Analyst: 65,000 megawatts of coal likely retired by 2017

Iowa State University climatologist Dr. Elwynn Taylor speaking at the 23rd annual U.S. Energy Services conference Thursday in Minneapolis (Photo by Dan Haugen)

We’ve seen a handful of headlines from around the Midwest lately about utilities retiring coal-fired power plants rather than pay for upgrades to comply with new EPA pollution regulations.

These stories aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, according to at least one energy analyst.

Edward Kelly, vice president of Wood Mackenzie’s North American Gas and Power consulting group, told a roomful of gas industry insiders Thursday in Minneapolis that he expects around 65,000 megawatts of coal-fired power generation to be taken offline by 2016 or 2017. The coal-fired power plant retirements will be concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast, he said.

Kelly spoke at U.S. Energy Services’ 23rd annual energy conference, held on the 50th floor banquet room in the IDS tower. U.S. Energy is an energy procurement and consulting company in Plymouth.

It’s a matter of how much, not if, coal-fired generation is taken offline in the next several years, Kelly said. The reason is a series of “regressive” regulations being enforced by the EPA.

“The EPA is really bent on this,” Kelly said. “They think this is in the law.”

Among the regulations that are squeezing coal-fired power plants are the Clean Air Transport Rule, the Mercury Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard, Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) standards, and a new rule under the Clean Water Act.

Kelly covered some of the same concepts from a September 2010 release from Wood Mackenzie, “Long-term Viability of Many US Coal Plants at Risk.”

While the regulations and retirements could be “dire” to those who operate older coal plants, they could be good economic news for others in the energy industry.

In February, Climate Progress reported on a Ceres study that projects pending Clean Air Act rules will create 1.5 million jobs, more than offsetting those lost from coal retirements.

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