by Derf Johnson
Coal plant closure announcements in the United States continue unabated, regardless of Donald Trump. Coal is increasingly becoming a financial albatross for utilities and their customers and shareholders as clean, renewable energy continues to drop in prices and further penetrate the market. What’s truly remarkable is that these retirements are almost entirely financially driven. The old narrative that coal is cheap and renewables are expensive is just simply not true. Just this past week:
FirstEnergy announced it will shut down 4 gigawatts of coal capacity in Pennsylvania and Ohio by 2022 (roughly equivalent to two entire Colstrip plants) because the utility does not want to continue operating the plant at a loss.
- The AES Shady Point coal-fired plant, a 360 megawatt facility in Oklahoma, announced it would close as early as January 2019. It’s current customer Oklahoma Gas & Electric, opted not to renew its power purchase agreement with the plant, as “there are ample savings to be had by looking in the market.” This plant has been a customer of the Spring Creek coal mine in Montana.
- Vistra Energy announced it would close the 51 megawatt McAdoo waste coal plant in Pennsylvania by the end of 2018 because the plant was uneconomic and had a negative financial outlook.
- Xcel Energy announced a plan to retire two coal-fired plants for a total of 660 megawatts in Colorado by 2026, noting that the move “is made possible by steeply declining prices for wind, solar and battery technologies.”
Montana’s elected officials and policy makers must take these facts to heart. Colstrip is not special. It’s dealing with the same financial pressures. Now is the time for putting together an organized and clear plan for how the transition to clean energy will take place. The alternative is that we get left in the (coal) dust. Montana must plan for a complete closure of Colstrip, likely within a decade. Hiding our head in the sand regarding market forces will result in us paying higher bills than we should.