By the Numbers: Coal Plant Retirements Over the Next Five Years

27. That’s how many gigawatts (GW) of capacity from coal-fired generators is to be retired from 175 coal-fired power plants between 2012 and 2016.

In 2011, there were 1,387 coal-fired generators in the U.S., totaling almost 318 GW. So the 27 GW that will be retired between 2012 and 2016 equals 8.5% of the 2011 coal-fired capacity.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which compiles information from the U.S. energy industry,“Th[is] coal-fired capacity expected to be retired over the next five years is more than four times greater than retirements performed during the preceding five-year period.

They add that the “coal-fired capacity retirements expected to occur in 2012 will likely be the largest one-year amount in the nation’s history.”

The EIA cited the following factors as leading to the phase out:

1. Modest demand growth in electricity;
2. Inexpensive comparative cost of natural gas;
3. Less efficient older coal power plants, centered in the Ohio River Valley and southeastern U.S.;
4. Increasing federal and state environmental compliance costs;
5. Increasing renewable portfolio standards.

“Particularly in the case of older, smaller units that are not used heavily,” the EIA reported, “owners may conclude it is more cost efficient to retire plants rather than make additional investments.”