Future Coal Retirements Increase Dangers to Grid Reliability

Here is a sampling of concerns from officials about the reliability of the electricity supply in parts of the country:

  • “We’re heading for reliability crisis.”  FERC Commissioner Mark Christie (May 2022).

  • “We’ve been seeing a progression of riskier outlooks for the electric grid for the last four or five years … We’re having what we would call a disorderly retirement of older generation, which is happening too quickly.”  Jim Robb, President and CEO, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)(June 2022).

  • “We’ve been doing [reliability assessments] for close to 30 years. This is probably one of the grimmest pictures we’ve painted in a while.”  John Moura, NERC Director of Reliability Assessment and Performance Analysis (May 2022).

Most people don’t realize that almost half – some 93,000 megawatts (MW) – or more of the nation’s remaining coal fleet is scheduled to retire by 2030, unless steps are taken to limit coal retirements.  (Retiring 93,000 MW of generating capacity is like shutting down the combined electricity grids of New York, Ohio and Indiana.)  Even fewer people understand that massive coal plant closures between now and 2030 could be a big problem for electric reliability.  

We want to make sure everyone understands the extent of this problem. That’s why we sent a letter to NERC CEO Jim Robb.  NERC is already concerned (quotes above) about grid reliability, but our letter explains that the situation could be even worse because future coal retirements are expected to be far greater than NERC has assumed when it conducted its most recent grid reliability study.  The chart below shows announced coal retirements during 2022-2030 (93,000 MW) compared to NERC’s assumed coal retirements (25,000 MW) over the same period.  Note that future coal retirements could be even greater than 93,000 MW.

We hope that drawing more attention to future coal retirements and their consequences will cause NERC, grid operators, utility commissioners, and EPA (because its rules cause coal retirements) to take steps to limit retirements.