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Indiana utility to shutter five remaining coal plants
Northern Indiana Public Service Company has announced plans to close its five remaining coal-fired plants and replace them with renewable electricity generation. NIPSCO, as the utility is known for short, provides power to 468,000 households and businesses. “This creates a vision for the future that is better for our customers, and it’s consistent with our goal to transition to the best cost, cleanest electric supply mix available while maintaining reliability, diversity and flexibility for technology and market changes,” said company’s president.
Wyoming moves to close reclamation loophole for mining companies
Wyoming is moving closer to limiting “self-bonding” by coal companies that use the practice to avoid buying mine-cleanup insurance. State officials are worried that taxpayers will be left holding the reclamation bag on vast tracts of the Powder River Basin unless the loophole is closed. “Wyoming is not a bank,” said the administrator of the state’s main conservation agency. “We’re not in the business of bankrolling reclamation.”
Private equity company ends bid to buy Navajo generating station
Private equity company Middle River Power LLC is ending its bid to buy Navajo Generating Station, the biggest coal-fired power station west of the Mississippi River.
Commentary: Hurricanes show the value in moving from conventional to renewable electricity-generation sources
Solar arrays held up in North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence while complications arose from other forms of generation that include coal-fired and nuclear power. “This is not the first time modern renewables have proven their resiliency in the face of storms,” writes the author, noting how windfarms in Texas fared well during Hurricane Harvey last year, how Hawaii’s growing solar industry has weathered recent storms there, and how residents of Puerto Rico found solar a life-saver after Hurricane Maria.
West Virginia coal lobby seeks a 60% state tax cut
The West Virginia Coal Association is pushing for a cut in in state taxes on coal extraction that would reduce the rate by more than half—to 2 percent from 5 percent. The tax pays for a host of state and county services, and the proposal follows a series of pronouncements from mining companies that coal production in the region is on the rebound. “That would take a lot of resources out of this state’s budget,” one state legislator said.
Op-ed: The U.S. military’s embrace of power-generation transition
Contrary to what some elected officials have suggested, the U.S. military knows what it is doing as it embraces renewable energy. A case in point: U.S. Army base Fort Hood’s integration of wind into its electricity-generation mix. “Wind power can also play an important role in strengthening our military and national security. There’s a prime example right here in Texas: Fort Hood gets around half of its electricity from wind and solar, and securing the base’s energy supply was a prime motivator for this move,” write the authors.
Texas grid operators turned to wind over the long course of a hot summer
The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid across most of the state, upstage naysayers this summer by turning heavily to wind-powered generation over coal while simultaneously keeping rates down and avoiding heat-wave blackouts. “ERCOT proved grids can shut down uneconomical coal plants, rely on renewable energy and still provide reliability and reasonable prices.”
U.S. utility-scale solar power activity is surging
Trump administration tariffs meant to curb expansion of the U.S. solar energy have proven ineffective, concludes a report published this week by the Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables research group and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The two groups estimate that deals for 8.6 gigawatts of new utility-scale solar were made in the first half of the year—enough capacity to power 1.4 million homes—and said solar industry’s expansion would continue.
Survey: Deep reluctance across power-generation industry to reinvest in coal
A survey of utility industry executives reveals an industrywide reluctance to keep aging coal plants alive or to invest further in coal-fired power generation. "We will continue to focus on retiring older, less-efficient, coal-fueled units; building advanced-technology natural gas units; and investing in cost-effective, zero-carbon renewable generation,” said one utility representative in a comment that was typical of responses nationally.
Op-ed: There are better ways to spend $34 billion
Dedicating $34 billion toward a bailout of outdated modes of electricity generation isn’t in the best national interest, and federal money would be far better spent on grid cybersecurity and modernization. “Consider what else can be done with the taxpayer dollars DOE proposes the government spend to subsidize failing coal and nuclear plants,” writes the author.
Op-ed: Momentum favors renewables
Cost, energy security, environmental concerns and public health are among the reasons cleaner forms of energy are gaining on coal. Technology companies are a force as well. “The five largest publicly-traded companies in the world—Apple, Amazon, Google’s Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook—all have corporate commitments to use 100 percent renewable energy and at least three of them have already hit those ambitious targets,” writes the author. “The eighth largest, Berkshire-Hathaway, owns one of the country’s largest utility wind and solar portfolios and is aggressively developing more renewable energy projects.”
Dwindling number of states rely primarily on coal
New research by the Energy Information Administration finds that only 18 states got more than half of their electricity from coal-powered generation in 2017, down from 28 in 2007. Nationally, natural gas accounted for 32 percent of power generation as coal’s share of the market dropped to 30 percent. “These changes have occurred as coal-fired power plants have retired or been used less and as natural gas-fired power plants have been built and used more nationwide,” the agency said.
Xcel executive: Economics are driving power-generation shift
Three forces are driving a national shift from coal to other forms of power generation, says an executive for Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based company that provides electricity to almost for million customers through subsidiaries in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin. “It fundamentally comes down to economics,” said Jonathan Adelman, an Xcel vice president. “The secondary driver is customer expectations. Lastly, policy both at a state and federal level.”
Peabody cancels federal coal leases in Wyoming
Peabody Energy, the biggest coal company in the U.S., has relinquished several thousand acres of federal leases in Wyoming after deeming them no longer economically viable. The news comes amid indications that a downturn will continue, after several bankruptcies across the industry and following an announcement by Alpha Coal earlier this year that it will curb production at Black Thunder, a mainstay in the state and one of the largest coal operations in the country. “Everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before a Wyoming coal mine closes,” said the chairman of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
Colorado city aims to modernize its economy around renewables
Pueblo, Colo., nicknamed “Steel City” for its industrial past, is investing in a renewable energy industry expansion around the presence of Vesta Wind Systems, a turbine-tower manufacturer that employees 4,000 people along the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. Xcel Energy is pushing for approval of a power-generation transition that would include wind and solar, and several renewable energy companies are looking to move to the area because of its wind and solar resources and its proximity to major regional transmission lines. The city is “poised to become the renewable energy hub for Colorado and likely the region,” one economic-development official said.
A movement in Kentucky toward electric vehicles
A “bourgeoning renewable energy movement” in Kentucky is the subject of a documentary premiering this week in Lexington that looks at the growing popularity of electric cars. "What surprised me is that folks in Eastern Kentucky are a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of new energy, energy like solar and battery technology, than I would have thought they might have been ... or than I think national media leads us to believe that communities are out there," the filmmaker said.
Editorial: Innovation is preferable to stagnation
Market forces have aligned with public health concerns and environmental concerns to propel a power-generation shift that is epitomized by the impending shutdown by CPS Energy of the coal-fired J.T. Deely plant in south-central Texas. Resisting such change would prove unprofitable, writes a San Antonio editorial board: “The risk, beyond premature death or an unnecessarily warmer world, is that other nations will innovate as we stagnate.”
U.S. power-generation industry ignores federal government efforts to save coal
Utility heavyweights that include American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Southern Company and Xcel Energy continue to invest heavily in a move away from coal-fired electricity generation. Executives at such companies say the trend will continue, regardless of recent federal policy moves to thwart it. “Reducing reliance on coal, leveraging cleaner natural gas energy and expanding renewables on our system is part of our long-term investment strategy to continue to drive carbon out of our system,” said a spokesman for Duke.
Op-ed: West Virginia risks being left behind
As neighboring states attract investment capital and build their tax bases and employment growth around diversified energy economies, West Virginia lags in part because of political resistance to change. “West Virginians will be left behind if our elected officials do not act quickly and assertively to create a policy environment that encourages growth, competition and diversification in this newly unfolding energy system,” the author writes.
FirstEnergy, unable to land a bailout, says it will close plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania
FirstEnergy announced this week it will close its three remaining coal-fired power plants in Ohio and its last one in Pennsylvania. The company said the plants cannot compete with electricity produced by renewables and natural gas. Some observers cautioned that the announcement may be largely political, however, as FirstEnergy continues to seek federal subsidies to keep the plants online. “We're talking about billions of dollars being used to bail out a failing industry, when these closures are inevitable and irreversible,” one critic of that strategy said. “There are a lot better uses for that money.”
Utility executive urges West Virginians to look beyond coal
A regional executive for Dominion Energy, one of the biggest investor-owned utility companies in the country, told the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce this week that the state would do well to look beyond coal as an economic mainstay. Dominion, headquartered in Virginia, has six million customers nationally. “For years, coal was the base of everything we did,” said Bob Orndorff, a state policy director for the company. “It still has a role, but we need to talk about wind. We need to talk about solar, because the Procter & Gambles of the world want that.”
Op-ed: Modernization is the ticket to national energy security
The U.S. electricity grid needs updating, and the best path forward is toward modernization built around new sources of energy, better transmission systems, and improved cyber-security. “A more distributed energy grid, with thousands of energy generation and storage sources, will be inherently more difficult to disrupt than one built around large centralized power plants,” the authors write.
Fate of Oklahoma power plant serves as local example of national trends
Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co.’s decision not to renew a long-term power purchase agreement with the AES Shady Point coal-fired generation station puts the plant at imminent risk of closure as part of a trend that has taken root coast to coast. "That is happening all over the country," said Loyd Drain, a U.S. energy consultant. "Renewable prices have gone down so much, a lot of these coal plants around the country have operated at a loss for consumers because replacement power is cheaper."
Arizona judge: Let voters participate in state energy policy decisions
An Arizona judge has sided with utility-industry reformers in ruling that a clean energy initiative will appear on the ballot when voters go to the polls in November. Executives at Arizona Public Service, the biggest electricity provider in the state, say they will appeal the decision. At issue is whether to allow development of solar resources at the likely expense of traditional power generation.
Xcel gets the green light in Colorado to move from coal to wind and solar
Colorado regulators have approved a plan by Xcel Energy to shift to renewable energy for power production over the next few years while closing 660 megawatts of coal-fired capacity by shutting down two aging plants in Pueblo. Xcel is planning to have 1,100 megawatts of wind-powered electricity capacity online by 2027, 700 megawatts of solar, 275 megawatts of battery storage and 380 megawatts from existing natural gas sources (a megawatt is enough to power about homes). Xcel’s strategy would invest $2.5 billion in eight counties, and the company said the changes would result in $213 million in ratepayer savings.
TVA considers closing more coal-fired power plants
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies electricity to consumers in seven states, is weighing whether to close more coal-fired power plants after having already shut down half of the 59-plant fleet it once operated. The TVA has generated less than 30 percent of its electricity from coal this year, down from almost 70 percent in the 1980s. The issue boils down to a question of costs, and how coal-generated power has become less competitive. "Say you're driving a 70-year-old car, what would be required to keep it on the road?" said TVA President Bill Johnson. “They are rather expensive to maintain.”
‘Trump’s new pollution rules won’t save the coal industry’
As President Trump spoke in West Virginia this week about “putting our great coal miners back to work,” his initiatives to resurrect the declining industry are falling flat. The federal Energy Information Administration’s own data shows coal-fired power generation being “crushed” by natural gas and renewables. “This is like throwing a few snowballs into a blizzard,” one industry expert said. “You might see a plant here or a plant there that benefits from the new rules. But we’re talking about very minor changes compared with the significant gap between the cost of coal and the cost of natural gas.”
Utilities’ transition away from coal is seen as lasting
“Powerful economic forces that have been pummeling the sector for years” will continue to undermine the coal industry, as analysts agree that the trend is not likely to be reversed by Trump administration policies. Utility companies, for the most part, have decided to move on. “Our strategy going forward is really focused on investment in renewables, natural gas, and other advanced technologies, including battery technology and modernizing the grid, and that strategy doesn’t really change,” said a spokesman for American Electric Power, which has over five million customers in 11 states.
Proposed revisions to Clean Power Plan unlikely to help iconic Montana plant
Colstrip Power Plant, which is one of the biggest power plants in the western U.S. and is struggling to survive a sea change in how electricity is generated, would probably not benefit from the Trump administration’s proposed revision to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Two of the plant’s four units are already scheduled for retirement and the other two have been closed recently for failure to comply with federal rules that are not addressed in the Trump proposal. “In terms of the big picture, it doesn’t really change the underlying pressures on the utilities, and particularly Colstrip, that are facing things like customer calls to divest in coal and restructure assets,” said one industry analyst. “It’s one thing to set policies that try to help, but it’s not a bailout and it’s not going to make power plants any younger.”
Regulatory rollback on emissions unlikely to reverse decline of coal industry
A regulatory rollback proposed by the Trump administration to ease emission rules on coal-fired electricity plants is being seen as unlikely to have much effect on the declining viability of the industry. Market forces will most likely prevail, and legal challenges to the planned reversal will take years to play out. “Coal's true nemeses are innovation and economics. Fracking has made natural gas abundant and cheap. Breakthroughs in windmills, solar and other renewable technologies are making them affordable alternatives.”
Growing awareness in southwest U.S. of rising risk to coal-heavy economies
With the U.S. coal industry “in frank decline,” the well-being of communities in the four corners region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah is at risk as three coal-fired plants in the region becoming increasingly uncompetitive. Activists, educators and elected officials have responded by pressing for more initiatives meant to diversify the region’s economy, including a pilot scholarship project at Navajo Technical University. “This is a unique program that specifically helps communities affected by the decline in the coal industry,” said the university’s president. “It’s making many opportunities available for Navajo students, but there’s still tremendous need out there.”
Columnist: ‘The coming green wave’
A public backlash is growing against policies that promote extractive industries at the expense of businesses that rely on conservation of natural resources. “While President Trump tries to prop up the dying and dirty coal industry with taxpayer subsidies, the outdoor recreation industry has been roaring along,” writes the author. “It is a $374-billion-a-year economy, by the government’s own calculation, and more than twice that size by private estimates. That’s more than mining, oil, gas and logging combined. And yet, the centerpiece of a clean and growing industry is under attack by a president with a robber baron view of the natural world.”
Wind company seeks permits to build four turbine complexes in Montana
A New York company is in negotiations with Montana officials for permission to build four windfarms in the state. The projects, which would come online by 2020 if approved, would include an electricity-storage component that represents the leading edge of technology innovation across the industry. The company, Caithness Beaver Creek, says the windfarms would have the capacity to generate 320 megawatts of electricity and to store 160 megawatts of power, enough in total to power almost 400,000 homes.
Market research: Utilities are planning for less coal usage in the long term
Analysts at Morningstar, the investment-research firm, say the U.S. coal industry faces further declines as utilities adopt long-term plans focusing on broader uptake of other forms of generation. “Cheap natural gas, sluggish power demand, growing renewable energy, and emissions regulations will all continue to crowd out coal as U.S. utilities use more natural gas and renewables for electricity generation through 2025,” write the authors.
Report: Half of remaining coal fleet could close by 2030
A report by Rhodium Group, a research firm that specializes in economics and public policy, concludes that market forces will likely continue to undermine efforts to revitalize U.S. coal-fired electricity generation. The report says projections by the Energy Information Administration that the sector will continue to shrink actually understate the trend and that even under “the most favorable outcome for coal” the industry over the next decade or so will likely fall to “levels last seen in the early 1980s."
West Virginia University study sees no regional coal production improvement
A study published by West Virginia University’s Bureau for Business and Economic Research sees falling domestic demand for regionally produced coal. It also raises questions about whether export markets will hold up. “Both of the state’s producing regions will be hurt by weakening domestic demand, but Northern West Virginia faces greater market risk since most of the region’s coal is consumed by U.S. power plants,” one of the report’s authors said. “Southern West Virginia’s production should be buoyed to some extent by export demand, but output is expected to trend lower during the outlook as a growing portion of the region’s reserves become too expensive to recover.”
New norm sets in among Powder River Basin coal producers
Unpredictability is the “new norm” in coal production across the Powder River Basin of Wyoming as spot market prices replace long-term contracts and as more coal-fired power plants close nationally. Twelve mines in the basin account for about 40 percent of the receding U.S. thermal coal market. “Obviously there are some long-term hurdles to overcome when your country is not building any new coal-fired power plants,” said the executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.
Employee buyouts at North Dakota coal-gasification plant
“Amid a plummeting financial outlook,” Basin Electric Power Cooperative, whose subsidiary Dakota Gasification Co. operates the struggling Great Plains Synfuels Plant in west-central North Dakota, is offering buyouts to more than 300 people. The plant, which turns coal into synthetic natural gas, is having trouble making ends meet because it cannot compete with cheap natural gas produced by Bakken oil field frackers. “Markets have been changing so fast it was time to take additional steps,” a company spokesman said.
Another blow to Appalachia: Expensive electricity
While the coal-based economies of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia continue to decline, the region’s electricity rates are soaring as utilities spread costs among fewer customers. Ratepayers are essentially subsidizing companies like Kentucky Power to keep outdated plants online and to clean up after those that have been retired. “They are charging us for shutting down our coal-fired plants that were keeping us all employed," said Angie Hatton, a Kentucky legislator.
Plans for a new Colorado energy economy
Plans by Xcel Energy to remake the electricity-generation industry in and around Pueblo, Colo., are being seen as a harbinger of a new energy economy. The company is seeking to close two of three coal-fired power plants in Pueblo and replace them with wind and solar facilities, a change that would create a net total of more than 50 jobs. The county, which has a population of about 165,000 and is strategically situated near major power transmission lines, is “poised to become the renewable energy hub for Colorado and likely the region,” said its director of economic development.
Op-ed: Why clean energy jobs ‘continue to pop up’
A former mayor and city council member who now leads a nonpartisan national group that champions market-based economic-transition solutions, endorses a proposed solar farm in Mendon Township, Mich. The $29 million, 150-acre project would generate more than $20,000 in monthly local tax revenue over 23 years. “Renewable energy developments provide significant benefits to local communities. That’s why jobs in the clean energy industry and new solar developments continue to pop up across the state.”
Large new philanthropic fund responds to coal country transitions
Nonprofit Quarterly profiles the work of the Just Transition Fund and the diverse set of strategies in which it is investing.
Report: A proper Colstrip cleanup would create new jobs
Community activists in Colstrip, Mont., are urging the corporate owner of Colstrip Power Plant to invest in the excavation and removal of its coal-ash ponds once two of the plant’s three electricity-generating units shut down in 2022. A report by the Northern Plains Resource Council concludes that such a reclamation initiative would help sustain the town’s declining economy. “Doing a thorough cleanup now will employ more people, make the land more attractive to businesses and industries looking to come to Colstrip and potentially will keep taxpayers from footing the bill.”
Kentucky Power sells $17.6 million in excess coal stockpiles
Kentucky Power’s Mitchell plant, which produces power for 168,000 customers in 20 eastern Kentucky counties, has sold $17.6 million in coal that it had stockpiled but will not burn because cheaper electricity can be produced from natural gas and renewables. The news is reflective of a downturn in eastern Kentucky’s coal industry, which employed 14,000 people in 2011 but fewer than 4,000 during the first three months of this year. “The sale comes amid a changing energy landscape in the country. In 1990, coal-fired power plants generated about 52 percent of the electricity in the country … by the end of 2017, coal’s share of national electricity generation had dropped to 30 percent.”
Coal Plant Closure in Kansas
Westar Energy will close the coal-fired Tecumseh Energy Center near Topeka on Oct. 1, several years ahead of schedule. The company said it will also shut down fossil-fuel-powered units at electricity plants in Colwich and Wichita as part of its merger with Great Plains Energy, the owner of Kansas City Power & Lighter. A Westar spokesperson said the merger, “along with the addition of renewable energy,” allows for the shutdowns, which won’t affect service.
Commentary: Navajo Generating Station remains economically unviable
Keeping the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona would come at a high cost. “Market conditions suggest an economic disaster any way you cut it, and one that that would cause pain for workers, miners, and other members of the Navajo Nation,” writes the author. “There are sensible ways to invest in a region in need of federal attention on many levels. This is not one of them.”
Editorial: ‘No reason to bail out coal industry’
A Texas newspaper is questioning former Energy Secretary Rick Perry—a former Texas governor—on a proposed federal program to save failing coal-fired power plants. “It’s bad economics and bad environmental policy. Perry should remember what he championed as governor. That would mean endorsing energy policies in the interest of American consumers and enterprise, not select industries.”
Commentary: Georgia is at a solar policy crossroads
Georgia, ranked 10th nationally in solar energy production, is at a policy crossroads as the industry makes rapid gains across the state. Activity includes a manufacturing facility in Dalton, a solar-powered Facebook data center in Newton, and new solar-farm approvals “every other week.” Growth calls for informed land-use codes and pushback against misinformation campaigns. “Georgians can demand smart solar siting: growing the industry, boosting local economies, and still protecting what makes the state special,” write the authors.
Study depicts Central Appalachian reclamation possibilities
Researchers at Duke University have published a visually-rich study showing how surface mining has spread over the years in Central Appalachia, leaving behind a deeply-scarred 32,000-square-mile landscape across Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. The study notes the growing difficulties facing coal companies as coal seams are tapped out and as they have to move three times as much earth as they did 30 years ago to produce a ton of coal. The researchers want to make their findings available to local and state governments to help identify sites that qualify for federal reclamation money, including through the Abandoned Mine Lands pilot program and the RECLAIM Act.
Op-ed: Proposed Coal bailout would not stop U.S. transition to cleaner energy
A proposal by the Trump administration to save failing coal plants by invoking the Cold War-era Defense Production Act would have little lasting effect on the U.S. electricity-generation sector. A broad cross-section of executives and policymakers concur that the plan would not stop momentum behind a fast-moving transition to cleaner energy. That idea at its core is “a futile attempt to thwart long-term, fundamental change in U.S. energy markets that will proceed nonetheless, and to the benefit of customers everywhere,” the author writes.
Westmoreland Coal cancels plans for new mine in southern Ohio
Westmoreland Coal has suspended a plan to open a new mine in southern Ohio. The company, which has been in financial straits for some time, cited “steadily increasing” costs and “problems and uncertainties” with water permits. The plan had called for mine discharge to be poured into a stream that for years has been part of a recovery program aimed at cleaning up pollution from previous mines. Project opponents included farmers, environmentalists, and ATV enthusiasts.
Ohio businesses push back against coal bailout proposal
Businesses in Ohio are pushing back against plans by the Trump administration to bail out failing coal plants. Ohio’s competitive energy market is at risk, say skeptics of the proposal who see it as a subsidy that would cost electricity customers of every kind. “We favor free-market competition in all industries, including the energy industry,” said a spokesman for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We are opposed to all unbalanced state and or/federal support without a defined return on investment for the taxpayers and consumers.”
New Mexico legislators acknowledge need for greater tax-base diversification in San Juan County
Lawmakers in New Mexico are grappling with how to manage the imminent closure of a coal-fired power plant in San Juan County in a way that will protect the local tax base. The state is also exploring job-retraining programs in the area alongside policies that would encourage investment in local renewable energy and natural gas projects. The San Juan Generating Station produces millions of dollars in tax revenues for the county, and its owner, Public Service Company of New Mexico, is seeking a state deal that would support a transition to other forms of more economical power generation.
Survey: Arizona voters prefer a strong ‘outdoor recreation’ economy
In Arizona, where two renewable energy ballot initiatives are being voted on this fall, most voters prioritize development of a more robust outdoor-recreation economy over deeper reliance on extractive energy industries. “Over three-quarters think outdoor recreation will be important to the future of their state’s economy. Similarly, 77 percent believe the presence of public lands and the local outdoor recreation lifestyle are important to attracting good jobs and innovative companies to the state.”
As regulators push for more lenience, a surge in black lung across Appalachia
As the Trump administration, at the behest of coal companies, continues to explore ways to roll back mine dust regulations, a new report shows an upsurge in black lung among miners. The study, “Continued Increase in Prevalence of Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis in the United States, 1970-2017,” finds the disease especially prevalent in Appalachian, where it afflicts 20 percent of veteran miners. “We can think of no other industry or workplace in the United States in which this would be considered acceptable,” researchers concluded.
Kentucky just put doctor shopping into law to help coal companies avoid paying for black lung
A new law makes it harder for Kentucky miners to qualify for workers compensation to pay for treatment. The law new law specifies that only physicians with a specific qualification are elligible to be heard in black lung claims.
Commentary: Wind and solar suggest a potential boom in Ohio’s energy industry
Ohio stands to benefit from the expansion of the renewable energy industry, which by one estimate can create $2 billion in economic activity and 5,500 new jobs over the next decade or so. The state’s electricity market is ripe for the development of wind farms, rooftop solar, and utility-scale solar projects that could supply power to 1.1 households, nearly a quarter of the state’s total by 2020. “As the regional market continues to grow, Ohio can capture both investment and economic growth by building wind and solar facilities, providing itself and other PJM states with clean electricity,” writes the author.
Op-ed: Just transition for rural Colorado
A labor leader lauds Denver’s mayor for an initiative that aims to make the city a renewable energy bastion over the next generation, but urges leaders to invest in rural communities, too, where railroad employees, pipe fitters and power plant specialists are being displaced by the electricity-production transition occurring nationally. “Workers who have toiled in the mines, hauled our coal, and operated our power plants for decades deserve our support as we move towards new ways of generating energy,” writes Joshua Downer of the AFL-CIO.
Banks stymie state efforts to collect on mine-cleanup bonds
Cleanup efforts around an Illinois coal mine that closed in 1989 have been stymied by restoration bond guarantees tangled in red tape. The case is similar to others across the U.S. in which mergers of banks have created executive ranks reluctant to honor mine-cleanup assurances. “Failures in the system mean that bond money is sometimes nowhere to be found when it’s needed. In several instances in recent years, banks holding bonds in the form of letters of credit or certificates of deposit have fought back when states sought to collect on them.”
More signs of coal’s diminishing market share
The national appetite for coal remains stagnant as the U.S. electricity sector continues to switch to other forms of fuel, most notably natural gas, which is better suited to day-to-day changes in demand—especially during warm-weather months, when air-conditioning use drives the market. “Wyoming feeds about 40 percent of national coal demand, but the fuel’s hold on the electricity market has weakened substantially in recent years, a trend that may continue.”
Editorial: ‘Coal miners' lives still matter’
A Kentucky newspaper applauds news that federal prosecutors have indicted eight mine managers on charges that they faked coal-dust monitoring results to avoid spending money on proper mine ventilation and to gain a cost advantage over competitors. The charges carry penalties of $250,000 and up to five years in prison. “Stiff punishments,” the editorial notes. “But, then, black lung is a death sentence.”
Editorial: Schemes to subsidize coal industry are part of a rank ‘payback’ that won’t fly
An Ohio newspaper, weighing in on Trump administration proposals to bail out the faltering U.S. coal industry, argues that such initiatives will only deter economic development in more promising sectors. “The loss of coal-related jobs unquestionably has been painful for coal regions, and their anxiety is justified,” the Columbus Dispatch writes. “Trump has exploited that anxiety and anger, winning support by making promises that are bad for the country and most likely can’t be delivered anyway.”
Project to reclaim former Kentucky mountaintop coal mine as 12,500-acre wildlife visitor attraction by 2020
In a pilot project to reclaim land left mostly barren from the closure of Kentucky’s first mountaintop removal coal mine, nonprofit developers plan to open the 12,500-acre Appalachian Wildlife Center by 2020. The idea is to “kick off economic diversity based on conservation instead of coal mining,” says a wildlife biologist leading the initiative. Construction began in June with $35 million raised from donors and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement. Plans include expectations that the center will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
Midwest receives greater transition focus
JTF, long active in Appalachia and in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, sees the Illinois Basin, which underlies much of the state, as an area of growing need. “It’s important to note that what a just transition looks like is different in different places,” said Heidi Binko, JTF’s executive director.
Texas town ‘knew it was coming,’ but is reeling nonetheless from plant closing
The town of Rockdale, Texas, lost much of its tax base with the recent shutdown of the coal-fired Sandow Power Plant. Over 300 jobs were eliminated by the closure in January, and the local school district will collect only $614,000 in property taxes this year from the plant’s owner, Luminant, compared with $4.1 million last year. “We knew that it was coming,” said one local official. “We just didn’t think that it was coming this fast.”
Two ‘zombie’ coal plants in Virginia typify an industry in decline
Two aging power plants that are being kept on life support in Virginia typify the condition of much of the U.S. coal-fired electricity generation fleet. Yorktown 1 and 2, operated by Dominion Energy, are “limping along in the Virginia heat” as Dominion, which has six million customers, joins other major utility companies in turning to cleaner, more affordable options: “In this, it is no different than other utilities around the country that are similarly turning to cleaner energy sources and shutting down coal power.”
Texas city of 50,000 goes 100% renewable, setting a pace for others
Georgetown, Texas, a community of about 50,000 people near Austin, has become the first city in Texas to switch entirely to renewable electricity generation. The city has signed long-term deals for solar- and wind-powered energy in a move that has rid it of its former reliance on coal and natural gas and that serves as a model other municipalities can follow. “Georgetown has already reached out to neighboring cities to help them make the same changes,” reports an Austin cable-news station.
Op-ed: Embracing transition, PSC of New Mexico is acting in customers’ best interest
The Public Service Company of New Mexico, the biggest utility in the state, is doing right by its customers in planning to close the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station by 2020 and replace it with renewable resources, gas-fired generation and power-storage technology. The transition promises to provide “important and beneficial economic development opportunities for our state and its rural communities,” writes the author, who notes that the wind and solar industries have already invested $4.4 billion locally.
Federal proposals to bail out coal plants continue to fuel a backlash
Trump administration proposals to subsidize failing coal plants continue to anger the oil and gas industry, among others. Administration proposals to impose steel and aluminum tariffs will also damage the U.S. energy as a whole, critics say. One Arizona oil field services company owner said Trump’s “tortured coal policy penalizes natural gas” and that is “seems counter to what he campaigned on.”
Michigan conservatives call for more emphasis on renewables
A conservative energy group in Michigan has published a report calling for expansion of the state’s renewable energy as a way to expand the economy and capitalize on market trends. The report endorses a 15 percent renewable energy standard by 2021 and 20 percent by 2027. “It’s not an unrealistic target, given the trajectory and rapid advances in renewables in Michigan,” said a spokesman for the group.
Study: Keeping PacificCorp’s coal plants going will cost ratepayers $11.7 billion
A new study concludes that rising operational costs at PacifiCorp’s coal-fired electricity plants are hurting consumers. PacificCorp, the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, operates in six states. The study, by Utah-based Energy Strategies, calculates that keeping PacifiCorp’s aging fleet of 22 coal plants online for “the remainder of their lives” will cost $11.7 billion.
Rocky Mountain Power sees renewable energy as ‘increasingly attractive’
“Renewable energy — particularly solar and wind power — have become increasingly attractive,” says a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, which has signed a long-term agreement to buy power produced by the first utility-scale solar project in Wyoming. The Sweetwater Solar LLC plant received crucial clearance this week from the Bureau of Land Management. It will produce enough electricity to power 17,000 homes, and is expected to go online by the end of this year.
Another Kentucky coal-plant closure heralds more change to come
In announcing the retirement by 2020 of its 54-year-old coal-fired electricity plants, a Kentucky city is joining a market tide toward transition. The closure will affect 60 employees, and while the city of Owensboro will continue to get electricity from some conventional sources, it is now pursuing a solar power purchase agreement. “It’s just as in when your car gets older, or any other piece of mechanical equipment, it becomes harder and harder and more expensive to maintain it,” said a utility spokeswoman of the decision to close Elmer Smith Station.
‘Good, high-paying jobs’ in Wyoming’s emerging wind industry
As Wyoming grapples with how to manage its energy industry transition, more people are considering the economic benefits of the wind industry. One project in particular, the TransWest Express,captures some of the possibilities. “These are good, high-paying jobs. And when we finish this project, the permanent jobs are going to be roughly 150 people, well paid, fully-benefitted jobs that are really a boon to those communities,” said the CEO of the company building TransWest.
Campaign to impose a carbon tax on utility industry gains traction
The utility company Exelon, which does business in 48 states, is joining a campaign to urge enactment of a federal carbon tax on the U.S. utility industry as a way to discourage further reliance on power generated from coal, natural gas, and oil. Other supporters of the initiative include ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and General Motors, and the proposal “has a good chance of getting across the finish line,” said Kathleen Barron, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs.
Report: Trend away from coal-fired generation persists
A new report on global electricity-generation trends finds once-conventional forms of fuel continuing to lose market share. The shift is driven partly by U.S. corporate preferences. “Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run,” said Elena Giannakopoulou, an energy economist for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables—(and) coal gets squeezed out.”
Younger workers are leaving Wyoming as state’s traditional energy economy falters
As Wyoming’s traditional energy economy contracts, younger workers are leaving for opportunities elsewhere, and the state’s population is growing older, according to recent data from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division. The trend makes Wyoming the fastest-aging state in the country, and many former residents have left because they lost their jobs in the oil, natural gas and coal-mining industries.
Editorial: ‘It isn’t the job of the federal government to pick winners and losers in business’
An editorial board for a newspaper in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming has questioned the Trump administration’s controversial proposal to prop up failing coal-fired electricity generation plants. “Coal’s place in the energy sector has changed,” the editorial says. “Investing in our past will only shortchange us in the future.”
Deal moves Colstrip closer to a "post-coal" future
The Montana Public Service Commission approved a sale that moves ownership of the Colstrip Power Plant to a Canadian corporation in a deal that includes a $4.5 million payment to the city of Colstrip as part of an arrangement meant to blunt the impact of the eventual closure of the plant. Commissioners said the deal “appears to be in the public interest, for Montana consumers and the state.”
Xcel steps up date for retirement of two Colorado coal plants
Citing the “historically low” cost of renewables, Xcel Energy is pressing for state approval to close two coal-fired generators in Colorado a decade earlier than planned. The plants, part of the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, would be retired in 2022 and 2025 under the proposal, and would be replaced by a pair of existing gas-fired plants, three windfarms and five utility-scale complexes.
Wyoming county has yet to be paid $4 million in overdue coal-royalty taxes
Local officials say Campbell County, Wyo., has been stiffed on a $4 million tax payment due May 1 from Contura Energy, the company that acquired the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines last year from Alpha Natural Resources. The mines, near Gillette, have since been acquired by Blackjewel LLC, “a firm troubled by environmental concerns and court cases in Appalachia.” Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr are also beset by millions of dollars in cleanup obligations.
Pushback in West Virginia against Trump’s coal-subsidy plan
One clear result of a White House plan to subsidize failing coal plants: Bigger utility bills for households, businesses, and industry in West Virginia. Skeptics of the proposed bailout include officials with the Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division, the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law, and the Natural Gas Supply Association. The plan “would definitely drive rates up,” one analyst said.
South Carolina public solar projects ‘make a sound like "cha-ching"
In Edgefield and nearby Saluda, S.C., an elementary school and a town hall have installed solar electricity systems that are expected to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Low-interest loan programs have helped make the initiatives successful. “Not many local governments and school districts in South Carolina have embraced solar power, which can involve navigating utility incentives and state Energy Office loans, but several that have taken the plunge couldn't be happier.
Cuts in funding put Black Lung Disability Trust Fund at risk
A 55 percent congressionally-mandated cut in revenue to the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund comes as an epidemic in the fatal disease gains momentum. The GAO reports that as a result of the impending reduction, the fund will incur a deficit of as much as $15 billion over the next 30 years. Fund revenue comes from taxes on coal companies, and the National Mining Association says maintaining support for the fund “would burden the coal industry.”
Backlash against Trump plan to subsidize coal
After President Trump ordered the Energy Department last week to devise a way to subsidize failing coal plants, an assortment of other energy interests criticized the initiative as a “misguided” policy move that will disrupt markets and hurt consumers. Opponents include solar and wind energy interests, the natural gas industry and the American Petroleum Institute. Should the plan proceed, “litigation would begin almost immediately,” one analyst said.
Two coal-fired units at Indiana plant close
Northern Indiana Public Service Company, which provides electricity to almost 1.3 million customers in the northern third of the state, is closing two coal-fired units at the Bailly Generating Station on the shore of Lake Michigan, effectively mothballing the station. The decision is part of the utility’s intention to close half its coal fleet by 2023. "Bailly was the first step in that plan," a company official said.
West Coast shift in energy policy undermines Wyoming’s bet on coal
As West Coast states look to power their electricity grids with cheaper and cleaner energy sources, their retreat from traditional generation models poses an existential threat to Wyoming’s coal industry. Utilities involved in the transition include regional household names like PacifiCorp and Rocky Mountain Power. “If Oregon, Washington and California ditch coal, it may leave Wyoming’s largest utility, and its customers, holding a bag they don’t want to carry,” reports one newspaper.
Utility trends don’t bode very well for fossil-fuel-fired electricity
Two huge interstate electricity companies—Vista Energy and Dominion Energy—are at the forefront of an industry retooling that favors cheap renewable forms of generation over natural gas and coal. The trend embodies “a bearish view of fossil-fuel energy” as solar and wind farms gain market share nationally, “curbing orders for new plants and forcing the closure of old ones.”
Market forces make aging Kentucky coal plant a candidate for shutdown
Characteristic of the coal-fired electricity-generation industry nationally, a locally-sourced Kentucky plant owned by Henderson Municipal Power & Light has been all but mothballed. Expense is the prime factor as officials decide whether to keep it open: “It costs about 33 times more to produce energy from Station Two than it does to buy it on the open market.” Part of the plant has been closed already.
Coal Company With Mines in Five States Gets a Bankruptcy Reprieve, for Now
A cash infusion from creditors will help stave off bankruptcy for Westmoreland Coal, but the company, which owns mines in five states, is still in trouble. “Westmoreland faces many of the same pressures irritating the coal sector nationwide,” reports a Wyoming newspaper, “including competition from cheap natural gas and environmental regulations that made some older coal units too expensive to keep running.”
Court Settlement Marks End of the Road for Chicago-Area Coal Plants
A federal court settlement in Illinois closes the case on six coal-fired plants in the Chicago area that are slated to shut down or switch to natural gas. The case is of note in part because of the Trump administration’s acquiescence to the agreement. “I don't believe (coal) is going to have a renaissance," said one utility executive. "I think it's on its way out."
Opinion: Washington-based Appalachian Regional Commission Should Relocate to West Virginia
A Charleston newspaper columnist advocates for moving the 50-year-old Appalachian Regional Commission to West Virginia, the only state whose borders are entirely within Appalachia. While Kentucky appears favored in a push to relocate the commission to a city in the region, the author argues that West Virginia should not “roll over on this one” and that the state’s governor and congressional delegation “should openly compete for it, starting now.”
A Jobs Pitch in Ohio for a Clean-Energy Economy
An Ohio energy group is calling for great public awareness of the growth potential in the state’s clean-energy sector. Advocates say modernizing Ohio’s power system can enhance grid reliability, create jobs and keep electricity rates under control. “These kinds of policies are going to benefit all Ohioans,” one proponent said.
12,000-Home Solar Project Approved in Wyoming
Sweetwater County Commissioners have approved the biggest solar project on record for Wyoming, the country’s No. 1 coal producer. The 80-megawatt solar farm will cover one square mile and generate enough electricity for 12,000 homes. The project is a subsidiary of a Korean company.
Moody’s: U.S. Utilities Tied to Coal-Fired Business Models Are at Risk
Broad acceptance of renewable energy will drive more coal-fired power plants out of business, says a report from Moody’s Investors Services. “Utilities may be required to shut down carbon-emitting generation assets — particularly coal plants — before the end of their useful lives,” concludes the report, which details how cost and consumer preferences are driving transition.
Three Hard-Hit Kentucky Towns Continue to Weigh Merger
Cumberland, Benham, and Lynch, Ky., “face stark challenges because of declining tax bases and other problems” as they continue to consider the possibility of merging operations to survive. The Tri-City Chamber of Commerce is advocating for the move, in the municipalities’ best interest, and on the strength of a review by the Kentucky League of Cities.
Federal Inquiry Sought Into Westmoreland’s Ability to Deliver on Reclamation Responsibilities
A Montana conservation group has asked the Interior Department to investigate whether Westmoreland Coal has the financial wherewithal to meet its mine-cleanup obligations. Questions have emerged also as to whether the company’s “self-bonding” commitments are sustainable in Texas and Canada. Westmoreland is widely reported to be at risk of bankruptcy.
Report: U.S. Solar Jobs Outnumber Coal 2-1
A report from a think tank led by former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz found that solar-industry jobs topped 350,000 last year, more than double the total in coal-related work. The report ties half of all 133,000 news jobs in the energy sector to efficiency initiatives. Solar is gaining also on the natural-gas industry.
Commentary: ‘Modernization Is the Ticket to National Energy Security’
Most discussion around the possibility of the federal government invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 in order to keep failing coal-fired and nuclear electricity plants alive has avoided exploring more sensible policy recommendations.
Analysis: Closure of 8 Failing Coal Plants Would Not Affect Illinois Power Grid
Continuing to subsidize eight struggling coal-fired power plants in Illinois makes no sense, concludes two researchers at the National Resource Defense Council: “Dynegy-Vistra has contrived a problem that does not exist, arguing that if its coal plants closed, electricity supply in Central and Southern Illinois would be in jeopardy and the likelihood of power outages would significantly increase. That’s simply not true.”