Coal Power Reportedly Losing Popularity

According to research compiled by Coal Moratorium NOW! and Rainforest Action Network, 59 proposed coal-fired power plants were cancelled or shelved during 2007. Both groups are calling for a moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

The list, including documentation, is posted online at “Coal Plants Cancelled in 2007.” It includes data supplied by Sierra Club, coalSwarm, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Lab, and utility industry sources.

Ted Nace, founder of Coal Moratorium NOW! said, “Although we knew that many plants were being nixed, we were stunned by the total number. It spells real hope for the movement seeking to blunt the coal rush.”

Among the study’s conclusions:

• Climate concerns played a role in at least 15 plant cancellations. These included five plants in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist has made global warming a top issue; a three-unit plant in Kansas opposed by Gov. Kathleen Sibelius; and several plants affected by strict new carbon regulations in western states.

• Coal plants disappeared entirely from some utilities’ long-range plans: Increasingly, coal plants were cancelled before they could even be named, due to increasing regulatory scrutiny of long-range integrated resource plans by states such as Oregon and California.

• Renewables began elbowing out coal: Regulators in several states favored utility-scale renewables over coal. In Delaware, regulators cancelled a coal power plant proposed by NRG Energy in favor of an alternative proposal that combined wind and natural gas. In California, the combination of a strict carbon emissions standard and a renewable portfolio standard prompted utilities to enter into contracts for large thermal solar projects sponsored by Ausra, BrightSource, and Solel.

• Grassroots opposition mounted, financial markets cooled to coal: After a spate of enthusiasm in 2006, coal plant financiers in 2007 recoiled from escalating construction costs; litigation by environmental groups; and public opposition to coal expressed through rallies, sit-ins, petitions, and local referenda in Texas, Maine, Montana, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia, and elsewhere. As sponsors ran into difficulty raising funds, numerous projects were quietly abandoned.

• More plants were abandoned than rejected: Of the 59 cancelled or sidetracked projects, only 15 were rejected outright by regulators, courts, or local authorities. In the remaining 44 cases, the decision was made by the sponsors themselves. Besides climate concerns, leading reasons for abandoning plants include (1) rapidly rising construction costs, (2) insufficient financing or failure to receive hoped-for government subsidies, and (3) lowered estimates of demand.

After mainly building natural gas turbines during the 1980s and 1990s, utilities returned to coal when natural gas prices jumped in 2000. In May 2007, the Department of Energy’s “Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants” (5/07) study counted 151 proposed coal plants. Five months later, “Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants” (10/07) counted 121 proposed plants. According to a survey completed in the first week of January 2008 by Coal Moratorium NOW! and Rainforest Action Network, the number of proposed plants (including those under construction or recently completed) now stands at 113.

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