Georgia Utility To Phase Out Old Coal Plants

January 7, 2013 in Renewable energy

Coal plantGeorgia Power, the largest utility in Georgia, announced plans to phase out 15 old coal and oil burning plants. Retiring old coal plants is a trend. Reuters recently reported that over 9,000 megawatts (MW) of coal fired generation was retired in the U.S. last year. Plant owners and operators reported to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that they expect to retire almost 27 gigawatts (GW) of capacity from 175 coal fired generators between 2012 and 2016. There were 1,387 coal fired generators in the U.S. totaling almost 318 GW in 2011, so 27 GW represents almost 8.5 percent of 2011 coal fired capacity.

Why are so many coal fired plants being retired? The EIA lists the following reasons for coal fired plants being retired:

  • As electricity demand growth declines, some of the smaller, older and less efficient coal plants are not used
  • The variable costs of operating natural gas fired plants have decreased to those of coal fired plants. There has also been a boom in shale gas production
  • The availability of highly efficient natural gas combined-cycle power plants that are currently not fully utilized
  • Aging coal fired generators
  • Environmental compliance costs
  • Other compliance costs

There is also the influence of Sierra Club’s campaign, Beyond Coal which it launched in 2002. Naturally, Sierra Club is pleased with the news that Georgia Power is phasing out “nearly one quarter of their dirty, eighteenth century technology is good for families and good for their customers,” as Seth Gunning, Beyond Coal Organizer with the Georgia Sierra Club, put it.

It would be great if Georgia Power replaced the coal fired plants with solar and wind. “If the company chooses to replace this capacity with home-grown, twenty-first century energy technology like solar and wind, their decision will also be good for Georgia jobs. Moving beyond coal and oil is the right decision for Georgia Power,” Gunning said.

Photo: Flickr user, Rennett Stowe

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