REPORTS of the demise of coal-fired power plants are greatly exacerbated by reality. Using coal to make electricity isn’t going away any time soon. And the coal plants that are going away the soonest account for relatively little carbon emissions.
One of the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities (PSO) is moving away from coal, but it won’t be out of the coal business until at least 2026. The other utility, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., remains committed to coal even though it will require expensive upgrades to its generating station near Red Rock.
Coal remains the cheapest way to make power, which is one reason it will stay in the fuel mix despite the Obama administration’s attempt to get rid of it and the environmental community’s demand that coal be kept underground for as long as it has been already.
High-profile public policy initiatives such as the administration’s latest round of coal crackdowns give the impression that it’s only a matter of months before no American power is made from American coal. Hardly.
But even OG&E is moving partly away from coal, announcing plans to convert two of its three plants in Muskogee from coal to natural gas. At Red Rock, it wants to install scrubbers to comply with environmental regulations.
A spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, a leading attack dog when it comes to coal, described OG&E’s strategy as a “half step in the right direction.” Actually it’s a full step in making sure customers have reliable power at the lowest possible cost, something in which the Sierra Club barkers have absolutely no interest.
USA Today reported last week that the power industry’s plan to retire more than 10 percent of its coal-fired generators in 10 years time “will do almost nothing” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. One reason is that the plants are mostly smaller, older facilities that accounted for only 4 percent of all carbon dioxide emitted last year by U.S. coal plants. None of the 140 plants ranks among the top 100 for emissions.
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