Thursday, December 20, 2007

Coal power - more plant cancellations than anticipated? - UPDATED

Great post regarding 17 distinct coal plant proposals that have been canceled in the past fourteen months. A few things stand out to me - the growing momentum in the last few months, the breadth of states involved, and the variety of stakeholders that are influencing or making these decisions.

I took the liberty of aggregating this information into a table, and did some additional digging. In addition to the 17 coal-plant rejections referenced above, I located an additional five cancellations or postponements:

[click on picture for larger image]
All told, I count 14GW in projected capacity additions that have been canceled or significantly postponed in the past year (not including the 8 proposed plants canceled in the TXU deal). It is also important to point out that a number of these rejected coal proposals included new IGCC projects (as opposed to your traditional coal-fired facilities).

This seems to be to be a significant trend on which I have seen only limited reporting (here and here for example).

Overall, in 15 separate states, the decision has been made to reject thousands of MW in coal-based future capacity additions, and to use some other energy technology. At least 20 separate utilities and power generators have been affected. Moreover, I don't see this trend of coal-plant cancellations slowing, given that since July, there have been 16 cancellations or postponements alone.

Yet if this is the case, why do we still continue to see articles such as this from the Economist, only a month ago ("Coal Power - Still Going Strong"):
In America, more coal-fired generation is being built than at any time in the past seven years, despite the threat of emissions caps, according to the Department of Energy.
I suspect that this specific statement of optimism stemmed from the DOE's May release of its report: "Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants" (out of the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory), which stated that 90 GW in new coal-fired power plant additions was on the way:
A newly released Department of Energy report shows that many power producers are turning to coal as the most economic and abundant national resource for electricity generation....Ninety (90) gigawatts of new coal-fired power plants are under consideration or have recently become operational.
Contrast this statement with an updated version of the "Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants" (this one released two months ago), which was a decidedly more downcast affair, and made a far different claim [quotes taken from various sections of report]:
Historically, new coal-fired power plant development announcements are not valid indicators of actual new capacity installations. Current power plant development status indicates that approximately 1/3 of announced megawatts have progressed through permitting and/or into construction.

Actual plant capacity, commissioned since 2000, has been far less than new capacity announced. Year 2002 report of announcements reflected a schedule of nearly 12,000 MW to be installed by 2005, whereas only 329 MW were achieved.
At some point, this capacity has to be made up, either on the demand side through energy efficiency and demand response, or on the supply side - natural gas, nuclear, or renewable energy additions. Given the unabated growth in U.S. demand for electricity, coupled with the billions in forecast ed revenues that could be lost by energy companies (AES, AEP, Duke, Entergy), this is a trend that will be watched.

UPDATE: a couple months after I first wrote this post, I wanted to add a link to the most exhaustive list I've come across to date - Sourcewatch which describes 51 separate coal plant cancellations in 2007 (excluding the TXU deal)


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