The decline of coal as a power generation source gains velocity. I thought about this while reading that a Missouri-based utility, Ameren, will probably mothball its second-largest coal plant rather than operate it until 2039 as planned. (Source)

A court decision that forces the utility to install “scrubbers” on the plant at a $1 billion cost is likely the catalyst. The final call has not been made, though it seems obvious from a financial and public opinion point of view.

A utility must consider the long-run costs of running a plant. A new billion-dollar investment in a declining fuel technology doesn’t fare well, financially and maybe operationally. When looking at the added pollution technologies, I recall one power company worker saying a coal plant is now a chemical plant that happens to make some power.

Other financial issues challenge coal, too. What has gone from a safe power investment for bankers is now a climate risk. Communities also voice dissent. I imagine that there will be fewer employees who want to work in a coal plant, too.

Companies say they will hit important carbon-free goals in 2030, 2040, or later. Headlines show some facets that may be changing. See what these headlines tell you.

  • A Houston-based company will shut down two coal-fired generating units at the Morgantown (PA) Generating Station … by June 2022. It also plans to close generating units … near Cleveland, [and] outside Pittsburgh, by Sept. 15. (Source)
  • NRG Energy said it decided to close its coal plants in Romeoville and Waukegan (IL) by June 2022 after it secured lower-than-expected prices during a recent auction for supplying electricity. (Source)
  • The coal-fired Hayden Generating Station (CO) will close ahead of schedule…The plant’s 44-year-old Unit 2 will close by the end of 2027, and Unit 1 will be shuttered by the end of 2028. (Source)
  • Michigan utility Consumers Energy wants to buy existing natural gas plants so that it can close its last coal-fired power plants by 2025, 15 years ahead of its previous schedule. (Source)
  • Duke Energy closed its Lake Julian Plant, Arden, NC, in January 2020.
  • Dominion Energy says it can retire coal generation in South Carolina by 2030.
  • A Southport (NC) power plant was shut down in March this year by owners, Capital Power. (Source) (This plant burned coal and other fuels.)

These dates are the blink of an eye in the energy world.

The demise of coal spurs questions for consumers. Do you know when your utility plans to close its coal plants if it has any? Have you asked? Have you asked your elected officials about coal (and their knowledge of coal power)?

Consumers that do not ask might be assumed that they accept the coal plants still in use. How a utility has already managed its coal plants and plans to shut them down can say a lot about the way a company is planning for the future.