Published on September 15th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley0
Another One Bites The Dust: Cost Of Wind Power Cancels Kansas Coal Facility Expansion
September 15th, 2017 by Steve Hanley
The Mouth That Roared, aka Donald Trump, promised unemployed coal miners they would soon be back to work. But even the #FakePresident and all his bombast cannot change the laws of economics. Big corporations don’t care a whit about doing good deeds (or people either, for that matter) — they care about doing well financially, and that means profits, profits, and more profits.
For a decade or more, plans have been underway to expand the coal-fired electrical generating station in Holcomb, Kansas, owned by Sunflower Electric Power. But now, it appears those plans are being taken off the table, thanks to the declining cost of wind power.
Why the change? Did Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the principal backer of the expansion proposal, suddenly wake up one morning and decide it was tired of poisoning its customers with lethal emissions from the plant? Hardly. Did rigorous new regulations imposed by a cruel federal government make the difference? Guess again. What did the plan in was good old-fashioned economics. The price of coal and building more coal-fired generating facilities is simply higher than the cost of renewables, especially wind power.
It’s not like Tri-State didn’t try its damnedest to make its coal plant expansion happen. It was one of many utilities that objected vociferously to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. It even won a key victory in federal court last spring, after which it called the expansion “perhaps the most likely prospect for a major new coal plant in the United States.” But in the end, it all came to naught, as the economics could no longer be ignored.
In an August 14 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tri-State acknowledged it now believes “the probability of us entering into construction for the Holcomb Expansion as remote.” It now proposes to write off more than $93 million it spent planning for the expansion and trying to get it approved. After a meeting August 10, Tri-State board member Carl Trick II said, “The board has voted to get out of Holcomb. So there’s the possibility that we could sell it, but I don’t know who would want to buy it. I don’t think there’s going to be any coal plants built. Holcomb is over,” he closed.
The Tri-State board of directors is composed of one representative from each of the 43 electric cooperatives in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and New Mexico that purchase electricity from Tri-State.
In March, investor service Moody’s published a report showing that windy states like Kansas are particularly well situated to benefit from the declining costs of wind energy. In addition to dramatic declines in renewable energy costs, energy efficiency improvements mean that electricity demand has not grown as utilities expected, and natural gas prices have remained low, discouraging new investments in coal.
Lee Boughey, a spokesperson for Tri-State, says “much has changed over the past 10 years since the [Holcomb] project was originally proposed. Tri-State has been able to meet the current and projected electric needs of its members by adding other generation resources, including renewable and natural gas resources.” Tri-State has added nearly 470 megawatts of renewable energy resources since 2008, and plans to add another 75 megawatts of wind generation later this year.
“It appears Tri-State is finally realizing that new coal expenditures are a losing proposition,” said Zach Pierce, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The costs of wind and solar have dropped so sharply that Tri-State customers will benefit from a planned transition away from all coal as the fuel becomes increasingly uncompetitive. This is the right moment for the utility to listen to the growing demands of its member co-ops in Colorado to allow for more localized clean energy solutions that will lower costs and stimulate new job growth.”
Even the Koch brothers with all their money can’t fight the benefits that renewable energy adds to a utility company’s bottom line.