According to the Wall Street Journal, the coal industry is struggling to build new plants, because of fear of climate change. It’s a long story, so I’ll put a couple of other excerpts (one relating to Florida) below the fold, but here’s the lede:
From coast to coast, plans for a new generation of
coal-fired power plants are falling by the wayside as states conclude
that conventional coal plants are too dirty to build and the cost of
cleaner plants is too high.
As recently as May, U.S. power companies had announced
intentions to build as many as 150 new generating plants fueled by
coal, which currently supplies about half the nation’s electricity. One
reason for the surge of interest in coal was concern over the higher
price of natural gas, which has driven up electricity prices in many
places. Coal appeared capable of softening the impact since the U.S.
has deep coal reserves and prices are low.
But as plans for this fleet of new coal-powered plants
move forward, an increasing number are being canceled or development
slowed. Coal plants have come under fire because coal is a big source
of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for global warming, in a time
when climate change has become a hot-button political issue.
It’s hard to say how many proposed plants will never
be built. Some projects suffer public deaths when permits are denied.
Many more simply wither away, lost in the multiyear process of
obtaining permits, fending off court challenges and garnering financing.
In the wake of the fading coal proposals, and others
that are expected to follow, Citigroup downgraded the stocks of
coal-mining companies last week, noting that "prophesies of a new wave
of coal-fired generation have vaporized." On Monday, Steve Leer, chief
executive of Arch Coal Inc., said some of the power plants he had
expected to be built "may get stalled due to the uncertainty over
The rapid shift away from coal shows how quickly and
powerfully environmental concerns, and the costs associated with
eradicating them, have changed matters for the power industry. One
place where sentiment has swung sharply against coal is Florida.
Climate change is getting more attention there because the mean
elevation is only 100 feet above sea level, so melting ice caps would
eat away at both its Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.
In mid-July, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist convened a
climate-change summit to explore ways the state could improve its
environmental profile. In June, he signed into law a bill that
authorizes the Florida Public Service Commission to give priority to
renewable energy and conservation programs before approving
construction of conventional coal-fired power plants.
The law was bolstered by a recent report from the
nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy that found
Florida could reduce its need for electricity from conventional
sources, like gas and coal, by 29% within 15 years if it implemented
aggressive energy efficiency measures.
On the eve of the governor’s summit, backers of a
major power-plant proposal said they would suspend development
activities for an 800-megawatt coal-fired plant proposed by four
city-owned utilities including the one serving the state capital,
Tallahassee. (One megawatt can power 500 to 1,000 homes.) The backers
cited environmental issues.
That decision followed the rejection by the utility
commission of a proposal by Florida Power & Light Co., a unit of
FPL Group Inc., to build a 1,960-megawatt coal plant in Glades County,
Fla. The commission found that the plant was cost effective in fewer
than half the scenarios examined. One reason for its poor showing is
uncertainty about the future cost to curb carbon dioxide pollution.
Coal plants emit more than twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of
electricity produced as natural-gas-fired plants, but there’s no cheap,
easy way to capture and dispose of the greenhouse gas.
[Ed. note — the story also provides, for the first time I’ve seen, a rough estimate of how much more it costs to build a so-called "clean coal" plant — about a half-billion dollars more to build a plant that will capture 30% of CO2 emissions, and another 600+ million to build a pipeline to send CO2 to deep offshore storage. This would raise the costs of power from so-called "clean coal" to twice the usual figure, at which point it becomes uneconomic. Great story from Rebecca Smith.]