By - Jim Vess

Last coal-fired plant in New York to close, New England plants not far behind, EIA says

Energize Weekly, February 12, 2020

New York State’s last coal-fired power plant is set to close as early as mid-March and coal-fired power is headed in the same direction in New England, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“As many of the coal-fired power plants in New England and New York have either retired or switched fuels, the regions’ coal-fired electricity generation and coal consumption have fallen to near minimal levels,” the EIA said. “Additional closures in the coming months will further reduce coal consumption in these regions.”

The Somerset Operating Co. announced in November that it would close its Somerset power plant on Lake Ontario approximately 40 miles from Buffalo.

The 688-megawatt (MW) plant, which employs about 55 people fell behind in in tax payments in 2019 and unsuccessfully sought a $1 million break on its $4 million local tax bill.

The closing date depends upon the determination of New York Independent System Operation (NYISO), the grid operator, whether the plant is needed to ensure system reliability.

A NYISO decision is expected no later than March 15. Coal accounted for less than 1 percent of the electricity generated in the state in 2019, a decade earlier it had been 10 percent.

The 177-MW Red Rochester generating station converted from coal to natural gas in 2018 and the Cayuga coal plant, in central New York, began the process of shutting down in late 2019.

EIA says that coal-fired generation is expected to be less than 1 percent of both New York and New England’s electricity as generated by coal in 2019 and 2020, down from 15 percent in 2007.

In New England, the region’s largest coal-fired power plant, the 1,038-MW Brayton Point Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, closed in 2017 and the 385-MW Bridgeport Harbor Station in Connecticut is slated to retire by July 2021.

There are four operating coal-fired plants remaining in the region: the 439-MW Merrimack plant in Bow, N.H.; the 138-MW Schiller plant in Portsmouth, N.H.; the 85-MW Rumford Cogeneration plant in Rumford, Maine; and the 56-MW Warren Westbrook industrial plant in Westbrook Maine.

The largest of the remaining plants – the Schiller station – is only run intermittently, with operation primarily in winter months.

Capacity factors – the operating level for a plant – were 5 percent for coal-fired units in New York and 6 percent for New England, according to EIA data through November 2019. Coal-fired plants are generally designed to operate at capacity levels of 70 percent or more.

Still, EIA said that the coal-fired units offered “fuel diversity” during colder periods when more natural gas is diverted to home heating and natural gas wholesale prices are high.

“The closing of coal-fired capacity in New England and New York is the result of a combination of tightening environmental regulations and increasingly competitive wholesale power markets,” the EIA said. “Plant owners are finding these factors difficult to overcome, especially if continued operation would require investment in environmental control equipment or other upgrades.”

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