Nine More Dirty, Aging Coal Plants Set to Close, Bringing Total U.S. Retirements to 106 Plants Since 2010

Today was a big milestone for people who care about public health and a livable climate. Two utilities announced the planned closure of nine coal plants in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, bringing total retirements (executed and planned) since January 2010 past the 100 mark to 106.

Two plants in Chicago owned by Midwest Generation, the Fisk Plant and the Crawford Plant, had been a key target for local activist groups. These two plants have been in operation since the early 1900’s and were last updated in the late 50’s and 60’s. Along with violating “grandfathered” (i.e. lax) air quality standards and causing hundreds of emergency room visits each year, the two plants represented the largest source of local greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

Local and national activists groups, along with the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, put intense pressure on Midwest Generation to shut the plants down.

The second set of plant closures come from the wholesale power provider GenOn Energy, which said it will close 3,140 MW of aging plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. All of the plants are coal, except for one that is oil-fired. GenOn said new air quality regulations would make it difficult for the company to keep the plants operating.

A confluence of factors is making it very difficult for owners of coal plants — particularly old coal plants — to compete. A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.

So just how much of an impact have these factors had on coal closures? Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign sent along these numbers:


  • 106 coal plants, 319 units
  • 42,895 MW (13% of fleet)
  • 150 million MWh (8% of fleet)
  • 162 million tons/year of CO2 (9% of fleet)
  • 921,417 tons/year of SO2 (16% of fleet)
  • Average age: 55 years old
  • (For plants with available data – Data from Clean Air Task Force): 2,042 pre-mature deaths, 3,229 heart attacks and 33,053 asthma attacks prevented each year (about 15% of total health impacts from fleet).  All together these plants retiring will save about $15.6 billion in health care costs.

So what’s going to happen to the lights when all that coal gets phased out? According to a group of forward-thinking power providers, there’s already enough unused combined cycle natural gas capacity installed to make up for over 100 GW of closures.

Of course, with questions about the life-cycle emissions of natural gas still unanswered, it remains to be seen how environmentally effective all that gas will be. But with record amounts of investment pouring into renewables and efficiency, and progressive utilities calling increasingly cost-competitive solar “the next big thing in the industry,” the forces are coming together to close the gap.


8 Responses to Nine More Dirty, Aging Coal Plants Set to Close, Bringing Total U.S. Retirements to 106 Plants Since 2010

  1. Sasparilla says:

    Nice to see nine more close up (wish there still wasn’t a bunch of new ones under construction).

    Amazing there was a oil fired power plant still around…I thought they were all gone in the 70’s.

    Average age 55 years, that’s just amazing.

  2. clays says:

    Hay, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, are you and Obama trying to lower gas prices at all?

    “No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

  3. Leif says:

    Does anyone have a handle on the profits for the owners of these pollution sources over the 55 years of their trashing the commons for the rest of us?

  4. Leif says:

    Energy is going to cost more, get over it clays. Your choices are to use less. Produce some locally and keep the money in your community to promote Jobs for you and your neighbors. Clean up the mess left behind. More jobs. All of the above. In do time, with free energy from the environment and transferred infrastructure perhaps the price can come down a bit.

  5. Jimmy Cracks Capricorns says:

    @ Leif – energy will cost more in the short run. Efficiency gains make your needs less. In the end your relative cost remains about the same or even lower, but your footprint is reduced and that benefits us all.

    Can you imagine 500-750 miles per 15 minute charge on your new high speed electric car? Well get ready because by 2020 the market will be flooded with them thanks to new battery technology announced last year at Northwestern University. Stop acting like oil is the only thing in between you and walking…progressive thinking and progressive minds will lead us to the next economy, not snake oil disguised as conservatism.

  6. Dennis Shibut says:

    Clays, you have the power, right now, to cut your gas bill in HALF ($2/gal). How? By ‘buddying up’ with a neighbor, friend, or colleague for commutes to work and when you go shopping. Swap cars and drivers every other week or so, no need to exchange money. And just think, what if everyone did this!

  7. The Irritator says:

    Old fossil fuel plants don’t always die…they don’t even all fade away. Many are carefully disassembled, labeled, and sold to a third world country at a bargain price. Sometimes our antique power generator is another country’s step toward modernity. And they generate just as much pollution and greenhouse gases at their new home as they did in the States.

  8. Elise says:

    You can also save a lot of money, not to mention energy, by leaving your thermostat at 60°F. To make it work, you need fleece, thermal underwear, sometimes a hat, and a little lair kept warm with a quartz heater or an oil-filled electric radiator. The number I’ve heard, but not from an engineering source so it may be wrong, is that you save 3 percent on your bill for every 1° you drop the thermostat. Fifty at night would be even better, but I’m not there yet.