21 february 2017

Coal plants keep closing on Trump's watch

Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter, Climatewire: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

PORTER COUNTY, Ind. — Alex Tracy has spent most of his career in coal. Like many in this corner of northwest Indiana, Tracy got his start in the steel mills. He was employed in a coke plant, where coal is fed into the great blast furnaces that turn iron to steel.

The coke plant closed, but not before Tracy landed a job at the nearby Bailly Generating Station. Tracy has spent the last 13 years at the coal-fired facility, which towers over Lake Michigan and provides power to the maze of steel mills, refineries and other industrial operations that line its shores.

The job makes Tracy part of a decades-old equation. Bailly feeds the mills, the mills feed nearby Chicago. Now that's all set to change. The power plant will close its doors in 2018.

"What I've seen tells me there is no future in coal," Tracy said, reflecting on the plant's impending demise one recent afternoon. "The two places I've worked in the last 20 years basically are closing. And they're all coal."

Bailly's closure was announced one week before Donald Trump bested Hillary Clinton in the presidential contest. But while Trump and his congressional allies pursue a rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations in Washington, coal plants continue to close at a rapid clip across the country.

In the next four years, utilities have plans to close 40 coal units, federal figures show. Six closures have been announced since Trump's victory in November.

Vectren Corp., a utility based in Evansville, Ind., said in December that it expects to close two coal plants by 2024. Dayton Power and Light Co. announced in January it will close two massive coal plants in southern Ohio next year.

And in Arizona, four utilities voted last week to shut down the Navajo Generating Station in 2019. The plant played the vital role of powering the set of canals that deliver drinking water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson.

The spate of closures underlines the challenges facing President Trump, who ran on a promise of revitalizing the coal industry. Utilities, beset by stagnant power demand and presented with cheaper alternatives like natural gas and wind, have shown little appetite for returning to the fuel that long powered the American economy.

"Unless those fundamentals change in some deep and fundamental way, I don't see how you get anything other than rapid elimination of coal plants and certainly not any new ones," said William Hogan, a professor of energy policy at Harvard University.


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