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Sat Mar 14, 2020, 10:19 AM

For 1st Time In Decades, Remaining US Coal Plants Running Below 50% Capacity

Coal-fired power plants are retreating from the market in at least two big ways. One is hard to miss: Many plants are closing. The other is more subtle: Remaining plants are running much less often than before.

Newly released figures from the Energy Information Administration show that coal plants in the United States had a "capacity factor" of 47.5 percent in 2019, the first time it's been below 50 percent in decades of available records. This means that the total electricity production from the country's roughly 310 remaining coal plants was less than half of what it would have been, had every plant operated every hour at full capacity.

The percentage is remarkably low considering that coal plants also are closing at a rapid rate, which means the plants still operating are some of the most efficient and profitable. The fact that even these plants are being used less than they were shows fundamental changes in the economics of generating electricity, with coal losing ground even more than might be apparent from just looking at plant closings.

It also raises questions about why utilities aren't being more aggressive in closing coal plants. At least some of that reluctance is because companies are still paying off the costs of building the plants or of environmental retrofits, an obstacle some states are looking to address.



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