As Trump touts coal, 3 plants close

Fos­sil fuel gen­er­a­tion is be­ing phased out by cheaper nat­u­ral gas.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Bar­bara Demick bar­bara.demick@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Bar­baraDemick

NEW YORK — On the same day that Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced the United States’ with­drawal from the Paris cli­mate ac­cord, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists took con­so­la­tion in the clo­sure of three large coal-fired power plants — of­ten blamed as big con­trib­u­tors to cli­mate change.

The three plants, two in New Jersey and an­other in Mas­sachusetts, are the lat­est in a na­tional trend to­ward phas­ing out coal­fired power plants in the face of tighter reg­u­la­tions and com­pe­ti­tion from cheap nat­u­ral gas.

“The tim­ing is kind of ironic. They are clos­ing th­ese plants the same day that Trump is pulling out of Paris. It shows that no mat­ter what the pres­i­dent does, the coun­try is mov­ing to­wards cleaner sources of en­ergy,” said Jeff Tit­tel, di­rec­tor of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which was cel­e­brat­ing the clo­sures. “This is the fu­ture.”

The New Jersey plants be­ing closed, in Jersey City and near Tren­ton, are op­er­ated by PSEG Power, a sub­sidiary of Pub­lic Ser­vice En­ter­prise Group, the state’s largest en­ergy provider.

The other plant be­ing shut is Bray­ton Point Power Sta­tion in Som­er­set, the last coal-fired plant in Mas­sachusetts and the largest of its kind in New Eng­land.

All three power plants, built in the 1960s, had been the tar­gets of protests and law­suits, with en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists charg­ing that they killed fish and spewed tox­ins from their loom­ing smoke­stacks. In the end, in­dus­try of­fi­cials said they had to close be­cause they were no longer eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

“The sus­tained low prices of nat­u­ral gas have put eco­nomic pres­sure on th­ese plants for some time. In that con­text, we could not jus­tify the sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment re­quired to up­grade th­ese plants to meet the new re­li­a­bil­ity stan­dards,” Bill Le­vis, pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of PSEG Power, said when the New Jersey plants’ clos­ing was an­nounced in Oc­to­ber.

The util­ity ran the Hud­son Gen­er­a­tion Sta­tion on a 250-acre site on the Hack­en­sack River in Jersey City and the Mercer Gen­er­a­tion Sta­tion in Hamil­ton Town­ship.

On the cam­paign trail, Trump spoke fre­quently about his de­sire to put coal min­ers back to work and re­vive a flag­ging in­dus­try. How­ever, econ­o­mists say the coal in­dus­try’s de­cline is the re­sult of ir­re­versible mar­ket trends that make nat­u­ral gas and re­new­able en­ergy cheaper.

“In blam­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as the sole rea­son for the re­cent tur­moil in the coal in­dus­try, Trump [is] … ig­nor­ing fun­da­men­tal mar­ket re­al­i­ties that are buf­fet­ing the in­dus­try,” the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion wrote in a re­port on coal in De­cem­ber.

Nat­u­ral gas prices hit their low­est lev­els in nearly 20 years in 2016. And while coal use in the U.S. was down last year, the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion fore­casts a 5% in­crease in coal pro­duc­tion in 2017, mainly due to ex­panded ex­ports. It also fore­cast some growth in coal-fired elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion that could boost coal pro­duc­tion in 2018.

Ac­cord­ing to a tally kept by the Sierra Club, 253 of the na­tion’s more than 500 coal plants have closed or are sched­uled to close by 2021.

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