Washington — More than 37 GW of generation capacity has been proposed to retire by September 2021, including 16.3 GW of coal-fired capacity, 12 GW of gas-fired power and 8 GW of nuclear generation, according to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff's monthly infrastructure report.
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In the context of the ongoing debate about fuel security, the latest report's numbers continue an alarming trend, said William Scherman, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. "The country is at a crossroads. Fuel diverse resources are vanishing each day," said Scherman.
"Markets are broken," Scherman said, citing recent FERC orders seeking key rule changes in PJM Interconnection and ISO New England. "If this doesn't cry out for a comprehensive and holistic policy review by FERC and the states, I do not know what would," he said.
In June, the Trump administration directed the US Department of Energy to take immediate steps to prevent the retirement of fuel-secure power facilities such as coal and nuclear plants.
CONTEXT OF RETIREMENTS
Alison Silverstein, an independent consultant, said that proposed retirements need to be considered in light of the fact that there is 897 GW of coal, nuclear and gas-fired capacity online today and another 79 GW of gas-fired plants are slated to be added by 2021.
"So the idea that 37 GW is proposed to retire ... doesn't exactly strike fear in my heart," Silverstein said. "That doesn't mean the grid is going to crater in any way, shape or form," she said. John Shelk, the president of the Electric Power Supply Association, said the report's numbers are not surprising and simply show that older, inefficient, lower capacity-factor units like coal and nuclear plants are retiring, while newer, more efficient and more cost-effective units are replacing them.
There is no rational basis to intervene to stave off coal and nuclear retirements, Shelk said. "Initially selective intervention for coal and nuclear will simply beget non-market mechanisms for the rest of us too," said Shelk, who represents independent power producers. "Consumers, the economy and the environment would all be worse off if that happens."
It is telling that the administration has not acted on the grid resilience issue since this spring, Shelk added. "The passage of time proves that there is and never was any such emergency," he said.
Meanwhile, FERC staff's report also found that gas-fired, wind and solar generation account for the lion's share of the 252 GW of capacity proposed to be added by September 2021. More than 79 GW of gas-fired capacity, 89 GW of wind and 57 GW of solar are slated to come online in that timeframe, FERC staff said.
The current mix of installed generating capacity is roughly 23% coal, 44% natural gas and 9% nuclear, according to the infrastructure report for August released Tuesday.
Looking at January-through-August 2018, more than 11.5 GW of gas-fired capacity came online, compared to 10.8 GW that started service in the same timeframe last year, the report said. But wind and solar installations decreased compared to last year at this time, with 2.3 GW of wind and 2.6 GW of solar installed through August 2018, compared to 4.4 GW and 3.2 GW respectively through August 2017.
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