Coal: Markets be Damned, Trump Policy is Greed over Reason

October 16, 2017

Health tip to live by: Don’t have a cardiac arrest.
Despite the tales of heroic paramedics and Doctors resuscitations, once you go down, if no one is standing there with defibrillator paddles, your chances of survival are slender to nil.
Which brings us to Coal.
Republican Party and Trump Administration are pounding on the chest of this corpse in the hope it will be brought back, but meanwhile, the thing is starting to smell.

Dallas Morning News:

Coal’s decline in Texas accelerated this week as Luminant announced it would close three coal-fired power plants in early 2018. Combined, they account for 12 percent of the state’s coal power plant capacity.

The state’s largest power generator revealed Friday that the Big Brown Plant southeast of Corsicana and Sandow Plant northeast of Austin would close next year. A week ago, Luminant announced it was shutting down its Monticello Plant near Mount Pleasant.

The three plants can produce nearly 2,300 megawatts of electricity — enough to power nearly 2.1 million Texas homes.

Luminant officials said cheap natural gas and Texas’ competitive energy market has gradually made these decades-old plants unprofitable. The state has also seen a boom in wind energy (it leads the nation) and increases in solar.

The cost to generate electricity from coal plants varies from $60 to $143 per megawatt hour, compared to $48 to $78 for natural gas, according to a report last year from financial advisory firm Lazard. The unsubsidized cost for wind was $32 to $62.

“Though the long-term economic viability of these plants has been in question for some time, our yearlong analysis indicates this announcement is now necessary,” according to a statement from Curt Morgan, president and CEO of Luminant parent company, Vistra Energy Corp.

These closures slash the company’s coal generation capacity by 37 percent. Another coal plant, CPS Energy’s J.T. Deely, is scheduled to close at the end of 2018. That closure was announced in 2013 and would remove another 840 megawatts of coal capacity, or more than 4 percent of the state’s total.

At 20 percent, coal has the second-largest share of Texas’ power generation capacity, trailing only natural gas at 50 percent. The Luminant plant closings are expected to push wind into second place in capacity.


China is to stop or delay work on 151 planned and under-construction coal plants as Beijing struggles to respond to a flat-lining of demand for coal power.

The newly released list implements a target announced by premier Li Keqiang in March to stop, delay and close down at least 50,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plant projects in 2017.

The list affects coal power plants with capacity equal to the combined operating capacity of Germany and Japan (95,000 megawatts) costing around US$60 billion (389 billion rmb).

The amount of capacity affected hence exceeds the target set for this year but is still well short of the total of 150,000 megawatts the government says is needed by 2020.

However the number of plants on the list has shrunk by around 15% from an original list of 182; a watering down of earlier plans after intense political negotiations. Also, the majority of the plants are technically only “delayed”, putting off the final decision to cancel the projects.

LA Times:

Homer City, PA:

Every morning is filled with anxiety in this hardscrabble town so intertwined with the fortunes of its hulking coal power plant that a drawing of the facility is emblazoned on the community’s police force emblem.

Locals look out their windows to see if there are clouds drifting from its massive smokestacks, indicating the plant is still running. If they don’t see any, they wonder if plant owners have thrown in the towel for good.

“Everyone gets concerned when they wake up and don’t see smoke coming out,” said Rob Nymick, manager of the 1,700-resident borough that he says will be economically “crushed” if the plant goes dark.

As the Trump administration dismantles one of the world’s most aggressive programs to confront climate change, it is invoking the suffering of communities like this one, where the brawny coal power plant that anchors the local economy teeters on insolvency.

Yet as the Trump administration declares an end to what it calls the “war on coal,” Homer City isn’t any less under siege.

The plant remains an albatross to investors, and a source of increasing anxiety to the hundreds of Pennsylvanians who rely on it for their livelihood. It is likely to remain a loser financially no matter how far Trump goes in rolling back regulations.

“I’m not sold on the fact that the war on coal is putting that power plant out of business,” said Nymick, pointing to struggles to compete with cheaper natural gas, solar and wind energy. “You don’t know what to believe or who to believe.”

Other coal facilities throughout the country are also finding no salvation in the elimination of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration promised would reinvigorate them.

A fresh round of closures expected to cost at least 850 jobs was announced by Vistra Energy in Texas this week, even as the administration launched its repeal of landmark regulations on plant greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Clean Power Plan is not what hurt coal,” said Michael Wara, a professor of energy law at Stanford University. “It is hard to hurt someone more when they were already mortally wounded.”

A coal revival requires more than a Clean Power Plan repeal. It requires an outright bailout, an even less politically popular option, that the administration is also pushing. The Energy Department’s plan to force regional electricity grids to purchase large amounts of coal, unveiled days before the Clean Power Plan repeal was made public, is getting a hostile reception. Oil and gas companies are joining solar and wind advocates in working aggressively against it.

“The entire energy economics and energy law community thinks it is a crazy proposal,” Wara said of the subsidy plan. “I have not met anyone who does not have serious problems with it.”

The result has been a flurry of coal-friendly actions. Pruitt is taking aim not only at Obama’s carbon plan for the power industry but a host of other rules limiting mercury, soot, smog and other discharges from coal operations. The president defied the world by withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, specifically complaining that it was unfair to American coal. His administration has also lifted Obama’s moratorium on coal leases on federal land, ended Obama’s restrictions on financing coal projects overseas, and shut down a study of the health effects of coal mining that blasts away entire mountains. His energy secretary, Rick Perry, recently proposed new subsidies for coal plants that keep stockpiles of coal handy, galvanizing opposition from an odd coalition of renewable energy advocates, environmentalists, Koch Industries and other oil and gas interests, manufacturers and other electricity consumers.

At a hearing last week, a Democratic congressman asked Perry why he was pushing a plan that could prop up outdated coal plants and increase costs to ratepayers. The secretary’s response summed up the administration’s approach to coal: “I think you take costs into account, but what’s the cost of freedom? What’s the cost to keep America free? I’m not sure I want to leave that up to the free market.”

LATimes again:

There’s also a lot of skepticism about the effects of repealing the Clean Power Plan.

“In order to justify this, they do serious violence to established economics,” Richard Revesz, dean emeritus at New York University School of Law, said of the repeal. “The level of contortions and the attacks on standard economic principles are unprecedented.”

Revesz runs through what he sees as the absurdities — and possible legal vulnerabilities — with the Trump administration plan.

First, it assumes no benefit from the problems avoided outside of America’s borders when the U.S. pumps less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere — such as the floods, droughts and other humanitarian crises intensified by global warming worldwide, which ultimately affect the U.S. economy and national security.


3 Responses to “Coal: Markets be Damned, Trump Policy is Greed over Reason”

  1. Jerry Falwel Says:

    The coal fired plants are shutting down as gas fired power is cheaper.

  2. Jerry Falwel Says:

    A lot of US coal is sold overseas Africa and China are large markets. Those sales are not going away anytime soon, As long as gas energy is cheaper than coal energy, coal mining tonnage will decrease. Since the mines are either open pit or mechanized if underground, the number of miners will never be larger than today except for minor ups when demand is strong. Coal will be with us for a long time, it simply will not be a large source of energy in the USA market.

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