Last Coal-Fired Generating Plants Closing In UK & New York

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The end of burning coal to generate electricity is continuing. In the UK, two large coal-fired facilities have been closed recently — Fiddler’s Ferry in Cheshire and Aberthaw in Wales. Fiddler’s Ferry was first commissioned in 1973 and had a peak capacity of 2,000 megawatts. Aberthaw was rated at 1,560 megawatts.

Coal generating station in UK
Image credit: SSE Thermal

CNBC reports the UK government said last week that electricity from coal declined 60% in 2019. In all, coal provided 6.9 terawatts of power to the UK last year, a record low in modern history. In 1990, 70% of the country’s electricity came from burning coal. Last year it was 3%.

SSE Thermal is the owner of the Fiddler’s Ferry facility. Last November, it said the facility’s financial performance had “deteriorated to unsustainable levels, with losses of around £40 million in SSE’s last financial year.” On Tuesday, Stephen Wheeler, SSE Thermal’s managing director, said the closure is a “landmark moment” for the company. “It’s made a huge contribution to the local area, but it’s the right thing to do as the U.K. continues to move to cleaner ways of producing energy and take action on climate change,” he said.

The UK’s largest remaining coal station, the Drax Power Station, is scheduled to cease operations in March of next year as the country continues its drive to lower emissions from the power generating sector dramatically by 2024. In December the International Energy Agency said that cheap natural gas had “shattered coal’s competitiveness in the European Union in 2019.”

Last Coal Plant In New York Closes

In the next few weeks, the Somerset Operating Company, the last coal-fired generating plant in New York, is scheduled to close as part of governor Andrew Cuomo’s push to make his state fossil fuel free by 2040 — one of the most ambitious such programs in the United States. Located near Buffalo, the plant has served as the center of local life for decades.

According to The New York Times, Beowulf Energy, which owns the plant, says it wants to convert it into a data hub and server farm, but many locals worry they will not be qualified for jobs in the tech area after a lifetime as attendants at the coal generating station.

Natural Gas To The Rescue?

Just like the UK, the US has seen an abundance of low cost natural gas in recent years, which burns cleaner than coal and which has replaced coal in many markets. But with the current coronavirus and the collapse of energy markets driving the cost of fuels lower than the cost of extracting them, will the supply be there when needed, especially next winter?

Many assumptions about modern life have been shattered by the virus pandemic in just a few weeks time. One of the advantages of renewable energy is an absence of the constant volatility in fuel cost which makes planning for large thermal generating facilities fraught with unknown and unknowable risks. That price stability could be a powerful incentive for renewable energy developers going forward.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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