The Year in Coal 2008: 24 New Plants Killed in the U.S.

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It’s official: New coal lost its luster in 2008.

According to the Sierra Club, two dozen proposed new coal-fired power plants were defeated or abandoned this past year, "laying the groundwork to fundamentally change the way the U.S. rebuilds and repowers itself."

Global warming was a significant factor.

Investors yanked money out of the sector amid concerns that coming carbon regulation would add to already soaring costs of new coal facilities. States refused permits for failing to address CO2 pollution concerns.

The full highlights of the "year in coal" are here (pdf). They include:

Utah — Deseret Power’s Bonanza Plant

This decision may prove to be the most significant development of 2008. On November 13, in response to Sierra Club’s lawsuit over the proposed Bonanza Generating Station, the U.S. EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) rejected all of EPA’s excuses for failing to regulate greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

Georgia — Longleaf Coal Plant Permit Rejected on CO2 grounds

In the first ruling of its kind, a trial judge in Georgia agreed with the Sierra Club and ruled that the permit be remanded because it failed to limit emissions of carbon dioxide.

Utah — Local Residents Win Ballot Initiative on Coal Plant

Local citizens of Sevier County, Utah won a ballot initiative election in November 2008 that will require a local vote before any coal plant can be built in the county. The ballot initiative was opposed by the industry and initially thrown out by a state trial court, but then was saved by a last minute order from the Utah Supreme Court.

Dynegy Rethinks Coal Power

Earlier this month Dynegy Inc., the largest coal plant developer in the nation announced it is now re-evaluating all eight of its planned coal-fired power plants, including two that are under construction, because of difficulty getting permits, uncertainty about climate regulation, and the high cost of capital.

In some ways, big coal’s losses have been gains for clean energy. The year saw a 20 percent increase in new geothermal projects under development in the US, and a record expansion in the wind industry.

Looking back further, Sierra Club notes that the Bush-Cheney Energy Plan of 2001 included building over 150 new coal-fired power plants. The good news is that more than 80 of those proposals have been defeated or abandoned, while dozens more have been delayed or sent back to the drawing board for failing to meet minimum pollution standards.

Bad news is that plans for some 80 new plants are still in the works across the nation. Which begs the question — what will be in 2009?

The Sierra Club predicts that Michigan will be at the center of the coal battle during the coming year. It has 19 existing coal-fired power plants — and more proposed new facilities than any other state. Close behind will be Texas. It too has a number of new coal plants on the books that are awaiting a green light to get off the ground.

Keep a close eye on Kansas, as well. The state was the ground zero of the coal issue in America in 2008, and big coal is still determined to build two new coal plants there, despite three vetoes by Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

For more details on the coal issue in 2008, see some of SolveClimate’s coverage from the year: