Goodbye to coal?

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Across the country, many coal plants are temporarily suspending operations in a while replacing them with energy-efficiency programs, renewable energy and natural gas in order to meet new EPA regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Given the current landscape, the reopening of these plants is far from a certainty.

According to research by Black & Veatch released at Edison Electric Institute's annual convention recently, in 2011, 82 percent of executives from utilities large and small supported coal's future. Research in 2012 found that support from only 58 percent.

Many of these utilities are retiring their coal-fired power plants instead of investing in costly pollution control technology. Nationwide, 100 of 500 coal-burning plants will close, according to a New York Post article. Black & Veatch predicts the closing of 450 coal-fired plants by 2020.

Leading the charge, FirstEnergy was the first to announce that it would be closing its plants due to the investments that would be required to meet regulations. American Electric Power (AEP) was planning a huge retrofit, but withdrew its application and will now close five plants. Minnesota state officials are recommending the closure of five coal-fired power plants. Xcel Energy is just one of a number of utilities across the country that has changed two of its plants over to natural gas. South Carolina Gas and Electric (SCG&E) is closing two of its five plants. Duke Energy, Santee Cooper, Progress Energy, Kentucky Utilities, Louisville Gas and Electric – the list goes on and on.

The future of coal looks dim – even without a national energy policy – with less expensive natural gas plants, non-emitting generation like nuclear, and even hydropower potentially on the horizon.

– Barb