Despite the hype, renewables are incapable of providing the amount of energy needed to keep humanity warm, fed, and out of the dark. With that understanding reinforced by recent demands for electricity-generating fuels around the world, American utilities are extending the lives of their coal-fired power plants. Myles McCormick reports in Financial Times:
US utilities are extending the lives of their coal-fired power plants, as delays in obtaining cleaner replacements and strong electricity demand drive fears of shortfalls on the grid.
Three coal generators this month joined a growing list of plants whose planned retirement date has been postponed, bringing to at least eight the number of deferrals this year. The delays are a setback, at least temporarily, to the country’s efforts to wean itself off the dirtiest fossil fuel.
“While this is a difficult decision, it is necessary to maintain the reliable electricity service our communities have come to expect,” Javier Fernandez, chief executive of the Omaha Public Power District, said this month as he deferred the conversion of two Nebraska coal-fired units to natural gas by three years. The public utility pinned the extension on delays bringing new gas and solar projects into service.
OPPD was joined by the investor-owned utility CenterPoint Energy, which announced it was extending the life of a coal unit in Indiana by two years to reduce the amount of power it has to purchase from the regional grid operator’s “high-priced capacity market”.
Missouri’s Ameren, another utility group, has been in a legal battle over the closure of its Rush Island coal plant. It now looks set to keep its two units operating until 2025 — having applied earlier this year to close them in September — after the grid operator said its closure would lead to a “risk of cascading outages and area voltage collapse”.
US coal-fired generating capacity has fallen by more than half over the past 15 years as falling costs for natural gas fuel and wind and solar technologies introduced brutal competition.
But the solar buildout has hit a wall this year, holding up projects that were to replace some of the lost coal generation. Consultancy Wood Mackenzie expects utility-scale solar installations will add 8.7 gigawatts of capacity in 2022, about half of last year’s levels.
Developers and utilities blame difficulty in procuring parts, including constraints related to an investigation into whether importers are dodging tariffs on solar panels from south-east Asia and the seizure of some parts under a law barring supplies linked to forced labour in China.
“Many of the operators are attributing the deferral of plant closures to delays in solar or solar [and battery] storage projects,” said Morris Greenberg, an analyst at S&P Global Commodity Insights.
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