Coal plant owners seek to shut 3.2 GW in PJM in face of economic, regulatory and market pressures
PJM runs the grid and wholesale power markets in 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states and the District of Columbia. Coal-fired power plants in PJM are retiring, as they are in other parts of the U.S., in the face of less expensive renewable energy, tougher environmental rules and higher operating costs, according to ESAI Power and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a nonprofit that supports moving away from fossil fuels.
Looking at the explanations for the planned retirements, Julia Criscuolo, ESAI Power manager of renewables and emissions, said about a third are driven by environmental regulations, a quarter by unfavorable economics and roughly 20% by “end of life” plant issues.
Some of the latest pressure on coal-fired generation is coming from the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed coal ash and water discharge rules, Criscuolo said. The agency in January proposed denying requests from three Midwest coal-fired power plants to continue dumping coal ash in unlined surface impoundments, a move that could lead to the plants’ early retirements. More proposed decisions on individual power plants are expected in the coming months.
“Looking at history, I think these [EPA] rules have driven retirements in the past,” Criscuolo said, pointing to the agency’s mercury and air toxics standards, which contributed to a wave of coal plant retirements starting around 2015.
The pressure on coal-fired generation is expected to grow. The EPA earlier this month proposed a federal plan for limiting nitrogen oxides emissions, an ozone precursor, from power plants and industrial facilities that drifts into downwind states. The agency estimated its proposal could lead to the shutdown of 18,000 MW of coal and 4,000 MW of oil- and gas-fired generation across the U.S.
In addition to approving the Energy Harbor deactivation requests, PJM approved requests filed this month to shutter two coal-fired plants in New Jersey owned by private equity firms. The 285-MW Chambers plant is owned by affiliates of Starwood Energy Group Global, which have a 60% ownership share, and by Atlantic Power. Starwood affiliates also own the 225-MW Logan plant. The plants are set to retire May 31.