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Removing 7,000 MW of Coal Plants from the Western Grid is Possible

Coal fired power plant in operation
Coal fired power plant in operation

I don’t know if there really is such a thing as clean coal, but based on a study by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, we can clear 7,000 MW of coal fired power plants from the western grid.  This includes the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada, all the way down to a part of Baja California, Mexico and portions or the entirety of 14 Western states of the US sandwiched between.  This is much more than the planned retirements of coal fired power plants in the said service area.

The grid council made the study in connection with the proposal of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the generation mix.  The agency published in June its proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 30% by the year 2030.  The goal set by the EPA “is a highly complex rule fore an industry that is as dynamic and challenging as ever,” the WECC report states.

Based on the study, the reserve margin of the WECC regional grid was more than 15% through the year 2020.  Furthermore, removing 7,000 MW of coal generation from the grid would not affect system frequency response noticeably.  This is because the said retirement comprises only 3.5% of the total generation capacity at 198,000 MW.  Just the same, reliability issues should be studied, cautioned the study authors.

So there we have it, for cleaner air we don’t need clean coal, we just need to clear more coal plants from the grid so that renewable energy sources utilization increases.

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  1. So what are the other 198000 MW generated by? Yes you can remove 7000 MW from the grid but other coal fired plants will have to pick up the slack. Don’t believe everything you hear. Going to more centralized power generation is a bad idea because your putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak. Better to have small plants and small grids that are independent so they cant all be taken down at once. You can get rid of the coal plants when you have a plant of equal capacity ready to go on line. Otherwise your just cutting a leg off the horse you are expecting to ride. Reality sucks huh?

    • The slack will be picked up by natural gas? Well, you’re actually on the same page as the study authors. With the amazing developments being made in solar power and energy storage, distributed generation, as opposed to centralized power generation, is becoming a reality. It also helps that the load profile of the California Independent System Operator, one of the bigger electrical systems in the western grid, looks more like a duck with a decreasing base load requirement, reducing the need for base load plants like coal.

      The study says that further research needs to be done, and your idea of “small plants and small grids that are independent” is something that should be definitely looked at.


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