More Coal Plants Than Scheduled to Be Retired, EIA Predicts

Competition and costly new environmental regulations will push more plants offline, the Energy Information Administration says.

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The EIA predicts that more coal plants will be retired as a result of costly new environmental regulations.

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More coal-fired plants will be shut down in the next two years than previously scheduled, the Energy Information Administration predicted on its website Friday.

Low natural gas prices, slow growth in energy demand and expected costs stemming from air-quality standards are leading to the planned retirements, the EIA said.

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“A large percentage of the total retirements that are going to occur are already planned and scheduled by electric companies, but there are still some to come that look likely given the cost of complying with MATS, as well as the competition between natural gas and coal,” says agency statistician M. Tyson Brown, referring to new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which will require many existing plants to invest in expensive equipment to reduce their emissions.

“They’ve already planned to retire a certain amount. We think, actually in the annual energy outlook, that a bit more will retire,” Tyson says.

About 60 gigawatts of capacity now are expected to go offline by 2040, the EIA projected, with 90 percent of that amount shutting down within the next two years, just after the new pollution regulations take effect.

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The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which has opposed the White House's efforts to tighten regulations on coal plants, criticized the projection. 

“This administration is focused on removing coal from the energy mix despite the fact we will see much higher energy costs and an unreliable grid," spokeswoman Laura Sheehan writes in an email.