Despite the headlines, the US coal industry has some good news. Quietly, 2012 is turning out to be a good year for new coal plants.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports that 2,276 megawatts of new coal capacity began operating in the US during January to August 2012. See data at: http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/aug-2012-energy-infrastructure.pdf. Nearly all of the new coal capacity is owned by monopoly utilities (often municipal or rural electric cooperatives) that have placed it in a rate base that captive retail electricity customers support with their electricity payments.
Indeed, more new coal capacity has opened in 2012 than was the case last year. From January to August 2011, 1,710 megawatts of new coal plants began operations. And new coal plant capacity was equal to nearly 20% of the nation's 11,866 megawatts of all types of generation that began operating in 2012 through August.
As a result of much greater capacity factors, the new coal capacity of 2,276 megawatts is capable of generating an amount of electricity approximately equal to 13,700 megawatts of solar and 6,825 megawatts of wind. At the end of 2011, the US had 3,536 megawatts of solar installed and will likely double that total to 7,000 megawatts by the end of this year. In addition, the US will have probably more than 55,000 megawatts of wind installed by the end of 2012.
Despite the impressive growth rate of solar, just the new coal plants built in 2012 will produce about twice the electricity as all the solar systems in the USA and about 13% of the electricity coming from all wind farms. The solar boom is real, but the comparison of solar's production to that of just the 2012 coal plants keeps its production in perspective.