Retiring Outdated Coal Burning Plants
Energy’s plan to keep uneconomic coal plants online will burden North Carolina’s customers More »
The Southeast's historical dependence on coal-fired power plants has resulted in air pollution that hurts our communities and means our region is one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change. As pollution regulations undergo a long-overdue update, utilities must decide whether to retire old and inefficient coal-burning units or to spend hundreds of millions to over a billion dollars upgrading them. But the cost doesn’t stop there.
What is the true cost of coal-burning plants?
Burning coal produces staggering amounts of air and water pollution harmful to human health. Much of the coal burned in plants in the Southeast is obtained through mountaintop removal coal mining, a devastating practice that has destroyed countless mountains, forests, and streams. Coal burning also generates vast quantities of coal ash waste that contains dangerous heavy metals—toxic pollution that is often stored in unlined pits on or near the plant sites. Many of these sites leak—some silently seep into our rivers and groundwater; some fail catastrophically, like the Kingston spill of 2008 or Dan River in 2014. Read more about our work to cleanup coal ash waste in the Southeast.
Retirement more economically—and environmentally—feasible
SELC has been a leading voice urging utilities to consider the long-term economic benefits of retiring outdated plants and investing in cleaner and more cost-efficient technologies, such as energy efficiency, solar, and wind. As the price of coal continues to rise, we are working to improve and expand incentive programs to encourage utilities to adopt these cheaper alternatives. Meanwhile, the price of energy efficiency and renewable energy continues to decline as markets open and develop, allowing these clean energy sources to compare favorably with and outcompete coal generation on a pure cost basis.
Working for cleaner energy through retirements
Ten years ago, there were 246 coal-fired units generating electric power in our region, and nine more huge units were planned. Today, 126 of the existing units- a third of the total coal capacity in our six states- have already retired or will retire by 2020, with most of them recently closed, and seven of the proposed units never got off the ground. SELC has plated an instrumental role in securing plans or legally binding retirement commitments and in turning aside most of the proposed new plants, participating in utility planning processes and working with state utility commissions. As a result, carbon emissions from power generation in our region declined 29 percent in the past ten years. As a result of SELC's coal ash enforcement efforts, utilities in the Southeast are now required or committed to remove ofer 250 million tons of coal ash from leaking, unlined pits.
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