PacifiCorp shows 60% of its coal units are uneconomic

  • PacifiCorp revealed that 13 of its 22 coal units are more expensive than alternative options, such as clean energy, when discussing its coal fleet as part of a two-day public stakeholder meeting Monday and Tuesday.
  • The Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary used unit-by-unit analysis to calculate a net benefit or cost for taking the coal units offline by 2022, showing nearly 60% of the retirements would lead to savings. But the utility says more analysis is needed before any shutdown decisions are made.
  • The announcement is on par with analysis from the environmental group Sierra Club, which noted in a June report that wind energy was a cheaper replacement option for 20 of 22 PacifiCorp coal plants. Pacificorp’s analysis of potential retirements is not final and more updates are expected on the company’s coal fleet assessment at an integrated resource process (IRP) stakeholder meeting on Jan. 24.

Dive Insight:

PacifiCorp’s announcement is not an official step toward early coal plant retirement, but it is part of a larger trend of economic analysis showing the difficulties of coal generation in competing with cheaper natural gas and renewable energy. Last week, the Carbon Tracker Initiative published a report concluding 42% of global coal plants are uneconomic due to high fuel costs, saying the percentage would rise due to carbon pricing and regulations.

The Oregon Public Utilities Commission directed PacifiCorp at the end of 2017 to launch a comprehensive review of the cost of its coal resources. In September, a Washington Superior Court judge allowed the company to keep the analysis confidential, after the Sierra Club pressed for the figures to be made public.

“Let’s not forget that PacifiCorp sued a public agency to keep its coal fleet economics secret,” Christopher Thomas, senior campaign representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, told Utility Dive in an interview. “But certainly we welcome this new level of transparency and hope it’s the new normal going forward. Customers want renewable energy and have a right to know that a cleaner energy future is also a cheaper one.”

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