Closing Coal Plants – A Billion Dollar Industry

Guest Blog | October 2, 2013 | Coal, Energy Policy

According to a new report, closing and decommissioning coal plants will account for a multibillion dollar industry by the end of the decade.  New research by Navigant Research asserts that between now and 2020, companies that demolish facilities, haul away debris and salvage polluted land could bring in more than $5 billion in revenue.  Retiring and demolishing old coal plants, it turns out, could serve as an economic boost and job creator – a fact that pro-coal advocates never mention.

Although you must pay to read the entire Navigant Research report, the Executive Summary is accessible, which outlines some of the more important aspects of the research.  According to the report, actual demolition of the plant will likely not be the most expensive part of demolition.  In some cases, the value of the plant’s scrap metal could fully offset the cost of demolition.

As tighter environmental regulations, cheaper natural gas prices and lower demand push utilities to retire more coal plants, coal plant owners are faced with complex decisions on how best to decommission these plants.  As utilities make these decisions, consultants, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies, environmental remediation firms and demolition companies will reap the benefits in the form of increased business and revenues.  The overwhelming majority of these coal plant closures will be taking place in North America and Western Europe, according to the report.

The author of the report, Richard Martin, stated that while there is no universal price tag for decommissioning coal plants, a plant between 350 and 500 MW in size could cost roughly $18.9 million to decommission.  The most expensive part of the decommissioning process comes in the form of coal ash removal and environmental remediation.  Countless coal plants have confirmed groundwater and surface water contamination caused by coal ash stored on site that will require extensive remediation efforts.  Unfortunately, however, we still have no federal regulations that would actually drive proper remediation and clean-up of these toxic coal ash waste impoundments upon closure. Currently, remediation is completely voluntary and may never happen if the ultimate decision on how to properly handle ash pond closure is left up to certain utilities.  (To learn more about coal ash and coal ash contamination in the Southeast, check out SACE’s website).

As more coal plants are brought offline, a clearer picture will form of how utilities plan to approach full retirement and remediation of old, dirty coal plants.  We hope to see utilities using responsible, cost-effective methods to clean up coal plant sites that will not only create a cleaner, safer environment but will also bring much needed jobs to these areas.

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