Coal plants are closing across the West. Here are the companies sticking with coal
For nearly half a century, the deserts and plains of the American West have been punctuated by coal-burning furnaces and towering smokestacks — hulking power stations that have sustained small-town economies and fueled the growth of the region’s major cities, from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Seattle.
The first month of the new decade landed like a sledgehammer on those industrial giants.
January 2020 began with two coal-fired generators in Montana shutting down for good. A few days later, a subsidiary of billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway committed to closing a coal unit in Arizona this year. The same week, an electric cooperative based in Colorado also pledged to shutter a New Mexico coal plant by the end of 2020.
Two weeks after that, Arizona’s biggest utility promised to retire its last coal plant seven years ahead of schedule.
“I feel a little like we were shot out of a cannon into 2020,” said Evan Gillespie, western region director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
The numbers tell the story: There are just 20 coal plants in the continental West whose owners haven’t committed to fully retiring them by specific dates, data compiled by the Sierra Club and additional research by The Times show. That’s compared to 49 coal-burning generating stations with units that are slated for closure or have shut down since 2010.
Coal is being pushed off the power grid by competition from cheaper, cleaner energy sources, as well as rising public alarm about climate change and state policies meant to reduce emissions. Nationally, coal supplied just a quarter of the country’s electricity last year, down from nearly half in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Coal’s share has fallen even lower in the West, to about 21% of electricity generation in 2018.