Road to Decarbonization: U.S. Coal Plant Closures
As the push to decarbonize starts to kick into gear in the U.S., how do coal plant closures factor into the equation?
With a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, the U.S. is examining all aspects of its economy to see where action is needed. In the automotive industry, for example, the Biden administration is aiming for half of new vehicles to be electric by 2030, following in the footsteps of automakers that have made similar commitments.
But in the power sector that supplies electricity for much of the country, fossil fuels continue to be large emission sources. Coal, which accounted for just 19% of electricity generated in the U.S. in 2020, created 54% of the power sector’s emissions.
That’s leading to U.S. utilities feeling the pressure to retire coal plants and look for alternatives. This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council visualizes the coal plant closures that have been announced, and how much power will be affected as a result.
Where Are U.S. Coal Plant Closures Happening?
Accurately tracking coal plant closures currently means turning to non-profits and parsing through company reports. To assemble this list, we leveraged the Global Energy Monitor and Carbon Brief and cross-referenced against company sustainability reports and news releases.
The result? 80 coal plants with a total capacity of 98.3 GW publicly scheduled for full retirement over the next three decades.
|Plant||State||Retirement Date||Capacity (MW)|
|Fayette* (announced not confirmed)||TX||2022||1,690|
|South Oak Creek||WI||2024||1,240|
|AES Puerto Rico||PR||2027||510|
|Victor J. Daniel||MS||2027||1,097|
|Allen S. King||MN||2028||598|
|J. H. Campbell||MI||2040||1,540|
|James E. Rogers||NC||2049||1,481|
Noticeably, most of the coal plant closures are targeted in the Midwest (which uses the most coal for power). And most of the retirements are coming early, with the 2020s seeing more than half of announced closures and retired capacity (53.6 GW).
But the largest coal plants with announced retirement dates are currently scheduled for the 2030s and 2040s. That includes Duke Energy’s Gibson power plant in Indiana, the fifth largest coal plant in the U.S. and the largest with a retirement date.
What’s Next for U.S. Decarbonization?
Though it seems like the U.S. has a lot of coal plant closures announced, there’s a lot left to go.
The 98.3 GW of tracked coal plant closures is just 45% of U.S. coal electricity production in 2020. Though many utilities have talked about eventually assessing and planning retirements for some of the remaining 55%, no concrete plans have been announced yet.
“In our industry, deciding to exit coal-fired power is not taken lightly,” said Omaya Ahmad, Sustainability Policy Consultant at Arizona Public Service. “Our coal plants are often the oldest in our fleet and are largely the reason our service territories have grown and flourished into what they are today. However, the pressures presented by climate change and the economic demands tied to coal have required a commitment to transition to clean energy.”
Coal Plant Closures Are Part of a Larger Equation
But as Ahmad explains, turning off coal plants is not such a quick-and-easy fix.
“Such a transition will be a lofty undertaking and will not come without its own challenges,” said Ahmad. “Recognizing the regional transition landscape and timeline depicted on a map like this one will help utilities adequately prepare for and support their coal communities as we all take steps to reach a clean energy economy.”
And coal plants are just one part of the decarbonization equation. Some utilities are opting to transform coal power plants into natural gas plants, which are more cost-efficient and emit less than coal. Even though many utilities and consumers are turning away from carbon emitting fuel sources entirely, there are more than 200 new natural gas plants planned in the U.S.
But the big question is how the generated electricity from coal will be replaced. Communities that rely on coal for power (and economic strength) will have to turn to natural gas or work on renewables capacity, while others have already started the transition.
National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource for all things decarbonization in the utilities industry. Learn more.
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ESG Data: The Four Motivations Driving Usage
ESG controversies can damage a company’s value, but ESG data may be able to help manage this risk. What are other reasons for using ESG data?
ESG Data: The Four Motivations Driving Usage
Data is key to the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) revolution. Access to granular ESG data can help boost transparency for market participants. Unfortunately, 63% of U.S. and European asset managers say a lack of quantitative data inhibits their ESG implementation.
Being clear on the potential application of this data is equally important.
- Investors and banks can use ESG data for risk assessment, to spot opportunities, and to push companies for change.
- Companies can publish their own ESG data, quantify progress on their ESG goals, and use data to inform decisions.
- Policymakers can use ESG data to inform regulatory frameworks and measure policy effectiveness.
This graphic from ICE, the second in a three part series on the ESG toolkit, explores four primary motivations of ESG data users.
1. Right Thing
The objective: Having a positive social or environmental impact.
For investors, this can involve screening out companies that conflict with their values and selecting companies that align with their ESG objectives.
As another example, it can involve comparing the social impact of municipal bonds. One way investors can measure social impact is through scores that quantify the potential socioeconomic need of an area, using metrics like poverty and education levels. Here are the social impact scores for three actual municipal bonds issued in Florida.
|State||Bond Issuer||Social Impact Score
(Higher = larger potential impact)
Issuer #1’s bond is projected to have a community impact that is nearly twice as high/positive as Issuer #3’s bond.
For companies, doing the right thing can include assessing their progress on ESG goals and benchmarking themselves to peers. For example, gender and racial representation is a growing area of focus.
The objective: Managing ESG risks, such as climate and reputational risks.
For investors, this can involve back-testing or analysis around specific risk events before they materialize. Here are the risk profiles of two actual municipal bonds in California. The shown bonds are practically identical in many ways, except their wildlife score.
|Issuer #1||Issuer #2|
|Current Coupon Rate||5.0%||5.0%|
|Maturity Date||Aug 01, 2048||August 01, 2048|
|Price to Date (Call Date)||Aug 01, 2027||Aug 01, 2027|
|Wildfire Score (Higher = more risk)||3.6||2.7|
Managing ESG risk can also involve analyzing a company’s policies and governance for weaknesses. This is important as an ESG controversy can have long-lasting effects on the valuation of a company.
In one study, companies with ESG controversies dropped more than 10% in value relative to the S&P 500. They hadn’t fully recovered a year after the incident.
The objective: Targeting outperformance through ESG analysis.
Selecting companies with strong ESG data can align with long-term growth trends and may help boost performance. For heavy emitting industries, research indicates that European companies with lower emissions trade at much higher valuations. The chart below shows companies’ price-to-book ratio relative to the Stoxx 600* sector median.
|Above Median Emission Intensity (Bad)||1.9||1.1||2.0|
|Below Median Emissions Intensity (Good)||2.7||1.9||2.1|
*The Stoxx 600 Index represents large, mid and small capitalization companies across 17 countries of the European region: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Energy companies with low emissions trade at a valuation nearly two times higher than energy companies with high emissions.
The objective: Understanding and complying with relevant ESG regulation.
The International Sustainability Standards Board has announced a global reporting proposal aligned with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). In addition, a growing number of jurisdictions will require organizational reporting that aligns with the TCFD.
- European Union
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
Not only that, a European Union regulation known as Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) came into effect in 2021. It seeks greater transparency in disclosures from firms marketing investment products. Even firms located outside the EU could be impacted if they serve EU customers. In total, the market cap of these non-EU companies exposed to SFDR amounts to $3.2 trillion.
Matching ESG Data with Motivation
There will be growing demand for transparent data as ESG investing flourishes. To remain competitive, investors, policymakers, and companies need access to ESG data that meets their unique objectives.
In Part 3 of the ESG Toolkit series sponsored by ICE, we’ll look at key sustainability index types.
The Hierarchy of Zero Waste
In a world that generates 2 billion tonnes of waste every year, waste management has become a global concern. Here are some strategies to help guide zero waste policies.
The Hierarchy of Zero Waste
Many cities have set ambitious zero waste targets in the upcoming decades.
The idea is to have communities where waste generation is avoided, and products are shared, reused, or refurbished.
This graphic, sponsored by Northstar Clean Technologies, shows the main strategies and hierarchy to guide zero waste policies.
What is Zero Waste?
In a world that generates approximately 2 billion tons of waste every year, waste management has become a global concern. Thus, countries and cities are increasing efforts to reduce or even eliminate waste when possible.
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
Becoming a zero waste community, however, is a complex task.
Currently, Sweden recycles 99% of locally-produced waste and is considered the best country in the world when it comes to recycling and reusing waste. However, such results only came after almost 40 years of recycling and reuse policies.
In line with this, here are seven commonly accepted steps you can use to achieve zero waste:
1. Rethink, Redesign Products
The global population consumes 110 billion tons of materials each year, but only 8.6% is reused or recycled. In a zero waste society, single-use products are avoided and products are designed with sustainable practices and materials.
Consumption must be planned carefully to reduce the unnecessary use of materials. Consumers must choose products that maximize the usable lifespan and opportunities for continuous reuse. Companies must minimize the quantity and toxicity of materials used.
The value of products is maintained by reusing, repairing, or refurbishing for alternative uses.
Products are diverted from waste streams and recirculated into use. Resilient local markets are developed, allowing the highest and best use of materials.
5. Material Recovery
Component materials like cement, metals, or asphalt are recovered from mixed waste and collected for other applications.
In the U.S. alone, around 12 million tons of asphalt shingle tear-off waste and installation scrap are generated from roof installation each year. Currently, more than 90% of this is discarded in landfills. This material can be repurposed to create new products like liquid asphalt, fiber, and aggregate.
6. Residuals Management
Waste is biologically stabilized and sent to responsibly managed landfills.
The production of materials that are not recoverable and can negatively impact the environment must be avoided.
Reducing our Climate Impact
Reducing, recycling, and recovering materials can be a key part of a climate change strategy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 42% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the production and use of goods, including food, products, and packaging.
Even though 100% zero waste may sound difficult to achieve in the near future, a zero waste approach is essential to reduce our impact on the environment.
Northstar Clean Technologies aims to become the leading recovery and reprocessing company for asphalt shingles in North America.
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