US could replace coal power with existing gas-fired plants

iagoarchangelThe shift from coal-fired generation to gas- fired generation sounds like something that would be lengthy and difficult to accomplish. But a new report by PFC Energy, the consultancy, indicates it is anything but.  The report says US gas fired power plants average about 25 per cent utilisation, compared with 70-75 per cent for coal.

So operating existing plants at 72 per cent utilisation would theoretically increase gas demand by 30bn cubic feet per day – a rise of about 50 per cent – and displace almost all coal fired capacity. In doing so, carbon dioxide from the power sector would be cut 50 per cent, according to PFC.

This is something that Colorado has adopted enthusiastically.

On Monday, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which will retire or retrofit older coal-fired power plants to take on gas and other cleaner fuels.

From the governor’s statement:

“This law is a template for tomorrow that allows us to transform our energy portfolio, our economy and our environment by working strategically and collaboratively. By shifting our oldest and least efficient coal plants to cleaner, Colorado-produced natural gas, we send a strong message to the rest of the country that we absolutely can cut air pollution and protect public health while also creating jobs and protecting ratepayers”.

The Colorado legislation requires Xcel Energy, a key provider in that state, to cut nitrous oxide emissions by up to 80 per cent from several coal plants by the end of 2017. To that end, it is to submit a plan to regulators detailing how it will retire or retrofit 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity by August 15.

Xcel is to replace that generation with natural gas, renewables, greater efficiencies or other cleaner energy sources.

The governor said the law sets a national example by bringing economic, energy and environmental benefits together in one package. Given PFC’s report on the ready availability of capacity to make this transition across the country, how might the Colorado example be considered by Congress?

Related links:

Coal industry braces for interesting times - FT Energy Source
How good is natural gas, when lifecycle emissions are measured? FT Energy Source
Will natural gas profit from the death of US coal? FT Energy Source

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