecast that coal prices will increase about 6 percent per year or 2 percent above inflation over the next decade because of growing transportation, operational, and regulatory expenses.

26 Responses to “Like “The War on Christmas” – “The War on Coal” is also a Fox News Fable”

  1. […] 2013/12/25: PSinclair: Like “The War on Christmas” – “The War on Coal”… […]

  2. Midwest Utilities want to give coal a pass on tighter Mercury emissions rules. The Northeast cries foul because they get Midwest pollution. Meanwhile, wind makes inroads reducing coal emissions.

  3. Replying to this, reparented:

    Why is it necessary to exaggerate nuclear as co2 free?

    Because it is, especially compared to “renewable” generators with more embodied energy per average watt and shorter useful lives.

    Why is there no response to Kewaunee shut down by a for profit company? Gas plants were not shut down. There are no gas advantages over nuclear, except economics.

    Like suicide, it was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  The current low gas prices will not last, and over-regulation (e.g. heaping on large expenses for additional security against terrorist scenarios that would never get as far as harm to the public) is fixable.  So because of this, a paid-for asset has been destroyed and at least 2.4 million more tons of CO2 will be put in the atmosphere every year for however long the plant would have run, as much as 48 million tons in all assuming it displaced natural gas and there were no further license extensions.

    Do you call that a success for the environment?  I don’t.

    The industry is unable to replace at the rate it declines without excessive cost over runs, delays, and subsidy give always.

    The Vogtle, Summer and Watts Bar construction projects are all proceeding more or less on schedule and budget.  This is directly traceable to the Combined Operating License law and the elimination of roles for “intervenors” once approvals have been issued.

    Witness the hypocritical free market lecturing despite lucrative nuclear subsidies.

    Subsidies that no nuclear plant has yet received.  Instead witness the hypocritical “renewables” industry, selling into markets with below-zero prices because they receive direct subsidies or feed-in tariffs and then saying that OTHER technologies, without which the grid would go dark, are obsolete.  I guess the only thing more pathetic is people who believe it.

    Readers interested in a reality based picture behind Midwest nuclear power plant closure may check these links [omitted]

    One interesting quote I found says “Ten years ago, baseload generators were touted as the firewall that would protect ratepayers against price gouging orchestrated by unscrupulous power marketers like Enron. Today, we have a diametrically opposed dynamic. In a chronically depressed market, baseload generators are the ones in greatest need of additional ratepayer outlays to sustain them.”  So what’s the response?  To knock off the cleanest and steadiest of those base-load generators to address the oversupply.  What happens when the oversupply is gone?  Prices will go up!  Ratepayers may discover that the firewall was a good thing… after it’s gone.

    The oil (and now gas) majors play a game that goes far beyond quarterly revenue and profit figures.  They intend to play their hand for all the money they can get out of it.  Be warned.

    • So if its the truth, exaggerate it? Don’t you get that exaggeration is not the truth? Don’t answer that. Why was Kewaunee shut down for profit? You make economic arguments for nuclear, not me. Now you can’t back it up, you change your tune. The industry is unable to replace at the rate it declines. That includes older plants that cannot run so well and other reasons why production is down. Worldwide production is down. That does not lower CO2. Arguing that the profit motive is wrong goes only so far. Especially when it ignores when the profit motive has some reason behind it. To wit, the excess capacity of base load generators in the Midwest. You say it knocks off the cleanest supply. Did you read the link? Base load applies to other units as well, including coal and one coal plant is not being fully used. If you want to argue against profit motive, you are now allowing the argument that wind should be used even if it is not cost competitive. You cannot have it both ways on every argument, you have to apply criteria evenly. If you want to argue that way, you have to say nuclear is not economically favorable, but we should use it anyway for some other reason. But arguing its economic when private, for profit organizations are shutting them down flies in the face of reason. You go on to renewables produce more CO2, but no references. Why should this be any more believable than any of your other unreferenced claims that have been debunked. You state Vogtle is on schedule and budget, but Vogtle is not on schedule and on budget. This is an example of not being reality based. Please don’t bother with the usual denials and conspiracy theories. This is the Wall Street Journal, a conservative source.
      Honestly, this is tiresome. Maybe I am overly concerned that anyone will be taken in by this deception. Clearly, not only is exaggeration a habit, you see no downside to doing it. I would have thought that you would tidy up your arguments a bit to give them more weight, but instead just the opposite. Criticism does not only act to weaken an assertion, it can also strengthen it, if criticism is used properly. See, the thing is, its not that there is no validity to what you have to say, there is some truth…. but the way you try to prove your point. Sorry. Thats just too much. You destroy your own arguments and willingly by accepting exaggeration and rejecting valid criticism. You seem to think an honest admission weakens your case. Just the opposite. Thats why I showed the centrifuge information with the gaseous diffusion. If I wanted to be deceptive, I never would have shown centrifuge. Its ironic you claimed that was deception. By doing so, it strengthened the case. I understand that you want to represent facts in a positive light re nuclear. Thing is, if you don’t balance them, and make sure the sources are good and show sources openly, it has the opposite effect. Don’t rob the reader of choice and intellect. If you don’t respect others right to think and make choices, they will reject your argument. They may reject your argument anyway, thats their right, but they will reject them even sooner if you exaggerate.

      • Discovered this way back in my queue.

        So if its the truth, exaggerate it? Don’t you get that exaggeration is not the truth? Don’t answer that.So if its the truth, exaggerate it? Don’t you get that exaggeration is not the truth? Don’t answer that.

        If it’s an exaggeration for nuclear power it’s a much greater exaggeration for “renewables”, with their vastly greater embodied energy and associated carbon emissions per unit of output.

        Why was Kewaunee shut down for profit?

        Because our accounting standards are insane, and so-called “environmentalists” have de facto kept fossil-fired generation in business by making hysterical noises about everything nuclear up to and including the ridiculous assertion that there’s no difference between a commercial power reactor and a nuclear bomb.

        In terms of actual physical capital, shutting down a paid-for asset which generates large cash flow and has decades of useful life remaining is insane.  The only reason the cost of Kewaunee went up so high is because of ridiculous political mandates (like security against nigh-impossible terrorist attacks) and any actual de-carbonization measures like a carbon tax.  $20/ton CO2 tax would bump up gas-fired electricity about 1¢/kWh, enough to have kept Kewaunee in the game and tens of millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere over the next 20 years.  A carbon-free generation mandate, ditto.  Instead, laws were written specifically to exclude nuclear power despite being purported to address climate change.

        The industry is unable to replace at the rate it declines.

        Only in the West, where “Greens” receive stealth financing from fossil interests to hobble carbon-free nuclear.  Friends of the Earth was started with a large seed donation from an oil executive.

        And having had several comments summarily deleted of late, I’m going to end this here.

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