Sorry, Trump. US Coal Plant Retirements Second Highest Ever

CC BY-SA 2.0. Señor Codo

2018 was not a good year for those fighting the war against the war against coal.

When I wrote about Spanish miners embracing the closure of mines, one commenter questioned my assertion that US coal was declining too. And they were right—at least as far as coal production is concerned.

Consumption, and consumption capacity, however, is another matter.

Bloomberg News Energy Finance (found via the good folks at Cleantechnica) reports that coal power plant closures will hit their second highest year on record, at least as far as capacity is concerned:

This year’s widespread closures were headlined by the retirement of four massive Vistra plants in the ERCOT (Texas) market. Coal plants retiring this year produced 127,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2017, enough to power 12 million homes.

And nobody appears to be in a rush to be building new capacity either. Interestingly, alongside competition from cheaper natural gas, Bloomberg New Energy Finance points to the "zero marginal cost" nature of renewables as one of the factors putting pressure on the viability of coal. As Mike noted back in 2015 (the only year to beat the current one for coal plant closures), the fact that solar and wind have extremely low marginal costs once they are up and running means they can afford to undercut coal for baseload power at almost any price—leading to what some have referred to as "death by capacity factor".

It looks like the pro-coal folks in Washington DC may have their work cut out if they're going to reverse a trend that appears to be accelerating around the world.