Coal will make up 85% of electric generating capacity retirements in 2022 – Here’s why


US electricity generator operators have scheduled 14.9 gigawatts (GW) of electric generating capacity to retire during 2022, and the vast majority of those scheduled retirements – 85% – are coal-fired power plants, reports the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) today.

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Coal in 2022

Natural gas (8%) and nuclear (5%) trail behind coal in planned retirements:

Chart: EIA

After substantial retirements (11 GW per year on average) of US coal-fired electric generating capacity from 2015 to 2020, coal retirements in 2021 slowed to 4.6 GW.

However, 12.6 GW of coal capacity is scheduled to retire in 2022. That’s 6% of the coal-fired generating capacity that was operating at the end of 2021.

In a report released yesterday, independent research provider the Rhodium Group writes that coal made a comeback in 2021 – jumping 17% after the pandemic slump of 2020. That was the first annual increase in coal generation since 2014.

Coal’s rebound was driven largely by a rise in natural gas prices. The report states:

Prices rose as oil and gas producers ramped down new production in 2021 in response to the COVID oil price collapse and ensuing slow growth in demand …

… Renewables continued their growth in 2021, with generation rising 4% (about half the rate of renewables growth in 2020), reaching 20% of US electricity generation for the first time.

The EIA continues:

Most of the plants making up the operating US coal fleet were built in the 1970s and 1980s. US coal plants are retiring as the coal fleet ages and as coal-fired generators face increasing competition from natural gas and renewables.

Electrek’s Take

The good news is that the 2021 coal rise was temporary in the US. As Electrek reported in October via the EIA:

The electric power sector has retired about 30% of its generating capacity at coal plants since 2010, and no new coal-fired capacity has come online in the United States since 2013. In addition, coal stocks at US power plants are relatively low, and production at operating coal mines has not been increasing as rapidly as the recent increase in coal demand.

Clean energy is going to be the leading source of all US electricity by 2030. Let’s just hope that’s fast enough.

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