Archive for the ‘coal’ Category

Renewable electricity beat out coal for the first time in April

June 28th, 2019
Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif.

Enlarge / Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif. (credit: nate2b / Flickr)

A remarkable thing happened in the US in April. For the first time ever, renewable electricity generation beat out coal-fired electricity generation on a national level, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). While renewable energy—including hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass—constituted 23 percent of the nation's power supply, coal-fired electricity only contributed 20 percent of our power supply.

There are seasonal reasons this happened in April. Wind power generation tends to be higher in spring and fall, hydroelectric generation usually peaks as winter snow melts, and lengthening days mean more solar power can be fed to the grid.

In addition, people use less electricity in spring, as it's not cold enough to need a lot of heating and not warm enough to require lots of air conditioner use. Coal-fired power plant owners, expecting this low demand, often use spring and fall to take their power plants offline for regularly scheduled maintenance.

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Posted in Biz & IT, coal, electricity, Energy, renewables, science, Wind | Comments (0)

A 10-year-old natural gas plant in California gets the coal plant treatment

June 26th, 2019
Two gas turbines at the Inland Empire Energy Center.

Enlarge / Inland Empire Energy Center outside of Riverside, California. (credit: Oohlongjohnson)

Late last week, General Electric told a California regulator that it would close down a 10-year-old Southern California natural gas plant because it's no longer economically competitive in California's energy market.

The news, first reported by Reuters, is surprising because natural gas plants tend to have 30-year lifespans on average, and natural gas is currently the cheapest fossil fuel on the market today. But the two 376 megawatt (MW) turbines at the Inland Empire Energy Center (IEEC) outside of Riverside, California, are not built to play well with the increasing amount of renewable energy on California's grid. On top of that, renewables' low marginal cost and ubiquity throughout the state mean that during certain times of day, they're often the cheapest energy option.

Natural gas needs quick-start options

GE told the California Energy Commission on Thursday that the natural gas plant is “not designed for the needs of the evolving California market, which requires fast-start capabilities to satisfy peak demand periods.”

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Posted in Biz & IT, California, coal, Energy, natural gas, science | Comments (0)

Ohio House passes bill that would allow consumer-funded nuclear and coal subsidies

May 31st, 2019
Cooling towers behind nuclear plant entrance.

Enlarge / Water vapor is emitted from the cooling towers of the FirstEnergy Corp. Perry Nuclear Generating Station in Perry, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. (credit: David Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This week, lawmakers in Ohio's House of Representatives voted 53-43 in favor of a controversial bill that would permit a consumer-funded subsidy for nuclear plants and possibly for ailing coal plants as well.

The bill would also end Ohio's renewable portfolio standard, which required that the state's utilities to obtain 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2027. Instead, that renewable portfolio standard is replaced by smaller steps to bolster renewable power, but environmental groups say the bill is a step in the wrong direction.

A version of House Bill 6 has now been introduced to the state's Senate. If it passes there, it will likely become law due to the Governor's support of the bill.

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Posted in coal, Energy, House Bill 6, Nuclear, Ohio, Policy, renewable, science | Comments (0)

China’s saber-rattling on rare-earths trade has US officials looking for options

May 30th, 2019
Rare earth oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.

Rare earth oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium. (credit: Peggy Greb, US Department of Agriculture)

On Wednesday, Chinese newspapers ran commentaries warning the United States that escalating trade tensions would result in China cutting off its rare-earth-minerals trade with the US.

China is the dominant supplier of rare-earth minerals around the world. The minerals are used in all sorts of advanced materials and play a prominent role in the operation of electric motors, wind turbines, and military-related material.

According to Reuters, China's official People's Daily ran an article saying: "Undoubtedly, the US side wants to use the products made by China's exported rare-earths to counter and suppress China's development. The Chinese people will never accept this!"

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Posted in Biz & IT, china, coal, Energy, Policy, rare earths, trade | Comments (0)

Third-largest coal producer in the US files for bankruptcy

May 14th, 2019
coal train.

Enlarge / WRIGHT, WY - OCTOBER 19: Train cars full of 100 tons of coal leave a mine near Wright, Wyoming on October 19, 2006. Empty cars head to the facility. (credit: Photo by Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Cloud Peak Energy, the US' third-largest coal mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last week as the company missed an extension deadline to make a $1.8 million loan payment.

In a statement, Cloud Peak said it will continue to operate its three massive coal mines in Wyoming and Montana while it goes through the restructuring process. Colin Marshall, the president and CEO of the company, said that he believed a sale of the company's assets "will provide the best opportunity to maximize value for Cloud Peak Energy."

Cloud Peak was one of the few major coal producers who escaped the significant coal industry downturn between 2015 and 2016. That bought it a reputation for prudence and business acumen.

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Posted in Biz & IT, coal, Energy, science | Comments (0)

UK goes a whole week without using coal-fired electricity

May 8th, 2019
Four cooling towers.

Enlarge / The cooling towers of Willington Coal-Fired Power Station, first commissioned in 1957, contains four 104MW generating units. Each unit, when on full load, burns approximately 1,000 tons of coal per day, which produces 200 tons of ash. Willington, Derbyshire, United Kingdom. (credit: Andrew Aitchison / In pictures via Getty Images)

On April 21 in 2017, the UK had its first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution. Now, just two years later, the UK's National Grid confirmed that it had gone 168 hours, or seven days, without using any coal-fired power. The electricity system operator said that it expected coal-free stretches to become more frequent in the coming years.

In 2015, the UK pledged to remove coal from its grid by 2025. In a statement to the Financial Times on Thursday, the National Grid's director, Fintan Slye, said he expected the grid to be able to not only hit that target but to run with zero carbon emissions.

"As more and more renewables come on to our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence," the director said. "We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon."

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Posted in coal, Energy, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Department of Justice opens investigation into failed carbon-capture plant

May 2nd, 2019
Cranes stand at the construction site for Southern Co.'s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Miss., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014.

Enlarge / Cranes stand at the construction site for Southern Co.'s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Miss., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (credit: Gary Tramontina/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) notified Southern Company that it is opening an investigation "related to the Kemper County energy facility," according to Southern's most recent financial statement (PDF).

The Mississippi-based facility had received $387 million in federal grants to build a state-of-the-art coal gasification and carbon-capture power plant (otherwise known as an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, plant). But in 2017, Southern's subsidiary, Mississippi Power, decided to scrap the cutting-edge tech and only use the power plant to burn cheaper natural gas, in a major blow to the proponents of carbon capture.

Bad timing

Kemper was a complicated project. It was located near a lignite coal mine, which was intended to serve Kemper exclusively. Lignite is a low-grade coal compared to the anthracite and bituminous coal that's found in Wyoming and Montana, so Kemper planned to synthetically transform the plentiful local coal to gas. The plant would then burn the syngas in a turbine, strip the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the power plant's flue, and send that CO2 through a pipeline to an oilfield where it would be used for enhanced oil recovery. (That is, CO2 is forced down into an oil well to increase the pressure of the well so more oil can be recovered.)

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Posted in Biz & IT, carbon capture, coal, Gas, kemper, lignite, mississippi power, natural gas, Policy, Southern Company | Comments (0)

Considering methane leaks, is moving from coal to natural gas all that good?

April 24th, 2019
DUNKIRK, NEW YORK, 2016: A NRG-owned coal fired energy facility that planned to convert to a natural gas facility.

Enlarge / DUNKIRK, NEW YORK, 2016: A NRG-owned coal fired energy facility that planned to convert to a natural gas facility. (credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Coal is among the most polluting fuels that nations around the world use regularly to create electricity. It's especially bad in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and in order to slow climate change, we'll need to retire coal plants sooner rather than later.

Many have argued that, rather than retiring coal plants completely, they should be altered to burn natural gas if possible. Natural gas emits less than half the amount of carbon dioxide that coal does when it's burned, and it also emits fewer nitrogen oxides and less sulfur dioxide, pollutants that are harmful to human health. Natural gas is also dispatchable; unlike with renewables, we don't have to wait for the sun or the wind to appear to start generating electricity.

But using natural gas comes with less-obvious costs. Natural gas itself is mostly methane (CH4), which is an extremely potent greenhouse gas before it's combusted, although its lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than CO2. Numerous recent reports show that natural gas operations leak an uncertain amount of that methane—making it difficult to determine whether replacing coal with natural gas is actually better, at least in the short term, when lifecycle analyses of both fuels are compared.

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Posted in coal, Energy, methane, natural gas, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Another judge sets back Trump attempts to open up federal lands to fossil fuels

April 22nd, 2019
Aerial view of a coal mine in Utah.

Enlarge / Coal mine in Utah. (credit: Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

On Friday, a federal judge in Montana District Court dealt the Trump Administration another setback pertaining to leasing out federal lands for fossil fuel extraction.

In an order (PDF), the judge said that the US Department of the Interior (DOI) had to conduct a review of the impacts of its decision to lease federal land for coal mining under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Under the Obama Administration, the DOI placed a moratorium on leasing federal land out for coal mining. The move was expected to have significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions: according to the Friday order, "the federal coal program, as of 2014, stands responsible for an estimated eleven percent of total United States greenhouse gas emissions." Coal use has tumbled in the five years since 2014, but it still remains a significant fuel source in many parts of the country.

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Posted in coal, drilling, Energy, federal lands, oil, pilicy, Policy, science, Trump | Comments (0)

Judge ends Arizona coal-mine owners’ attempt to compel power customer to stay

April 4th, 2019
Judge ends Arizona coal-mine owners’ attempt to compel power customer to stay


A federal judge in Arizona dismissed a lawsuit that sought to force the state's major water supplier to continue buying power from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a 2.25 gigawatt (GW) coal-fired power plant in Arizona.

NGS is the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi River. But in 2017, its owners decided they would close the plant by the end of 2019, as profits steadily eroded.

The Central Arizona Project (CAP), which buys millions of megawatt-hours of power a year from NGS to operate pumps that irrigate and hydrate higher-elevation portions of Arizona, said it would buy power elsewhere after NGS closed. CAP has maintained for several years (PDF) that coal-fired power from NGS has been more expensive than natural gas and renewable power on the wider market.

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Posted in coal, electricity, Energy, Navajo Generating Station, Policy | Comments (0)