Power Reset – Optimizing the Existing Coal Fleet

By Janet Gellici, National Coal Council

The nation’s abundant, affordable and diverse domestic energy resources underpin economic prosperity. The existing coal power plant fleet is a critical component of the nation’s energy portfolio, providing a foundation of reliable and resilient electricity in today’s dynamic and rapidly evolving energy system.

The historic stability of the nation’s energy system is, however, subject to disruptions arising from market distortions, extensive regulation and regulatory uncertainty, which can increase the cost of electricity, threaten the reliability and resilience of the electric grid and hamper economic growth. These factors have most significantly and disproportionately impacted the nation’s coal plants. As
of September 2018, nearly 120,000 megawatts (MW) of coal generating capacity has retired or announced plans to retire. This represents nearly 40 percent of the 2010 U.S. coal fleet.

In its most recent report for U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, the National Coal Council (NCC) notes that it’s time for the U.S. to hit the “Power Reset” button to assess, support, reform and renew the role of the existing coal fleet in the U.S. power sector.


Coal’s Unique Role in the U.S. Energy Portfolio

The U.S. power system benefits from an electric grid that is not only reliable, but resilient. A reliable electric system minimizes the likelihood of disruptive electricity outages; a resilient system is designed with the understanding that outages will occur, is prepared to deal with them, is able to restore service quickly and to draw lessons from the experience to improve future performance.

Reliability and Resilience Attributes



Source:  PA Consulting

Coal power plants excel in many attributes that support a reliable and resilient power grid. Their ability to store fuel on site and keep generation online is invaluable, especially during regional storms or other disturbances. It is also valuable in supporting rapid recovery following power outages. Over the last five years, the average subbituminous and bituminous coal plants had stockpiles of 75 days and 81 days of burn, respectively.


Average Days of Stockpiled Coal Burn


Resource availability acknowledges the value associated with abundant fuel sources that are widely accessible. Coal is used to generate electricity in 48 states; it provides at least half the electricity in 13 states and at least one- quarter of the electricity in 24 states.

Coal is mined in 25 states and can be shipped via a variety of transportation modes, including rail, truck and barge. Diversity in transportation methods makes coal supply less vulnerable to single points of disruption. Coal’s price stability is evident in that it has maintained steady pricing over time and can be secured on a guaranteed basis.

Dispatchability, a key component of a reliable and resilient power system, is provided by baseload plants that can be scheduled in advance to meet predicted load and adjusted to increase or decrease output as required. Unlike dispatchable plants, wind and solar generation are intermittent renewable energy (IREs) sources and require backstop dispatchable generation in order to reliably maintain grid supply- demand balances.