A near record amount of coal-fired electricity is poised to go offline this year, according to recently released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Set to retire in the United States this year are some 13 gigawatts (GW) at more than a dozen units—that’s an amount second only to the nearly 15 GW of coal power shut down in 2015. The falling fortunes of coal are also evident in the EIA’s projections for its production: a decline from 773 million short tons last year to 759 million in 2018 and 741 million in 2019. By contrast, natural gas production is expected to match a record set in 1970.
According to the EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook, coal’s share of the electricity generation mix, which only a decade ago was close to 50 percent, is projected to fall below 30 percent this year. The primary reason? Cheap natural gas, which this year could see the largest single-year increase since 2004 with the addition of roughly 20 GW of new natural gas-fired power generation. The EIA expects these trends to continue in 2019, when it projects that gas-fired plants will generate 34 percent of the country’s electricity and coal, just 28 percent.
Inexpensive and plentiful natural gas is not the only factor influencing coal plant closures. Other factors, according to the EIA, are plant age and size—most coal plants retired since 2008 have been older and smaller than their competition—changes in regional electricity use, federal or state policies that affect plant operation, state policies that require or encourage the use of certain fuels, and improving competitive generation technologies.
Other EIA forecasts for 2018: nuclear power will provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity, non-hydropower renewables, nearly 10 percent; and hydropower, slightly less than 7 percent. U.S. wind power generation capacity will rise to 96 GW, up from about 88 GW in 2017, while solar power generation capacity will hit 50 GW, up from 43 GW last year.
Chatterjee, LaFleur Discuss FERC Order
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Neil Chatterjee said Tuesday that a new FERC investigation into grid resilience could take longer than the 90-day timeframe established by regulators last week when they unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees.
FERC gave regional grid operators 60 days to detail how they could enhance grid resilience, after which other “interested entities” will have 30 days to reply—considerably faster than most major market reform discussions at FERC.
“One of the reasons I thought the record warranted the short-term [coal and nuclear payments] is … it’s going to take time to sort through this,” Chatterjee said during a panel discussion hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center where he and FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur discussed FERC’s Jan. 9 ruling as well as previewed the docket that the panel created to investigate regional transmission organizations (RTOs’) resilience practices. “I am under no illusion that this process will end in 90 days.”
Both Chatterjee and LaFleur were reluctant to prejudge the outcome of the proceeding or to speculate on the kind of responses that RTOs will give, but they stressed that they will continue to consider the country as a whole in making decisions to improve resiliency and reliability in the power sector. (subscription)
“We’ll see what comes forward in the docket,” said LaFleur, noting that it is possible that different proposals could come out of the different regions, which have unique challenges.
As Public Hearings Begin, Governors Voice Opposition to Offshore Drilling Plan
Ever since the Trump administration revealed a draft five-year plan that would expand oil drilling to previously protected areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, governors of nearly every state on those seaboards—including South Carolina, Rhode Island, Oregon, California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and North Carolina—have expressed opposition. Under the proposed plan, more than 90 percent of the continental shelf would be available for drilling rights and only one out of 26 planning areas across the three oceans and the Gulf of Mexico would be entirely off limits to oil drilling.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been in talks with many of the coastal state governors since he agreed to exclude Florida from the plan days after its release. Governors and lawmakers have sent letters pointing to the importance of tourism as a reason to exclude their states from the plan—the tact taken by Florida’s governor.
“The long-term health of New York’s economy is inextricably linked to protecting our ocean resources,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter to Zinke. “Much like Florida, New York’s ocean coast is unique and plays a vital role in our economy.”
Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage and other Gulf Coast governors who already have drilling off their shores are among those open to new exploration.
The proposal presently includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.