Retrofitting Coal Plants Considered Risky Investment

More than 70 percent of U.S. coal-plant capacity are already more than 30 years old — the operating lifetime for which coal plants were typically designed.

Instead of withdrawing subsidies from this dying industry and using it to hasten the research and development of renewable energy technologies, like wind, solar and hydro power, electricity producers are poised to make major new investments into dangerous, dirty, outdated coal.

The cost of constructing or retrofitting coal-fired electric power plants and the rising cost of coal have made coal power an extremely risky long-term investment, according to a report released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The report, “A Risky Proposition: The Financial Hazards of New Investments in Coal Plants,” also identified a number of other factors that make investing in coal a gamble, including its continuing threat to public health and the environment. 

Reasons Why King Coal Is Dead

1. The cost advantage coal power traditionally enjoyed over cleaner energy options has largely disappeared when it comes to new plants. Power from new coal plants now costs more than power from new gas plants, wind facilities and the best geothermal sites and much more than investing in energy efficiency.

2. Coal power is the largest U.S. carbon pollution source — contributing about one-third of all energy-related emissions and more than the entire surface transportation sector. Coal-fired power plants will inevitably face increasing pressure to dramatically cut emissions to help curb climate change. The cost of generating electricity from new coal plants could increase from 11 to 37 percent under a range of carbon prices in the future.  

3. Coal plants also face new costs associated with harmful emissions such as coal ash, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are linked to thousands of deaths annually, and mercury, which threatens the brain development of infants and children.

Plant owners have to decide whether to sink more money into retrofitting those old plants or replacing them with much cleaner energy technologies,” said Barbara Freese, a co-author of the report and senior policy analyst for the UCS Climate and Energy Program. But even if they retrofit them with the pollution controls available today, the plants will still emit massive amounts of carbon pollution.”

“Replacing old, dirty coal plants with cleaner, cheaper, less risky alternatives would be a much better bet,” she added. “And it would save lives, protect our health and reduce the emissions that cause climate change.”

Related Reading:

New Coal Plants Fail To Provide Promised Jobs

Protest Brings Consequences Of Coal To The Fed’s Doorstep

Coal Industry Creates Third-World Conditions In United States Today


Image Credit: Flickr - Eli Beck


Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Janine H.
Janine H5 years ago

Why not building solar energy plants, wind energy or using the water energy (without being a danger for animals,etc)?

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
(Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

Jane R.
Jane R5 years ago

Coal plants should be done away with.

Tony R.
Anthony R5 years ago

Fantastic news. Lets hope the 'money men' decide to abandon coal once and for all!

John S.
Past Member 5 years ago

Cheaper until protesters drive up the cost through litigation.

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak5 years ago

Some coal mines are prone to gas and dust explosion. In these mines there is a bacteria that is eating the coal and making methane. All coal mines should be infected with this bacteria. Then all that is needed to to suck out the methane. No digging, NO mine accidents. NO mountain top removal. No pollution from mine tailings. Local environments are left mostly intact.

Stephen Amsel
Past Member 5 years ago

One interesting point I keep hearing is that these pollutants, if filtered and separated, are actually useful and can be sold. Regardless, the three problems noted are all the same one: It costs a lot to filter the emissions and any renovated plants must conform entirely to current standards.

Despite all of this, though, there are a few reasons King Coal will survive:

1. No viable alternatives: Oil is too expensive to use for the grid. Solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro power all run into either potential-limits from geography or simply cannot produce enough power. People panic over nuclear power, protesting and getting plants shut down before they can open, making it too risky an investment. While I haven't checked the numbers, I very strongly suspect there simply isn't enough natural gas to handle the power-grid cheaply because as demand goes up faster than supply, so will the price.

2. Politics. Where coal is big, it is very big. With so many jobs depending on it in specific regions, there are senators and governors who will do whatever they can to keep it alive as their states' economies depend on coal.

Brian F.
Brian F5 years ago

We need to shut down all dirty coal-fired power plants now. Coal emissions release toxic contaminants including mercury which is in all our lakes, rivers. streams and in our oceans. The fish we eat contains mercury poison. We can replace coal by building large solar power plants, wind farms, and geothermal power plants. We can further decentralize solar and small wind power by putting it on every lightpole, home and buissness like the small state of New Jersey is doing. We need a strong national energy policy that focuses on renewable energy.

Tami Mendoza
Tami Mendoza5 years ago