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Western Coal Generation - An Endangered Species

image credit: Google Street View

The floodgates are starting to open for coal plant closures out West.

PacificCorp has announced that they will close a coal unit they own at the Cholla plant in AZ this year.

 Oregon-based PacifiCorp has announced it plans to close one of the three generators at the Cholla coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona by the end of this year

Cholla Unit 4 is a 395-megawatt coal-fired generator at the Cholla plant in the small town of Joseph City, Arizona.

It is operated by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility

The remaining two units are scheduled to close in 2025.

This comes on top of the recent news that two coal units were just closed at the Colstrip plant in MT. This closure came 3 years ahead of schedule.

One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the western U.S. will close two of its four units by Saturday as the Montana facility edges toward an eventual total shutdown.

Colstrip Units 1 and 2 — built in the 1970s when massive strip mines were being developed across Montana and Wyoming — will close as soon as they run out of coal to burn, Talen Energy spokeswoman Taryne Williams said Thursday.

In 2019 - the massive 2,250 Navajo coal plant in AZ shut down and the much smaller 100 MW Nucla plant in Colorado shut down 3 years ahead of schedule.

Here are other planned closures over the next few years.



  •  First unit (730MW) at Transalta plant in WA


  • the 585 MW unit at Boardman plant in OR - this is last remaining coal plant in OR
  • First unit (254 MW) at Valmy in NV


  •  the last two units(847 MW) at San Juan coal plant in NM
  • The first unit(325 MW) at Comanche coal plant in CO.


How long before the last coal plant out West shut down?

Joe Deely's picture

Thank Joe for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 9, 2020 1:31 pm GMT

As western coal plants shut down, how is it impacting the western coal mining? Are they shifting to the international market without much friction?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jan 9, 2020 5:37 pm GMT

Many Western coal plants are supplied by mine mouth coal - so coal goes directly from nearby(onsite) mine via conveyor/train track to plant.

These mines are closing. So no shift to international market.

For example when massive Navajo closed in December - the nearby Kayenta mine also closed.  No more coal production in AZ.

The biggest coal-fired power plant in the West is closing and the only coal mine in Arizona, which supplied the plant, already has shuttered

By 2030 only coal production left out West will be Wyoming/Montana. Coal is dying out West.

Note: potential for export of US coal is overrated. Even though coal generation  has plummeted in recent years - there has been no increase in exports.

Sid Abma's picture
Sid Abma on Jan 14, 2020 6:40 pm GMT

And they are shutting down all these coal power plants because of the CO2 emissions? If the natural gas fired power plants were putting into the atmosphere more CO2 than the coal fired power plants, would they then be shutting down the natural gas power plants?

A lot more jobs are affected when a coal power plant gets shut down.                    Our Sidel Carbon Capture Utilization System will take over 90% of the CO2 out of the combusted coal exhaust and turn that CO2 into good paying full time jobs and money.

Hans-Henning Judek's picture
Hans-Henning Judek on Jan 14, 2020 10:40 pm GMT

No Sid, this is not only about CO2. It is mainly about costs. Renewable energy is in the meantime cheaper than coal-fired power plants without the environmental impact and constant expenses.

Job losses? Times are changing and people have to adapt. In the UK due to the power of the unions, electric locomotives had to have a stoker (!) on board, who was of course just sitting around earning his money doing nothing. It would have been better to retrain them as motormen. Job-shedding or retraining happens in many industries. It does not make sense to keep obsolete jobs by all means. People are able to LEARN and ADAPT.

Hans-Henning Judek's picture
Hans-Henning Judek on Jan 14, 2020 10:42 pm GMT

Hi Joe, Greetings from Japan. Very interesting article. The same is happening in my home country Germany with coal-fired power plants but also nuclear. As many of the boilers, turbines and electric gear still usable for decades, this means a humongous amount of Stranded Assets. I have made a proposal to link renewable energy with these residual assets. This is possible via high capacity Carnot (thermal) batteries, which store renewable energy in the form of molten metal at around 3000°F. We can store 32 MWh in a 20-foot container format for weeks without major losses. Retrieval of the energy is possible with steam turbines, but also gas turbines, which can be operated without fuel with a high-speed heat exchanger. This allows also the installation of combined cycle power plants and a high round trip efficiency. The thermal batteries can be charged with waste heat from industrial processes (aluminum and steel smelters, glass industry, etc.), CSP and with induction heating also from photovoltaic power plants.

This will allow the integration of fluctuating renewable sources as baseload energy and will allow improved load-balancing, AND prevent stranded assets.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jan 19, 2020 10:29 pm GMT


interesting.  Will keep an eye on this. Let us know about any further developments.  

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 19, 2020 8:40 pm GMT

Joe, in 2011 coal was considered an endangered species in Germany, too, when operation of a new 1.1 GW plant in Datteln was halted:

"Media commentators called it "a symbol of arrogance with which the established energy industry has ignored the boom of renewable energies for way too long."

Flash-forward to October 2019: After Germany's anticipated boom in renewables fizzled, Datteln was re-scheduled for operation later this year.

Govt allows new coal plant to enter service despite phase-out - report

Amazing, that renewables advocates continue to believe intermittent renewable energy can somehow replace dispatchable baseload despite being proven wrong time and again.

Maybe Datteln can charge those batteries you envision, while German solar panels provide Germans with clean electricity during the day. Batteries can clean up dirty coal-fired generation, right?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jan 19, 2020 10:35 pm GMT

Love it Bob...

How about if we call it "The Great Western US Coal Renaissance"?

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