Public Service Enterprise Group said June 1 that it had retired its last remaining coal-fired power plant, the 400-MW Bridgeport Harbor Station Unit 3 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which operated since 1968, and is part of a continued US trend toward coal plant retirements.
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Originally designed to be fueled with oil or coal, Unit 3 was converted to a full-time coal unit in 2002 and provided 400 MW of peaking capacity to southern Connecticut, meaning the plant only operated during times of peak energy demand like extreme heat or extreme cold, the company said in a statement. Subsidiary PSEG Power operated the plant.
"For PSEG, the retirement of BHS 3 marks the end of our company's coal era, reflecting a nationwide trend toward the use of cleaner fuels to generate the electricity we need to power our lives," Ralph Izzo, PSEG president and CEO, said in the statement.
The company is still working to sell its remaining mostly natural gas-fired fossil fuel assets by the end of 2021. The natural gas-fired Bridgeport Harbor Station Unit 5 remains operating at the site and is one of the plants the company is looking to sell as part of its shift to being a regulated utility.
Following the sale, PSEG Power's fleet will consist almost entirely of carbon-free electricity, including nuclear plants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and new investments in offshore wind generation.
Interestingly, the coal plant was only dispatched to operate for two days in 2020, and not at all in 2019, before running for nearly two uninterrupted months to supply additional power to the grid during an extended period of cold weather in January and February of 2021, PSEG said.
"That remarkable run, even as the unit was just weeks from retiring permanently, reflects the readiness and determination of the entire Bridgeport Harbor 3 team, with support from BHS 5, New Haven and the entire PSEG Fossil organization," Izzo said.
US coal retirements
US coal-fired power generation capacity has been steadily declining in recent years as utilities and plant owners retire coal-fired units in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and due to economic competition from gas and renewable energy resources.
About 9.2 GW of coal-fired generation retired in 2020, down from 2019's 14.2 GW, and another 3.2 GW is expected to retire in 2021, followed by 4.9 GW in 2022, S&P Global Market Intelligence data shows.
Looking further ahead, S&P Global Platts Analytics' North American Electricity Five-year Forecast indicates that US lower 48 coal-fired generation is forecast to average 103 GW in 2021, declining steadily each year in the forecast period, supplying approximately 23% of generation in 2021 to between 15% to 16% by 2026.
Retirements and renewable energy additions, particularly in the latter years of the five-year forecast period, play a role in pushing further coal-fired generation out of the stack, "but it should be noted that our forecast gas price is still insufficient in prompting significant gas-to-coal switching post 2021," Platts Analytics said.
Recovery in coal-fired power
Coal-fired power generation in PJM Interconnection, the largest US wholesale power market, was forecast to be 30% higher in 2021, though weak demand and lower gas prices in 2020 resulted in a 20% year-on-year decline, the analysts said.
The call for a 30% recovery puts coal-fired generation around 22.8 aGW in 2021, slightly above 2019 levels but still well below 2018 PJM coal-fired generation.
"In 2023, we again call for a marginal increase in coal-fired generation accompanying an uptick in gas price, with gas dominating fossil-fired generation in the years following," according to the forecast.
Coal use for power generation was up slightly in May when the fuel supplied an average 19.7% of PJM generation, compared with 19.2% in April, according to ISO data.