Climate change isn’t what’s driving some U.S. coal-fired power plants to shut down. It’s the expense of stricter air pollution controls on their wastewater. 

Dozens of plants nationwide plan to cease burning coal this decade to adjust to extra stringent federal wastewater pointers, in accordance to state regulatory filings, because the trade continues transferring away from the planet-warming fossil gasoline to make electrical energy. 

The new wastewater rule requires power plants to clear coal ash and poisonous heavy metals corresponding to mercury, arsenic and selenium from plant wastewater earlier than it’s dumped into streams and rivers. The rule is predicted to have an effect on 75 coal-fired power plants nationwide, in accordance to the Environmental Protection Agency. 


A flag with the EPA logo flies in front of the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Recently, a new rule requiring power plants to clean toxic heavy metals before dumping them into the water will affect 75 coal-fired power plants, according to the agency.

A flag with the EPA emblem flies in entrance of the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Recently, a brand new rule requiring power plants to clear poisonous heavy metals earlier than dumping them into the water will have an effect on 75 coal-fired power plants, in accordance to the company.
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Those plants had an October deadline to inform their state regulators how they deliberate to comply, with choices that included upgrading their pollution-control gear or retiring their coal-fired producing models by 2028. 

The nationwide impression of the wastewater rule remains to be coming into focus, however not less than 26 plants in 14 states mentioned they’ll cease burning coal, in accordance to the Sierra Club, which has been monitoring state regulatory filings. Twenty-one of the plants intend to shut down, and 5 indicated they could swap to pure fuel, the environmental group mentioned. 

“The free ride these plants have been getting is ending in a lot of ways,” mentioned Zack Fabish, a Sierra Club lawyer. “And them choosing to retire by 2028 probably reflects the reality that a lot of the subsidies they have been getting in terms of being able to dump their wastewater into the commons, they are not going to be able to do that in the future.” 

The rule will cut back the discharge of pollution into the nation’s waterways by about 386 million kilos yearly, in accordance to EPA estimates. It’s anticipated to price plant operators, collectively, practically $200 million per yr to implement. 

Those that intend to shut embrace two of Pennsylvania’s largest coal-fired power plants, Keystone and Conemaugh exterior Pittsburgh, which mentioned they’ll cease utilizing coal and retire all of their producing models by Dec. 31, 2028, in accordance to regulatory notices obtained individually by The Associated Press. 

The twin smokestacks at the Stanton Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant, in Orlando, Florida.

The twin smokestacks on the Stanton Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant, in Orlando, Florida.
(Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket through Getty Images)

The plants opened greater than 50 years in the past and collectively make use of about 320 full-time employees and 170 contractors. They generate sufficient power for maybe 1.5 million properties, in accordance to trade averages for coal plants of their measurement. 

In addition to Pennsylvania, states with power plants that plan to cease utilizing coal by 2028 are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, the Sierra Club information exhibits. 

Power producers that say they’ll shutter coal-fired models on account of the brand new rule embrace Atlanta-based Southern Co. and Houston-based NRG. Southern, which operates electrical utilities in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, mentioned it’s going to shutter two-thirds of its coal fleet, together with models on the nation’s two largest coal-fired power plants, Scherer and Bowen, each in Georgia. NRG mentioned it plans to cease burning coal at its home plants exterior Texas, and set up new air pollution controls at its two Texas plants. 

The electrical power sector has spent years transitioning from coal to cheaper, cleaner-burning pure fuel and renewables like wind and photo voltaic. Nationwide, about 30% of producing capability at coal plants has been retired since 2010, in accordance to the Energy Information Administration. (Coal use at power plants is predicted to surge greater than 20% this yr due to sharply greater pure fuel costs — the primary such enhance since 2014 — however the vitality company mentioned it expects that pattern to be short-term.) 

The long-term transfer away from coal has been pronounced in Pennsylvania, the nation’s No. 3 coal-producing state after Wyoming and West Virginia. Coal’s share {of electrical} power era within the state declined from practically half in 2010 to 10% final yr, with operators benefiting from a statewide increase in pure fuel drilling within the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest fuel subject. Seventeen Pennsylvania coal plants have been retired since 2009. 

“The smallest, oldest (coal) plants were generally the ones the economics killed first. They were too expensive and too small to be retrofitted to meet new EPA standards,” mentioned Jean Reaves Rollins, president of The C Three Group, a market analysis agency targeted on vitality infrastructure and utilities. 

She mentioned coal plants in aggressive electrical energy markets like Pennsylvania’s have additionally come beneath strain. “It is clear in the case of the two Pennsylvania plants, the cost of compliance will put them out of the economic running,” she mentioned. 

Pennsylvania and neighboring Ohio have accounted for 20% of all coal-fueled power plant shutdowns within the U.S. lately, in accordance to federal information. 


The Keystone and Conemaugh plants are owned by a consortium of personal traders, with Texas-based power producer Talen Energy additionally holding a stake. Talen referred questions to the plants’ chief working officer, who didn’t return cellphone calls and emails. 

Industry officers contend the mothballing of so many coal plants carries penalties for the nation’s electrical grid. Michelle Bloodworth, president and CEO of America’s Power, a commerce group that advocates on behalf of coal-fueled electrical energy, cited current blackouts in Texas and elsewhere as examples of “what happens when you go too far too fast.” 

“We are monitoring the situation currently but we do remain concerned that overly aggressive policies that lead to the premature retirement of dispatchable generation like the coal fleet will jeopardize the reliability and resilience of the electricity grid,” Bloodworth mentioned. 

In this photo illustration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) logo of the U.S. is displayed on a smartphone and a PC screen.

In this photograph illustration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emblem of the U.S. is displayed on a smartphone and a PC display.
(Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket through Getty Images)

Experts have identified that within the case of final winter’s large Texas blackout, a lot of the megawatts that went offline had been generated by fuel, coal and nuclear plants. 

In Pennsylvania, the deliberate retirements of Keystone and Conemaugh come as constructing commerce unions, trade teams and coal communities struggle the state’s deliberate entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate consortium that imposes a value on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that use coal, fuel and oil. Pennsylvania can be the primary main fossil gasoline state to undertake such a carbon pricing coverage. 

David Masur, govt director of PennEnvironment, an environmental group, mentioned the closures present that “with or without policies to reduce carbon pollution, the companies who own these antiquated power plants intend to shut them down or convert many of them anyway.” 


The deliberate shutdowns may go away Homer City Generating Station because the final giant, conventional coal-fired power plant within the state nonetheless working by decade’s finish. Homer City, which is east of Pittsburgh and is the biggest coal plant in Pennsylvania, has advised state regulators it plans to preserve working and abide by the brand new wastewater limits. 

Owners of shuttering plants are chargeable for environmental cleanup, in accordance to the EPA.