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Plant increasingly expensive to run; recent safety issues

Houston — Lakeland, Florida, is the latest US municipal electric system to decide to retire an aging coal-fired power plant, in this case the 365-MW C.D. McIntosh generating station it co-owns with neighboring Orlando.

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City officials said McIntosh is increasingly expensive to run, particularly regarding safety issues. In April 2017, the plant was hit with a high-pressure steam explosion that caused considerable damage.

Until recently, Lakeland Electric officials had said that while a retirement was likely down the road, it probably would not be many years to come.

While a replacement strategy has not been finalized, officials said they probably will purchase power in the short term to meet their needs and perhaps expand the muni's use of solar generation. A natural gas-fired plant also is a possibility.

In recent years, Lakeland and McIntosh have been reliable customers for Illinois Basin coal producers such as Foresight Energy, a Murray Energy subsidiary. Foresight currently has a sales agreement with Lakeland that is scheduled to end long before the retirement.

Tim Trudell, spokesman for the Orlando Utilities Commission, said in an interview the muni knew McIntosh's retirement "was coming" and does not have any problems with the decision, which was made by Lakeland. Orlando owns 40% of the plant, Lakeland the remaining 60%.

There had been discussions between the two munis, he added.

The impending retirement continues a trend of munis closing at least some of their coal generation. Earlier this week, the city of Springfield, Illinois, received a report from a consultant that recommended the retirement of three older coal units totaling nearly 300 MW at its 572-MW Dallman generating station in 2024, keeping open the newest, 209-MW Dallman Unit 4 built a decade ago.

Owensboro, Kentucky, Municipal Utilities, meanwhile, hopes to extend the lives of its two coal units at the 425-MW Elmer Smith power plant by several months. One of the units currently is targeted for retirement at the end of May, the other at the end of May 2020.

-- Bob Matyi, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com