This blog posted on monday, November 28th the EEI list of announced coal unit closings--231 units through 2022--and it turns out that's news that is also relevant to the controversy about whether the EPA air rules endanger grid reliability. The list had been distributed around Washington DC but apparently had not reached media. Based on the posting, Inside EPA and news outlets reported on the EEI list, the most comprehensive and credible list of announced plant closings, that also stated the primary reasons for the closings.
The EEI list attributes the closings variously to low-gas prices that make some coal units uncompetitive; decreased electricity demand over time; old-age of plants, with a 1921 plant on the list; and tightening environmental rules. It is a good, well-done document that responsibly addresses an important matter.
A total of 48,000 megawatts of generation is on the closing-by-2022 list. How does that compare to total generation? America has right now 339,000 megawatts of coal units and more than 1,000,000 megawatts of all forms of generation. The closings represent about 14% of all coal-fired generation and less than 5% of total generation.
Claims that these closings for a variety of reasons over the next 10 years endanger electric reliability are flimsy and not factually supportable. The further claim that the Wall Street Journal Editorial board or partisan Republicans make nearly everyday that the EPA rules by themselves endanger reliability are shrill, false political attacks on EPA and President Obama.
Here are a few more facts that expose the lack of factual seriousness of claims that the EPA is endangering electricity reliability.
Each year America builds typically 15,000 to 20,000 megawatts of new generation and so could be expected to build around 150,000 megawatts of new generation by 2022. Obviously, that is well-more than the 48,000 megawatts of announced coal unit closings.
In addition, demand response is growing rapidly, according to the North American Electricity Reliability Council. NERC reports that demand response alone increased from 30,000 megawatts to 43,000 megawatts just from 2009 to 2010. In one year, demand response jumped 13,000 megawatts.
If one just assumes that demand response reaches the equivalent of 10% of peak demand in 2022, demand response approximately will add about 50,000 megawatts by 2022 or enough by itself to compensate for the 48,000 megawatts of coal plant closings.
On top of these points, one can add the oceans of natural gas that are now available, the large excess generation capacity that exists in nearly every part of the country, and the declining growth rates of electricity demand.
For all these reasons, it is certain that both the 48,000 megawatts of announced coal units closings by 2022 and the EPA air rules do not endanger grid reliability.