Yes, you read the article title right: coal plants in the USA are finally starting to close down. After many protests, contending with pollution and health issues, and so forth, they are finally starting to shut down.

coal-cars-ohio

photo by Decumanus (source: wikimedia commons)

North Carolina and Pennsylvania coal plants are amongst the first to go, with many more in metro areas expected to follow. Energy of North Carolina proposed the shutdown of 11 plants, all built between 1949 and 1972, and the state utility commission is currently considering the proposal—which will phase out the coal plants completely by 2017. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is only closing 2 coal plants thus far. However, they intend on replacing them with locally generated power from nuclear and gas fired systems.

While the closing of coal plants is definitely great news, the environmental reasons behind the decisions are minimal, at best. Several things that are pushing the closings include:

  1. The plants are very old and many parts or components are at the end of their design life. Large scale upgrades would not be such a good idea at this point.
  2. There is a good chance that older plants will not be able to support the addition of pollution controls needed to meet new standards for mercury and fine particulates.
  3. Plants may be located in areas where air quality standards are not being met. If these plants are closed, emission credits located in their air emissions permits can be traded for a new permit that puts out less pollution per generated kilowatt.
  4. Utilities are under pressure to keep prices down, making it harder to justify upgrade costs on older plants. Plus, cheaper, fast-built renewable energy sources are getting more support from banks these days than outdated or harmful methods, like coal.

The good news is, with a number of coal plant closures likely to happen, many of them may turn to more renewable energy sources, not to mention that mountain-top removal will be less likely to happen, as well. The downside, however, is that some of the older plants are on polluted ground and to close them down would leave them with quite an expensive cleanup situation (and of course they can’t be expected to pay for all the environmental harm they caused).

I would certainly like to see the building of more renewable energy plants or sources, and more importantly, the usage of them. It will definitely be quite some time before every single plant closes down or makes the change, but at least some are starting to and that is a good step towards a greener future, even if only a small one.