Sheboygan, Wisconsin, travel brochures promote the town’s beaches on Lake Michigan as the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Pages of glossy photographs, however, leave off one component of the landscape: a coal-fired power station on the shore, which will continue operational until mid-2025 rather than closing this year as anticipated.
Alliant Energy Corp.’s Edgewater coal-fired plant in Sheboygan is one of at least six throughout the country that have announced or are considering postponing scheduled closures due to energy constraints this summer.
Renewable energy deployment, which was supposed to replace these coal units, has suffered in recent months as a result of COVID-19-related supply chain problems. Utilities claim import restrictions on solar panels imposed by the US Commerce Department make it difficult to meet high demand.
In addition to the 400 megawatt (MW) Edgewater facility in Sheboygan, Alliant’s 1.1 gigatonne (GW) Columbia Energy Center in Portage will close in June 2026, an 18-month delay.
WEC Energy Group Inc (WEC.N) has postponed the closing of the remaining units of its 1,135 MW Oak Creek power plant near Milwaukee for up to 18 months, until May 2024 and late 2025, respectively.
NiSource Inc (NI.N) of Indiana cited solar project delays of up to 18 months for prolonging the closure of the 877 MW Schahfer coal plant for two years, until 2025.
In Nebraska, the Omaha Public Power District board will vote on Aug. 18 on whether to keep the 645 MW North Omaha plant operational until 2026, a three-year delay caused by siting issues and backlogs in studies on switching to natural gas and solar.
In New Mexico, PNM Resources Inc (PNM.N) postponed the closing of a unit at the San Juan plant by three months until September, citing a drought that threatened hydropower supplies and increased power demand.
Coal emits more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when burned than any other fossil fuel. It also emits nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which are precursors to haze and smog and are harmful to human lungs and hearts.
Despite the delays and anticipated delays, all of the companies stated that they will reach their long-term voluntary carbon emission objectives and that scrubbers and other pollution devices have removed the majority of the criterion pollutants from their emissions.
According to Holly Bender, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club, the delays do not foreshadow a return to coal use. According to the organization, about 360 coal facilities in the United States have closed or plan to close in recent years, compared to around 170 plants that remain operational.
Rather, the delays, according to Bender, are a “warning sign of the failure to plan for the kind of clean energy growth that is needed.”
President Joe Biden’s aim of reducing carbon emissions in the United States by half by 2030 from 2005 levels and decarbonizing the electrical sector by 2035 will almost certainly necessitate more coal plant closures.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which analysts say will cut emissions by 40% by 2030 by providing market certainty on hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy tax credits and incentives, will give Biden’s emissions plan a boost if the House follows the Senate in passing it.
The coal industry in the United States has been battered by a surge in cheap natural gas, falling renewables prices, and regulations cracking down on pollution that causes direct health issues as well as threatened ones on carbon dioxide. Last year, coal generated around 20% of US electricity, down from about 50% in 2006.
However, further reductions in emissions will be difficult.
“It’s imperative that we increase accountability on utilities, regulators, and planners to ensure … the transformation of our power sector off coal,” Bender said.