Energy research giants Bloomberg New Energy Finance has confirmed that US coal plant retirements are nearing an all-time high, with at least 16 gigawatts (GW) worth of coal-fired plants already retired in 2018.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance published a brief update on November 9 which showed that 16 GW worth of US coal-fired power plants has retired in 2018 and that US coal power capacity has fallen by a third since 2010. Specifically, according to Bloomberg, 20 US coal-fired power plants have closed or are expected to close by the end of the year, making 2018 the second largest year for coal retirements since 17 GW was shuttered in 2015.
According to Bloomberg, the year’s coal retirements was headlined by four Vistra plants in the ERCOT (Texas) market. More importantly, though, the coal plants which will have been retired by the end of the year produced 127,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) worth of electricity in 2017.
Bloomberg also pointed to a further 37 GW — nearly a quarter of the United States coal-fired fleet — which is expected to be retired in the US market by 2025.
What’s interesting, however, is that BNEF’s report comes only days after the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) published its own figures detailing the closure of coal-fired power plants across the United States, but provided different figures. Now, this is not altogether unsurprising — analysts are forever providing expert commentary on the same topic, but accessing different data, which results in different results.
Specifically, the IEEFA expects that 15.4 GW worth of coal-fired capacity will close in 2018 — a record, made up of 44 units at 22 plants in 14 states across the country. Already 11 GW has been closed, according to IEEFA, but the year will easily beat out the last record year, 2015, which closed 14.7 GW.
I reached out to both BNEF and IEEFA in an effort to understand the apparent discrepancy in numbers, and while Bloomberg declined to comment, Seth Feaster, an Energy Data Analyst from the IEEFA and the author of its own coal-retirement report, responded and expressed his own confusion at the discrepancy. Of particular note to Feaster was the fact that Bloomberg’s numbers seemed to be somewhat at odds with the 2015 numbers provided by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Specifically, Feaster referred to the following chart which shows that coal retirements in 2015 at just under 15 GW
According to Feaster, Bloomberg’s numbers “are surprisingly hard to pin down” and they might have moved forward with a different methodology or worked from different data. “Tracking company announcements and gleaning retirement dates that sometimes shift from the grid operators and the EIA is not easy, and we will strive to deliver the most accurate, defensible numbers we can in the most transparent way possible,” said Feaster. “That’s why I took a pretty conservative approach, trying to include only closing dates that have been announced by companies, set with the grid operators, or reported by EIA.”
While this might all sound unnecessarily semantic, it’s worth being able to come to terms on the facts of the situation — more so as we look to see the impact of a transition from fossil fuel-based energy generation towards low-carbon sources. Regardless, then, coal continues to decline, and no manner of Washingtonian shenanigans will change that reality.