February 4, 2020
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. Additional closures in the coming months will further reduce coal consumption in these regions. In 2007, when coal-fired electricity generation peaked in the United States, coal accounted for 15% of the electricity generated in both New England and New York. Once final data for 2019 are available, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects coal’s share of generation will be less than 1% in each region.
In late November 2019, owners of the Somerset coal-fired power plant in upstate New York announced plans to retire the 686-megawatt (MW) facility as early as mid-March 2020. Somerset’s closing date depends on whether the state’s grid operator, the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), determines if the plant is needed to ensure system reliability. The decision by NYISO is scheduled for no later than March 11, 2020.
Once the Somerset plant is closed, New York will have no remaining coal-fired electric generating capacity. The state’s other coal-fired power plants have either been retired or switched to other fuels. The Cayuga coal-fired plant (294 MW) in central New York began a deactivation process in late 2019, and the RED Rochester generating facility (177 MW) ended its use of coal in mid-2018 and is now using natural gas.
Coal-fired power plants in New England have similarly diminished. In New England, the Brayton Point coal-fired plant (1,038 MW) closed in 2017, and the Bridgeport Station coal-fired plant (385 MW) is scheduled to retire no later than July 2021. Those closures will leave the region with only four operating coal-fired plants: the Merrimack plant (439 MW) and Schiller plant (138 MW), both in New Hampshire, and the Rumford Cogeneration power plant (85 MW) and S.D. Warren Westbrook industrial plant (56 MW), both in Maine.
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. Plant owners are finding these factors difficult to overcome, especially if continued operation would require investment in environmental control equipment or other upgrades. Even before plant closures were announced, operation of the region’s coal fleet already had been affected: coal-fired capacity factors (which reflect power plant utilization) had fallen to 5% in New England and 6% in New York, based on 2019 data through November.
In recent years, most coal-fired generation in New England and New York has been limited to winter months. Coal-fired plants represent an important source of fuel diversity for the region during colder periods, when supplies of natural gas are diverted to home-heating and natural gas prices tend to be higher.
Plant closures and low operating rates also have sharply reduced coal use in the region. New England and New York’s combined coal consumption for electricity generation has fallen from nearly 3.0 million tons in 2015 to less than 0.5 million tons expected in 2019, based on data through November. Monthly and annual plant level fuel consumption is available in EIA’s Electricity Data Browser, which allows for filtering by sector, region, state, and fuel type.
Principal contributor: Mark Morey