Despite President Trump’s repeated promises to resuscitate the collapsing U.S. coal industry, top energy-industry analysts project a faster than expected pace of coal plant retirements in the coming years.
Over the next decade, 73 gigawatts of coal will retire — representing one quarter of current U.S. coal capacity — according to Bruce Hamilton, a Director in Navigant Consulting’s Energy Practice, which has analyzed every U.S. plant.
“That’s more than twice what we projected last year at this time,” Hamilton said at the American Wind Energy Association’s Windpower 2018 conference Tuesday, Forbes reports. “The economics of coal have gotten worse,” he explained, “with costs going up, while the competition for coal — that is, gas, wind and solar — has all gotten cheaper.”
Yet, Navigant’s coal forecast was conservative compared to that of other speakers. For instance, Dan Shreve, a partner at MAKE Consulting, forecast that coal retirements over the next decade could hit 80-90 GW.
And Max Cohen, an Associate Director at IHS Markit, said they are projecting “about 100 Gigawatts of coal retirements. That’s about a third of the fleet.”
During his presidential campaign, Trump said he would end President Obama’s supposed “war on coal.” But the fundamental problem for coal is economics, not politics.
Coal power plants are simply becoming too expensive to operate compared to natural gas and renewable energy. Indeed, building and running new wind and solar farms is now cheaper than just running existing coal plants in many places.
The main fight now is how much of the shuttering coal capacity will be replaced by natural gas, and how much will be replaced by renewables.
Solar and wind provided 98 percent of all new U.S. power capacity in January and February, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reported last month. FERC projects that renewables will provide 69 percent of new capacity by March 2021.
In the 2020s, renewables seem poised to capture a growing share of the market, given how rapidly their prices are dropping — and given that the price of electricity storage, especially lithium-ion batteries, is coming down just as quickly.