January 6, 2011
No new coal plants have begun construction in the past two years and none are expected to break ground in 2011, according to a report from the U.S. State Department on its website, www.america.gov.â€¨
â€¨Thirteen gigawatts of new construction is already underway and expected to be completed in the next few years, according to Frank Graves, a consultant with the Brattle Group in Boston. But after that the pipeline will run dry. “It’s not as much as they had planned to construct, but it’s not as if the coal industry has been frozen in its tracks,” Graves told America.gov.â€¨
The claim that new coal plant permitting has ground to a halt was originally made by the Sierra Club last week and confirmed by the Edison Electric Institute, the industry research group. The federal government’s Energy Information Administration is the source of the prediction that no new construction will begin in 2011 either.
â€¨All sides attribute the slowdown to three factors: 1) declining demand, 2) lower natural gas prices, and 3) environmental regulations. The EPA has undertaken an across-the-board effort to tighten regulations on the six main forms of air pollution – even before its initiative to regulate carbon emissions, which officially began this week. Coal is by far the biggest emitter of sulfur dioxides, mercury and particulate matter, all of which are in the EPA’s sites. Natural gas has fewer pollutants and emits only half as much carbon dioxide.â€¨
The decline of coal would be a great opportunity for nuclear, except that new nuclear construction is mired in an even greater regulatory morass and construction of even a handful of new reactors is not expected over the next decade. In that case, natural gas becomes the default source. Some recent analysis has suggested, however, that shale gas wells may play out much sooner than traditional wells and that the overall cost of such reserves may be much higher than is reflected by current prices. In that case, electrical customers are in for a rougher ride than anticipated.
Read more at America.gov