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The Least Threatened Coal Plants

Coal plants have been under pressure for over a decade from low gas prices and increased renewable generation. The acceleration of renewable energy development only raises the competition for traditional thermal generation sources. Often, renewable developers place new wind and solar plants close to coal plants to take advantage of existing transmission infrastructure. However, despite these headwinds for coal generation, several coal plants still achieve high-capacity factors. Today’s Energy Market Insight will look at the high utilization coal plants to determine which plants are under the least pressure going forward from renewable development.

As of July 2021, there are 596 coal units operating in the US Lower 48, with 287 coal plants representing 233 GW of capacity. The 12-month trailing average capacity factor across all these plants is 45% through April 2021. There are 115 plants that have a capacity factor higher than the L48 average. Plants with a higher-than-average utilization create the foundation of the least threatened coal plants.  Additionally, any coal plant with a total capacity of less than 250 MW was discarded to focus on large coal plants. 

From there, coal plants are then benchmarked against each other based on the development of nearby wind and solar resources. BTU Analytics aggregated the proposed wind and solar capacity within a 100 mile radius of each plant from BTU Analytics’ renewable tracking available in the Power View platform. This sum is the total renewables development as shown above in the table. The coal plant capacity was then subtracted from the total renewables development to calculate the delta between the plant’s capacity and proposed projects.  By this metric, the Jim Bridger plant in Sweetwater County, Wyoming is the least threatened coal plant.   Total new renewable development within a 100 mile radius of the Jim Bridger plant only represents 245 MW or just 10% of existing plant capacity at 2,442 MW.

Looking at this data a slightly different way we can see the bar chart of the top 10 least threatened coal plants.  Even within the top 10 list the Labadie plant located in Franklin County, Missouri has 1,564 MW of proposed wind and solar within a 100-mile radius of the plant representing 66% of total capacity at 2,389 MW.   In fact, there are only 27 plants that have a positive delta out of the 115 plants screened – meaning the coal plant capacity is greater than the amount of renewable development occurring within a 100 mile radius of the plant. 

In a previous BTU Analytics’ Energy Market Insight, it was highlighted that the James H Miller plant in Jefferson County, Alabama was the top CO2 emitting plant in the US – READ MORE.  Ironically, if the mantra is to develop renewables to displace coal out of the generation stack thereby reducing CO2 emissions, the renewables developers have yet to threaten the James H Miller at it ranks in the #3 spot as the least threatened coal plant as shown above. 

To further track coal vs. solar and wind development, request more information about BTU Analytics’ Power View by CLICKING HERE

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Andrew is the CEO at BTU Analytics, LLC and has worked in the energy and technology industries for over 20 years. Prior to BTU Analytics, he was the Senior Commercial Director of North American Natural Gas at Platts-Bentek Energy where he led the natural gas analytics team. Andrew’s past experience includes positions at Amoco Production Company and Constellation Energy. He holds a Masters in Energy and Environmental Analysis from Boston University and a Bachelors in Geology from Colorado College.

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