SEPTEMBER 24, 2017 BY 

Article adapted from Steamboat Today 

The number of utility companies in the Mountain West announcing plans to shutter coal-fired power plants in the face of competition from increasingly economical natural gas is growing from a steady stream into a river this year. And there may be implications for the coal  and power plant industries in Northwest Colorado.

University of Colorado faculty member and Steamboat Springs resident Paul Komor, an expert on the subject, will discuss the market forces affecting the future of coal here Sept. 26 in a “Talking Green” event sponsored by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

“From a coal perspective, it’s pretty clear what’s going on, and it’s not good for the coal industry,” Komor said Sept. 19.

He was CU’s energy education director from 2009 to 2014 and is currently a faculty affiliate of CU’s Environmental Studies department. Previously, he was a project director at the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, where he worked with House and Senate Committees in evaluating energy legislation.

“Nucla (Tri-State power plant) is going to shut down, New Horizon (coal mine) announced it will close, and last month Excel Energy announced it would shut two of three units at Comanche (Generating Station) outside Pueblo,” he added.

In July, Idaho Power announced it was planning to close two units at the enormous Jim Bridger Power Plant — one in 2028 and the other in 2028. The utility also has plans to close coal power plants in Nevada and Oregon.

Closer to home, the five owners of the three-unit Craig Station power plant agreed with federal agencies a year ago that the 427-megawatt Craig Station unit one would be retired by Dec. 31, 2025, to satisfy a federal regulation regarding haze created by coal-fired power plants.

But the real kicker was the announcement this year that the giant Navajo Power Plant near Page, Arizona, will close by 2019. The four utilities that have a stake in the plant cited the relative economy over time of purchasing natural gas to generate power, in announcing their plans.

“Worldwide, in most countries, coal is falling off the cliff,” Komor said. “But in the U. S., in particular, natural gas is proving to be a preferred option for generation. It’s plentiful, and it’s economical to begin with,” due to the technologies involved in fracking shale to get at the gas.

The price of coal per btu is currently lower than natural gas, but the cost of gas has been steadily dropping. 

U.S. News and World Report reports that natural gas claimed a greater share of U.S. power generation for the first time in 2016 after a sharp rise that began in about 2012. And despite increased demand for gas, prices continue to fall with improving technology.

And power generation companies are looking at their aging coal-fired plants, the cost to outfit them with new emission controls, the relative cost of building and operating the two kinds of power plants, and betting on gas for the future.