L.A.'s Coal Ban Leads to Another Abandoned Power Plant

L.A.'s Coal Ban Leads to Another Abandoned Power Plant

The Sierra Club enjoyed a victory last week when a Utah-based utility announced it would walk away from plans to build a coal-fired generating unit in the state.

According to the environmental group’s tally, 100 coal plants have been foiled or abandoned since 2001, the beginning of an era it dubbed the “Coal Rush.”

The Intermountain Power Agency (IPA) announced Thursday it has given up plans to build an additional coal-fired unit. Its biggest customer -- the city of Los Angeles -- signaled its intent July 2 to phase out use of all coal-based electricity by 2020. IPA's expansion project had effectively died in its original iteration when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power pulled out of the deal in 2007, Reuters reported.   

The Sierra Club maintains a database with status reports of proposed U.S. coal plants. Click here for the full plant list. Image courtesy of Sierra Club
Coal generates more than half of the electricity in the U.S., and is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Estimates indicate about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Los Angeles comes from coal-fired power plants located outside state borders.  Nearly half of that electricity is generated at the Intermountain Power Plant near Delta, Utah, which will continue generating electricity from its existing pair of coal-fired units.

It isn't the first time energy-related decisions made in one region carried heavy consequences for other parts of the country. In 2005, the owners of the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., allowed their coal power plant to close because it lacked required emissions control upgrades. Owners Southern California Edison, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, NV Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced in early June they would decommission the site, which supplied majority owner Southern California Edison with about 7 percent of its electricity. The power plant’s closure in turn caused the shuttering of the Black Mesa coal mine, a major source of employment and economic activity for the nearby Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes.

IPA's derailed power plant project is part of a string of setbacks to recently befall U.S. coal power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the review process for a contentious Sunflower Electric Power Corp. project to start over. In late June, Northern Michigan University withdrew plans to add coal as a backup fuel at a new biomass power plant, while an Arkansas appeals court revoked the permit for a $1.6 billion power plant.

Meanwhile, according to Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, South Dakota’s Basin Electric Power ditched its plans to construct a new coal-fired power plant.
“At the beginning of the coal rush, which came out of the Bush-Cheney energy plan of 2001, it seemed inevitable that most of the 150 new proposed coal plants would get built. Since then we’ve seen an incredible change in the way people, businesses and governments are thinking about energy -- figuring out how to generate and use it more cleanly and efficiently. Coal is no longer the only option.” -- Bruce Nilles
Coal image CC licensed by Flickr user [sic].