In board rooms across the country, electric companies are deciding that many coal plants, especially small, older ones, just don’t make economic sense any more. One factor is the expectation that low prices for natural gas will continue because of the shale gas boom across the country.
The shift has come faster than many electricity companies expected. Every year, utilities tell the government which plants they plan to close over the coming decade. Over the course of one year, their estimates of how much coal generation they would retire nearly tripled.
If all goes as planned, within a few years only a third of the company’s power plants will run on coal. The company has already built three new natural gas plants. It’s expanding a nuclear plant and going bigger into solar and wind, Williams says.
The dramatic and swift shift away from coal at Georgia Power is part of a nationwide trend: After decades in which coal was king of electricity generation, natural gas is making a bid for the title. And it’s scoring big, unexpected wins in places like Georgia, where coal was especially dominant.
“We’re seeing that across the board, regardless of the size of the companies,” says Quin Shea, vice president for environment at the Edison Electric Institute, the industry’s trade group.