Thursday, September 13, 2007

Utilities Companies Downsize Lists of Coal-Fired Plants

Since the beginning of 2006, at least two dozen coal-fired plants have been canceled and another three put on hold.
For the past several years, growing numbers of coal-fired power plants proposed nationwide have been seen as a sign of strengthening demand for coal.

But those numbers are not as high as they seem. In fact, they're dropping.

Misleading Numbers

The number cited by every newspaper from the Wall Street Journal on down comes from an informal database maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

NETL releases its database in occasional reports it calls "Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants."

The May 1, 2007, publication of the database cited 151 coal-fired plants on its up-front summary page.

Following that report, a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote that U.S. power companies had announced intentions to build "as many as 150" new generating plants fueled by coal. That story was picked up by news outlets from New York to Idaho to Louisiana.

In reality, though, the single number published at the front of the NETL report includes not only plants on track to be built but also those that are on hold and those that already are in operation.

"It's everything that's on the database that isn't cancelled," explained Erik Shuster, a NETL contractor and the laboratory's contact for the database, in an interview after the July 2006 report came out.

Two years ago, in the 2005 database, the real number of plants on track to be built, not counting those already in service and on hold, came to 112.

In 2006, it went up significantly to 137.

But with the May 2007 list, it dropped for the first time since the database was created to 132.
At least three more plants have been canceled since that time.

High-Profile Cancellations

Coal-fired power projects have undergone some high-profile cancellations this year, often due to environmental concerns.

In January, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission denied a PacifiCorp request to seek bids for two coal-fired plants totaling 1,100 megawatts. The commission wanted the utility to delay until clean-coal technologies are further developed.

February was especially tough for coal.

In a lawsuit settlement with environmental groups, eight of 11 plants proposed by Texas's TXU Corp. were canceled.

The company's Internet home page now reads, "Increased commitment to exploring renewable energy sources and investing in alternative energy technologies."

And Duke Energy was denied permitting in February for one of two coal-fired units it proposed to build in North Carolina. To build the other, the utility was required by the state commission to shut down four aging units and to commit one percent of electricity revenues to efficiency programs.

Several more plants have been canceled since the NETL report was released in May.

Later in May, the Delaware Public Service Commission ordered Delmarva Electric to pursue a contract for wind generation rather than for a proposed coal-fired power plant.

"With our vote here today, we bring the potential for clean, renewable and carbon-free wind power to Delaware," the commission wrote in its order.

In June, during an outspoken crusade against greenhouse gas emissions conducted by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the state's Public Service Commission rejected a 1,960-MW plant. Developers of another Florida coal-fired plant suspended permitting activities in July.

The Current Tally

Since the beginning of 2006, at least two dozen coal-fired plants have been canceled and another three put on hold.

Of about 200 plants proposed since 2000 and listed in the NETL database, about 50 have been canceled.

Ten are in operation.

The current count of plants on the drawing boards comes to 129, and that total excluded those in service, canceled or on hold, as well as the three cancellations since NETL's report was released in May.

Story by Pam Kasey
The State Journal

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