Old U.S. coal-fired power plants, the target of new anti-pollution rules, aren’t necessarily shutting down. Many are getting a second life as they’re “repowered” with natural gas.
>” […] In the past four years, at least 29 coal units in 10 states have switched to natural gas or biomass, according to SNL Financial, a market data firm. Another 54 units, mostly in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, are slated to be converted over the next nine years. The future and completed conversions represent more than 12,000 megawatts of power capacity, enough to power all the homes in New England for one year.
By switching to natural gas, plant operators can take advantage of a relatively cheap and plentiful U.S. supply. The change can also help them meet proposed federal rules to limit heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, given that electricity generation from natural gas emits about half as much carbon as electricity from coal does. […]
While conversion advocates say natural gas is a “bridge” fuel that buys time for a transition to clean energy, others argue its use is hindering renewables by delaying them. Many of the planned repowering projects will extend the already long service of fossil-fuel facilities. (Related: “Switch to Natural Gas Won’t Reduce Carbon Emissions Much, Study Finds.”)
“Do you pump a whole bunch of the public’s money into outdated, inefficient infrastructure, or do you say it’s time to move forward and invest in renewable energy and upgraded transmission to move that renewable energy around?” said Kim Teplitsky, deputy secretary of the Northeast Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Teplitsky’s group is opposed to the revivals of New York’s Dunkirk, Danskammer, and Cayuga power plants.
Power providers and regulators, on the other hand, point to the need for reliability, especially in extreme weather conditions. “The system requires a certain amount of megawatts and a certain amount of reserve margin to ensure that the system will be stable and reliable at all times,” said Gaier of NRG, which operates both renewable and fossil-fuel units. “The number of megawatts is simply not replaceable in the short term with renewables.” […]”<