State

Power companies retired 10 percent of Kentucky’s coal capacity in 2015

In this March 9, 2006, photo, a large bulldozer sits ready for work at Peabody Energy’s Gateway Coal Mine near Coulterville, Ill.
In this March 9, 2006, photo, a large bulldozer sits ready for work at Peabody Energy’s Gateway Coal Mine near Coulterville, Ill. AP

Kentucky utility operators retired 10 percent of the state’s coal-fired power generating capacity in 2015, the most behind Ohio and Georgia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The plants, in eastern, central and western Kentucky, generated a combined 1.5 gigawatts of electricity. A total of 18 gigawatts of coal capacity was retired across the country last year, “a relatively high amount compared with recent years,” the agency noted.

Some of that capacity is being replaced by natural gas, which has become cheap and abundant due to hydraulic fracturing. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which took effect last April, also had a role in the closures.

States challenged the rule, and last June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, said the EPA didn’t properly consider compliance costs in the rule but didn’t throw it out entirely. The agency is developing a cost-benefit analysis for the rule to be completed next month.

Kentucky is among the states that joined the EPA lawsuit. It is also one of the states challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which could result in more coal-plant closures.

The Kentucky plants that closed in 2015 were older, typically built between 1950 and 1970, and would have been costly to upgrade.

The Kentucky plants that closed in 2015 were older, typically built between 1950 and 1970, and would have been costly to upgrade.

In the largest retirement, American Electric Power’s Big Sandy plant near Louisa shut down its 800-megawatt Unit 2 in May. Its 260-megawatt Unit 1 was then converted from coal to natural gas.

Louisville Gas & Electric’s Cane Run plant in Louisville, one of the first coal plants in the country to install scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide, idled its two remaining coal units in July. A new, 640-megawatt natural gas plant replaced them.

Kentucky Utilities was planning to delay the retirement of its two remaining coal units at the 161-megawatt Green River plant near Central City until April 2016, but closed them instead on Sept. 30.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative shut down two of its four units at the William C. Dale plant near Winchester in early 2015. The units generated a combined 56 megawatts.

Kentucky’s coal capacity will shrink again. East Kentucky will place its two remaining units at Dale, with a combined 150 megawatts, in indefinite storage next month.

By the end of 2017, the Tennessee Valley Authority will shut down two units at its Paradise plant in western Kentucky, at 1.4 gigawatts. A third, 1.1 gigawatt coal unit will remain in service.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

Coal plant retirements

Top states retiring coal-fired power plants in 2015, and percent of total generating capacity:

Ohio 15 percent

Georgia 18 percent

Kentucky 10 percent

Indiana 6 percent

West Virginia 8 percent

Source: Energy Information Administration

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