The latest S&P Global Market Intelligence data shows that a total of 49 gigawatts (GW) of new power generation capacity will be added in the United States in 2019, but will also see the retirement of nearly 6 GW of coal.
US coal retirements have been under the microscope of late, with various analysts providing different figures depending on their methodology, what counts as a “retirement” and what doesn’t, etc.. As I reported earlier this month, S&P Global Market Intelligence figures showed that 11.8 GW worth of coal-fired power had been retired in the United States. However, this figure was significantly less than estimates provided by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in October and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in November.
Specifically, according to the IEEFA’s Seth Feaster — who updated his figures in the wake of S&P’s numbers — there was now “firm confirmation on the retirement or conversion to natural gas of 14,126 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired generation (at 35 units) in 2018 (989 MW of this is conversion of two units at the Muskogee plant in Oklahoma — conversions do not show up as retirements).”
In the end, “Discrepancies in data reporting are not uncommon in the electric utility industry,” explained Joe Daniel, a Senior Energy Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who spoke to me via email. As such, we can probably comfortably say that around 14 GW of coal was retired in the United States in 2018, and could be as high as 15.4 GW, or as low as 12.5 GW.
Looking forward, S&P Global Market Intelligence shows that currently-announced coal retirements — which have already received approval from the required regulatory bodies — amount to 5,834 MW for 2019, a figure which will likely grow through the year as further pressure is placed on the coal industry. This includes one of the two 1,100 MW units at Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary Duke Energy Carolinas LLC’s Belews Creek plant in Stokes County, North Carolina, which is expected to start burning natural gas in place of coal in September of 2019. The second Belews Creek unit is expected to be converted to gas next year.
Seth Feaster, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, speaking to me via email, has slightly higher figures than S&P. According to the IEEFA, there are 27 coal-fired units retiring in 2019, with a total capacity of 7,417 MW, “based on current reporting from the EIA and grid oeprator PJM. This includes some big closures:
- 2,250 MW, 3 units at Navajo Generating Station (Coconino Co., Ariz.)
- 1,660 MW, 2 units at Bruce Mansfield (Beaver Co., Pa.)
- 750 MW, 2 units at Conesville (Coshocton Co., Ohio)
“At the moment this list does not include the 1,110 MW unit at the Belews Creek plant (Stokes Co., NC), because our current understanding is that the conversion is not 100% natural gas, but a 50-50 mix of coal and gas,” Feaster continued. “Nor does this include the significant, 2-unit, gas conversion project at the James E. Rogers (Cliffside) Energy Complex in Cleveland Co., NC. One unit is expected to be a 100% gas conversion, but the other will run only up to 40% gas, I’m not clear on the status of these at the moment, though one was planned to come online by fall 2019.”
This backs up information published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) earlier this month, which predicted 8.3 GW worth of capacity retirements in 2019, of which 53% would be coal. The EIA also believes that around 13.7 GW of coal was retired in 2018 — the second-highest amount of coal capacity retired in a year.
S&P Global Market Intelligence expects renewable and natural gas-fired to account for the majority of scheduled capacity additions in 2018, with the largest single source of new capacity expected to come from the wind industry, with 22.4 GW, or 45% of all new capacity additions for 2019. Solar will account for 22% of scheduled 2019 additions, totaling 11 GW.
The EIA similarly sees wind and natural gas accounting for the lion’s share of capacity additions in 2019, with 10.9 GW of wind expected by the EIA and while natural gas will total 7.5 GW. Solar power will add 4.3 GW.