According to data from Reuters and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), more than 23,400 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired generation were shut in 2017-2018 versus 14,900 MW in 2009-2012. Despite Republican’s efforts to support the coal industry and keep campaign promises to coal-mining states, like West Virginia and Wyoming, the second highest year for coal shutdowns came in President Trump’s second year in office.
The number of U.S. coal plants has continued to decline every year since coal capacity peaked at just over 317,400 MW in 2011. This is expected to keep falling as consumers demand power from cleaner and less expensive sources of energy. Generators said they plan to shut around 8,422 MW of coal-fired power and 1,500 MW of nuclear in 2019, while adding 10,900 MW of wind, 8,200 MW of solar and 7,500 MW of gas.
Since taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration has announced its intention to leave the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and is relaxing Obama-era rules on emissions from power plants as it seeks to boost domestic production of oil, gas, and coal.
The Trump administration has also tried to slow the retirement of coal and nuclear plants through a directive in 2017 from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize the aging units because they make the electric grid more resilient. That plan was bashed by advocates for gas, renewable power, and consumers and was unanimously rejected by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), led by former Chairman Kevin McIntyre. The plan could resurface now that Trump has a chance to replace McIntyre, who died on January 2.
Cheap natural gas and the rising use of renewable power like solar and wind have kept electric prices relatively low for years, making it uneconomic for generators to keep investing in older coal and nuclear plants. According to a study by Rhodium Group, an independent research group, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, spiked in 2018 after falling for the previous three years as cold weather spurred gas demand for heating and the booming economy pushed planes and trucks to guzzle fuel.