OBAMA’S LEGACY: Coal Plants Are Still Closing Despite Trump’s Win

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President-Elect Donald Trump’s recent election win may have boosted coal industry stocks, but dozens of coal-fired generators around the country are still slated to be shut down in the coming years.

Utilities have plans to shutter 45 coal-fired units at various power plants, according to data compiled by SNL Energy. The closures mean 15,400 MW of coal-fired capacity has received regulatory approval to shut down through 2028.

At least 19 of the coal-fired generators seem to be shutting down because they won’t be able to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits on mercury emissions, or MATS rule. Others are shutting down likely in anticipation of stricter federal regulations amid low natural gas prices.

Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman Bonita Harris told SNL its two older coal units at Yorktown are shutting down because of MATS. Harris said the closures would go through even if Trump repealed the rule since such a process would take too long.

“It’s important to know that the MATS rule, which led to the closure of the coal units at Yorktown, is a final rule that has been in place for several years,” Harris said.

“It would take several months if not a year or more for the EPA to propose revisions, accept comment, review and respond to comments, and adopt the final language. So a new administration couldn’t just change it easily,” she said.

EPA granted some power plants a one-year extension in 2015 to come into compliance with the $10 billion rule or shut down, so that’s one explanation for the wave of closures of coal units over 100 megawatts.

It’s a similar story for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is closing two Kentucky coal units and three in Tennessee. TVA will close the coal units in 2017 to comply with a multi-billion dollar 2011 settlement with the EPA as well as MATS.

Here too, a Trump win has not changed TVA’s plans to close coal units. TVA closed 19 coal units by late 2015, totaling 3,210 megawatts of electric capacity, to comply with the 2011 settlement and other EPA rules.

“While President-elect Trump has indicated a desire to address certain environmental regulations, it is much too early to make any assumptions and determine if that will indeed occur and what it would look like,” Scott Harelson, a spokesman for the Salt River Project, told SNL.

“Our current plans for future operations are not impacted by the election results in the near-term; operations of our facilities and efforts to meet environmental regulations continue as planned,” said Harelson, whose company still plans to shutter a Colorado coal unit in 2025.

Trump won by huge margins in Appalachia propelled, in part, by his pledge to roll back federal environmental regulations and put coal miners to work.

The wave of planned coal plant closures highlights the difficulty facing the coal industry, and the uphill battle Trump faces if he wants to keep his promise of bringing coal mines back online. Despite the uphill climb, many in coal country are hopeful Trump can bring some prosperity back to the region.

“In Trump’s term, I feel we’ll do good, but after that who’s to say?” Roger Prater, a coal miner, told Fox Business.

“I believe in the guy,” echoed North Dakota coal mine superintendent Dave Bettcher. “If he can hold up his end, he’s going to help a lot of people.”

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