Research Report

Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants

Rachel Cleetus
Steve Clemmer
Ethan Davis
Jeff Deyette
Jim Downing
Steven Frenkel
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2012
Pages: 106
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Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. 1-14)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Pulling the Plug on Uneconomic Coal Plants
    (pp. 15-20)

    In the spring of 2009, executives at Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) had a choice: clean up or shut down the utility’s 52-year-old Merrimack Station power plant. Reducing the plant’s harmful emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particles (soot), mercury, and other pollutants as required by state law would mean spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install modern pollution controls. The controls would have many public health and environmental benefits such as reducing acid rain, smog, lung cancer, asthma, and diseases caused by mercury. But, as a coalition of businesses, ratepayers, and nonprofit groups⁵ argued,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 What Makes a Coal Generator Ripe for Retirement?
    (pp. 21-30)

    Economics typically drive the decision either to upgrade and continue operating a coal generator or to retire it. Based on this premise, our analysis evaluates the economic competitiveness of the generators in the operational coal fleet, and identifies the ones that are most ripe for addition to the growing list of plants already slated to retire. We do so by answering one simple question for each coal generator in the United States: When modernized with current pollution control technologies, does the coal generator produce power at a cost that is competitive with cleaner alternatives? If the answer is no—meaning...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Ripe for Retirement Results
    (pp. 31-48)

    Like the 288 coal-fired electricity generators (or units) that are already calling it quits, there are still many more in the remaining fleet that are similarly old, dirty, unproductive, and increasingly uneconomic. Given the long overdue need to invest in modern pollution control technology for coal generators, plus stiff competition from cleaner, lower-cost resources such as wind power and natural gas, and technology to reduce demand through increased efficiency, the economics of keeping old coal generators operating has become harder and harder to justify. The trend is clear: if we want to continue a transition toward a cleaner, healthier, more...

  8. CHAPTER 4 We Can Do It!
    (pp. 49-62)

    Retiring as many as 641 coal-fired generators accounting for 100.2 GW—288 (representing 41.2 GW) already slated for retirement plus up to 353 in our high estimate (representing 59 GW) identified as ripe for retirement—is not trivial. Collectively, those generators supply enough power to meet 10 percent of national electricity use—more than enough to satisfy the combined needs of Florida and Georgia (EIA 2012d).

    The nation’s electricity system is well prepared to continue providing reliable, affordable power while retiring and replacing these coal generators over the next several years. There are several reasons the system can readily handle...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Modernizing the Electric System
    (pp. 63-68)

    Achieving a smooth transition to a cleaner, more sustainable, and affordable electricity system will require utility regulators, power grid operators, utility companies, and power producers to make appropriate resource planning and policy choices. Investments made in new transmission lines and new power generators—whether fossil-fueled or renewable—create long-lived assets that remain part of the nation’s energy portfolio for decades. As such, the choices we make today will profoundly affect how quickly, affordably, and reliably we can shift to cleaner energy sources and reduce the emissions that are causing climate change. To accelerate this transition, we offer the following recommendations....

    (pp. 69-72)
  11. APPENDIX A Methodology
    (pp. 73-78)
  12. APPENDIX B EPA Pollution Standards for Power Plants
    (pp. 79-80)
  13. APPENDIX C State Rankings Summary Tables
    (pp. 81-83)
  14. APPENDIX D Alternative Scenarios Summary Table
    (pp. 84-84)
  15. APPENDIX E Plant-level Listings by State
    (pp. 85-98)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 99-99)