Archive for the ‘coal’ Category

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

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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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Idaho Power announces record-low price for power from solar farm

April 4th, 2019
Transmission lines on the horizon.

Enlarge / Large power lines transport power outside Milford, Utah. (credit: George Frey / Getty Images)

Idaho Power announced recently that it had secured a 20-year deal to buy power from a 120MW solar farm being built by a company called Jackpot Holdings for $21.75 per megawatt-hour (MWh). The price is less than 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which appears to be a record-low price for solar energy in the United States.

The price isn't a perfect reflection of solar panel cost—Idaho Power's price is as low as it is because Jackpot Holdings is taking advantage of a federal subsidy in the form of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is set to begin phasing out in coming years. Still, industry watcher and investor Ramez Naam tweeted last night that, without the ITC, he estimates the price per kWh for the project would be about 3 cents per kWh, which is still extremely cheap.

Just two years ago, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that the average utility-grade solar project in the US had hit 6 cents per kWh, achieving the DOE's national goal three years early. Last October, Nature Energy published a paper investigating whether super-cheap, 3-cents-per-kWh solar prices in the Middle East reflected actual cost or simply existed as loss leaders and subsidy vehicles in oil-rich countries. (Spoiler: the researchers found that 3-cents-per-kWh prices were possible and rational in the Middle East.)

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

74% of US coal plants threatened by renewables, but emissions continue to rise

March 26th, 2019
Wind turbines near a coal plant.

Enlarge / Wind turbines spin as steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jäenschwalde coal-fired power plant. (credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report on Monday saying that in 2018, "global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.7 percent to 33 Gigatonnes." That's the most growth in emissions that the world has seen since 2013.

Coal use contributed to a third of the total increase, mostly from new coal-fired power plants in China and India. This is worrisome because new coal plants have a lifespan of roughly 50 years. But the consequences of climate change are already upon us, and coal's hefty emissions profile compared to other energy sources means that, globally, carbon mitigation is going to be a lot more difficult to tackle than it may look from here in the US.

Even in the US, carbon emissions grew by 3.1 percent in 2018, according to the IEA. (This closely tracks estimates by the Rhodium Group, which released a preliminary report in January saying that US carbon emissions increased by 3.4 percent in 2018.)

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Without federal help, local governments are trying to save coal

March 12th, 2019
Coal truck at a mine.

Enlarge / A truck loaded with coal is viewed at the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, which is operated by Alpha Coal, on Monday May 08, 2017 in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As the Trump administration's attempts to save coal have stalled, a record number of coal plants were shut down or scheduled for shut down in 2018.

The federal government has floated extra compensation for coal and nuclear plants, it has tried to use federal wartime powers to mandate that coal plants stay open, and it has rolled back the Clean Power Plan in the hopes that fewer regulations would help coal power plants stay solvent. Still, though, coal plants close and threaten to close largely because coal is more expensive than natural gas and renewable energy, and it's more cost-effective for utilities and energy companies to retire old plants than to refurbish them.

The federal government is still working to boost coal. In yesterday's budget proposal, the Trump administration proposed extensive cuts to a variety of renewable and efficiency programs run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, but it said it wanted to increase the Bureau of Land Management's coal management program funding by $7.89 million. In addition, the Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development saw a proposed increase in funds by $60 million.

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

New carbon capture solvent is another stab at optimism in a stagnant industry

February 19th, 2019
CO<sub>2</sub> being released by mild heating of the BIG-bicarbonate solid.

Enlarge / CO2 being released by mild heating of the BIG-bicarbonate solid. (credit: Neil J. Williams and Erick Holguin)

Capturing carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere is a white whale for the fossil fuel industry.

In theory, if a power plant or a factory could easily eliminate carbon emissions by filtering them out of flue gas, then the plant would be able to pursue business as usual with some simple retrofits—no threat of future regulations mandating lower emissions, no push to switch to completely new technologies.

The problem is that carbon capture is energy-intensive and expensive, it doesn't capture all the carbon dioxide being released, and it's not always clear what to do with the gas after it's captured. (The current best option is to find underground caverns in which the carbon can be stored, or sell the CO2 to older oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.)

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TVA board votes to close coal plants despite Trump tweet

February 14th, 2019
Paradise coal plant.

Enlarge / A coal train passes beside two cooling towers during unloading operations at the Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Paradise, Kentucky, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federally owned utility that operates in Tennessee and Kentucky, voted 5 to 2 to close two coal-fired power-generating units by 2023, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The decision includes closing the last coal-fired unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant by 2020, as well as closing the coal-fired Bull Run Steam Plant by 2023. On Thursday morning, the TVA tweeted: "The TVA Board votes to retire Paradise Unit 3 and Bull Run within the next few years. Their decision was made after extensive reviews and public comments and will ensure continued reliable power at the lowest cost feasible. We will work with impacted employees and communities."

The TVA announced back in August that it would review the viability of the two generators. According to the Times Free Press, the TVA's Chief Financial Officer John Thomas estimated that "the retirement of the two plants will save TVA $320 million, because the plants are the least efficient of TVA's coal plants and are not needed to meet TVA's power needs."

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Coal production may have reached a point of no return, per projections

February 6th, 2019
The Black Thunder mine in Wright, Wyoming produces 90 million tons of coal a year, which is distributed by rail throughout the country.

The Black Thunder mine in Wright, Wyoming produces 90 million tons of coal a year, which is distributed by rail throughout the country. (credit: Robb Kendrick)

In President Trump's State of the Union speech last night, he didn't mention coal once, while touting oil and natural gas as having "unleashed a revolution in American energy."

The president, who has baselessly challenged the science behind climate warnings, was not expected to address renewable energy or climate change. But his omission of coal in his speech last night was notable, given that he campaigned vigorously on bringing back coal.

Just one year ago, in his 2018 State of the Union address, the president claimed that his administration “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”

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It’ll cost $45 billion, but Germany proposes to eliminate coal in 19 years

January 28th, 2019
Cooling towers at German coal plants

Enlarge / The Jänschwalde lignite-fired power plant of Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG. (credit: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB)

On Saturday, a German commission made up of federal and state leaders as well as industry representatives, environmentalists, and scientists agreed on a proposal to close all of Germany's 84 remaining coal plants by 2038. The proposal is expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The closures would be compensated with €40 billion ($45.7 billion) in government aid, which would be directed toward communities hardest hit by coal closures. Currently, coal is a major component of Germany's energy sector. Last year, it provided the country with 38 percent of its energy, according to the Fraunhofer Institute. The country is situated near substantial resources of cheap lignite coal.

Germany has been making strides to reduce its carbon footprint, and last year, renewable energy surpassed coal as part of the country's energy mix for the first time. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, and biomass resources together produced 40 percent of Germany's energy.

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Coal will remain part of the US grid until 2050, federal energy projections say

January 26th, 2019
Dumptruck full of coal drives through strip mining area.

Enlarge / GILLETTE, Wyo.: A truck loaded with coal is viewed from the Eagle Butte Coal Mine Overlook which is operated by Alpha Coal. The area is a large producer of coal. Gillette uses the moniker of "The Energy Capital of the Nation." (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Thursday, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2019 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which contains projections about trends in energy—from the amount of fossil fuels produced and sold, to the growth of renewable energy—out to 2050.

This year, against the backdrop of recent warnings from top scientists about the urgency of climate action, the EIA's projections don't look great. Coal, one of the most carbon-emitting sources of energy, is still projected to provide 17 percent of the United States' electricity in 2050, and that's assuming that no carbon-capture technology has been made mandatory. Natural gas—a fossil fuel that is less carbon-emitting than coal but still a problem for climate change—will increase its share of US electricity production from 34 percent to 39 percent.

These projections are from the EIA's "reference case," which omits any predictions about unplanned policy changes. But they do contain assumptions about how technology will change and the economy will grow. In the EIA's own words (PDF), "The AEO2019 Reference case represents EIA's best assessment of how US and world energy markets will operate through 2050, based on many key assumptions. For instance, the Reference-case projection assumes improvement in known energy production, delivery, and consumption technology trends."

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After a boom year for new natural gas plants, renewables set to retake the lead

January 14th, 2019
Wind turbines at the Cedar Point Wind Energy Project in Limon, Colorado.

Enlarge / Wind turbines at the Cedar Point Wind Energy Project in Limon, Colorado. (credit: Getty Images)

In 2019, more renewable energy will be added to the grid than fossil fuel-based energy, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That had been the trend between 2013 and 2017, but last year new natural gas-fired power plants outpaced renewable additions to the grid. As a result, US carbon emissions increased, notably from the power sector, despite the rapid retirement of coal plants and a growing consciousness about the necessity of low-carbon energy.

EIA expects 2019 to be a more modest year for new energy capacity compared to 2018, with only 24 gigawatts (GW) of total capacity additions predicted for 2019 compared to the 34GW of capacity additions predicted for 2018. In 2018, EIA predicted that 21GW of natural gas plants would come online, with roughly 11GW of new renewables coming online, making 2018 the first year since 2013 in which renewables didn't make up the bulk of the new capacity added in the US.

A recent report from the Rhodium Group shows that actual installations in 2018 track with the EIA's 2018 estimate: between January and October 2018, 14.9GW of natural gas capacity were added to the US grid, while only 7.9GW of solar and wind capacity were added. More power plants were likely turned on between October and December, and the ratio of natural gas to renewable installations is comparable.

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