stretching out

Coal phase out

A coal phase-out is a type of fossil fuels phase out policy that dictates the gradual shutdown of operating coal-fired power plants while prohibiting construction of new plants.

Main Causes


Global warming

The primary reasons for a government to try this option are the problematic toxic emissions involved with mining and burning coal, which have been implicated as causes of global warming and climate change. Emissions from electricity generation account for a signifcant portion of world greenhouse gas emissions; in the United States, electricity generation accounts for nearly 40 percent of emissions, the largest of any source

Clean coal technology plays a critized role in the debate, and there is a divide among environmentalists and climatologists who support a phase-out versus entrepreneurs who promote improved regulations and modernized technology.

A 38-page document authored by James Hansen and eight other scientists, entitled “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” calls for phasing out coal power completely by the year 2030 .

In 2008 P.A. Kharecha and James Hansen released a study projecting the effect of a coal phase-out on atmospheric CO2 levels. One scenario was a phaseout of coal emissions by 2050. The authors describe the scenario as follows:

The second scenario, labeled Coal Phase-out, is meant to approximate a situation in which developed countries freeze their CO2 emissions from coal by 2012 and a decade later developing countries similarly halt increases in coal emissions. Between 2025 and 2050 it is assumed that both developed and developing countries will linearly phase out emissions of CO2 from coal usage. Thus in Coal Phase-out we have global CO2 emissions from coal increasing 2% per year until 2012, 1% per year growth of coal emissions between 2013 and 2022, flat coal emissions for 2023–2025, and finally a linear decrease to zero CO2 emissions from coal in 2050. These rates refer to emissions to the atmosphere and do not constrain consumption of coal, provided the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Oil and gas emissions are assumed to be the same as in the BAU [Business as Usual] scenario.
Kharecha and Hansen also consider three other scenarios, all with the same coal phase-out schedule but each making different assumptions about the size of oil and gas reserves and the speed at which they are depleted. Under the Business as Usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 parts per million (ppm) in the year 2100. Under the various coal phase-out scenarios, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 422-446 ppm between 2045 and 2060. The implication of the study is that a phase-out of coal is a much more potent remedy for global warming than any actions that might be taken in limiting or stretching out the use of oil and gas.

Mountaintop removal mining

Mining industry uses mountaintop removal to obtain the coal.

Mining accidents

Coal mining disasters are a reason to try to use more easy obtainable (over ground) energy sources.

Governmental action



Ontario has passed coal phase-out legislation .

United States


California's SB 1368 created the first governmental moratorium on new coal plants in the United States. The law was signed in September 2006, took effect for investor-owned utilities in January 2007, and took effect for publicly-owned utilities in August 2007. SB 1368 applied to long-term investments (five years or more) by California utilities, whether in-state or out-of-state. It set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, the equal to the emissions of a combined-cycle natural gas plant. This standard created a de facto moratorium on new coal, since it could not be met without carbon capture and sequestration.


On April 15, 2008, Maine Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 2126, "An Act To Minimize Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Coal-Powered Industrial and Electrical Generating Facilities in the State." The law, which was sponsored by Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald (D-Boothbay), requires the Board of Environmental Protection to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for coal gasification facilities. It also puts a moratorium in place on building any new coal gasification facilities until the standards are developed.


In 2006 a coalition of Texas groups organized a campaign in favor of a statewide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. The campaign culminated in a "Stop the Coal Rush" mobilization, including rallying and lobbying, at the state capital in Austin on February 11 and 12th, 2007. Over 40 citizen groups supported the mobilization.f

In January, 2007, A resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on new pulverized coal plants was filed in the Texas Legislature on Wednesday by State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson (R-Waco) as House Concurrent Resolution 43. The resolution was left pending in committee. On December 4, 2007, Rep. Anderson announced his support for two proposed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants proposed by Luminent (formerly TXU).

Washington state

Washington has followed the same approach as California, prohibiting coal plants whose emissions would exceed those of natural gas plants. Substitute Senate Bill 6001 (SSB 6001), signed on May 3, 2007, by Governor Gregoire, enacted the standard. As a result of SSB 6001, the Pacific Mountain Energy Center in Kalama was rejected by the state. However, a new plant proposal, the Wallula Energy Resource Center, shows the limits of the "natural gas equivalency" approach as a means of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants. This proposed plant would meet the standard set by SSB 6001, even though it would capture and sequester a portion (65 percent, according to a plant spokesman) of its carbon.

Proposed legislation

H.R. 5575, the "Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act"

In March, 2008, Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey, co-chair of the U.S. House or Representatives Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, introduced H.R. 5575, the “Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008.” The legislation addresses the largest new source of global warming pollution — new coal-fired power plants that are being built without any controls on their global warming emissions.

The legislation states: "Effective upon the date of enactment of this Act, no permitting authority shall issue a permit for a proposed new coal-fired electric generating unit under the Clean Air Act, unless the permit requires the unit to use state-of-the-art control technology to capture and permanently sequester carbon dioxide emissions from such unit.

"State-of-the-art control technology" is defined as "The term ‘‘technology that captures not less than 85 percent of the total carbon dioxide produced by the unit on an annual average basis and permanently sequesters that carbon dioxide in a geological formation approved by the Administrator in a manner that prevents its later release into the atmosphere.

Utility action

  • Progress Energy Carolinas announced on June 1, 2007, that it was beginning a two-year moratorium on proposals for new coal-fired power plants while it undertook more aggressive efficiency and conservation programs. The company added, "Additional reductions in future electricity demand growth through energy efficiency could push the need for new power plants farther into the future.
  • Public Service of Colorado concluded in its November 2007 Resource Plan: "In sum, in light of the now likely regulation of CO2 emissions in the future due to broader interest in climate change issues, the increased costs of constructing new coal facilities,and the increased risk of timely permitting to meet planned in-service dates, Public Service does not believe it would not be prudent to consider at this time any proposals for new coal plants that do not include CO2 capture and sequestration.
  • Xcel Energy noted in its 2007 Resource Plan that "given the likelihood of future carbon regulation, we have only modeled a future coal-based resource option that includes carbon capture and storage."
  • Minnesota Power Company announced in December 2007 that it was not consider a new coal resource without a carbon solution.
  • Avista Utilities announced that it does not anticipate pursuing coal-fired power plants in the foreseeable future.
  • NorthWestern Energy announced on December 17, 2007, that it planned to double its wind power capacity over the next seven years and steer away from new baseload coal plants. The plans are detailed in the company's 2007 Montana Electric Supply Resource Plan.

Public support for a coal moratorium

Opinion polls

In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll of 1,003 U.S. citizens conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

The authors of the poll reported: "75 percent of Americans –-including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents --would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy --such as wind and solar --and improved home energy-efficiency standards.' Women (80 percent) were more likely than men (70 percent) to support this idea.Support also was higher among college graduates (78 percent) than among those who did not graduate from high school (68 percent).

The exact question posed by the survey was as follows: More than half of power plant-generated electricity comes from coal. Experts say that power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution linked to global warming. There are plans tobuild more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the next several years. Would you support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe and renewable energy –such as wind and solar –and improved home energy-efficiency standards? Would you say definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no, or don't know.

The results were as follows:

  • 30% "definitely yes"
  • 45% "probably yes"
  • 13% "probably no"
  • 8% "definitely no"
  • 4% "don't know"

CLEAN call to action

In October, 2007, fifteen groups led by Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) called for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, with no exception for plants sequestering carbon. The groups included Save Our Cumberland Mountains (Tennessee); Ohio Valley Environmental Council (West Virginia); Cook Inlet Keeper (Alaska); Christians for the Mountains (West Virginia); Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Civil Society Institute (Massachusetts); Clean Power Now (Massachusetts); Indigenous Environmental Network (Minnesota); Castle Mountain Coalition (Alaska); Citizens Action Coalition (Indiana); Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment (West Virginia); Appalachian Voices (NC); and Rhode Island Wind Alliance (Rhode Island).

Other citizen groups supporting a coal moratorium

Shareholder resolutions in favor of a coal moratorium

"RESOLVED: Shareholders request that BOA’s board of directors amend its GHG emissions policies to observe a moratorium on all financing, investment and further involvement in activities that support MTR coal mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide.

Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium

If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.||| Al Gore at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

  • Banker and financier Tom Sanzillo, currently First Deputy Comptroller for the state of New York, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in the state of Iowa. Citing slow growth in electricity demand and better alternative sources of energy, Sanzillo said, "It's not only good public policy, it's great economics."
  • Mary Wood, Professor of Law at the University of Oregon, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in an videocast lecture to the University of Montana on February 19, 2008. Wood compared the urgency of the climate crisis to World War II: “Nothing less than a massive global effort on the scale of WWII can save our climate.”

Prominent individuals supporting a coal phase-out

  • Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, called for replacing all fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy in twenty years.

EPA lawyers supporting a coal moratorium

In May, 2008, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two lawyers at the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote a public letter opposing cap-and-trade solutions to greenhouse gas emissions and supporting a federal moratorium on new coal plants that don't sequester their carbon dioxide emissions. The letter, "Urgent Plea for Enactment of Carbon Fees and Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants without Carbon Sequestration," was written in their capacity as citizens rather than in their capacity as EPA employees.

Mayors supporting a coal moratorium

  • Charlottesville, N.C., mayor Dave Norris has spoken out in favor of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. On December 19, 2007, Charlottesville passed the Charlottesville Clean Energy Resolution putting the city on record in support a moratorium.
  • On October 13, 2007, Pocatello, Idaho, mayor Roger Chase told other mayors from across the state attending an Association of Idaho Cities legislative committee that he favored a moratorium no new coal plants in the state.
  • On June 1, 2007, Park City, Utah, mayor Dana Wilson wrote a letter to Warren Buffett expressing the city's opposition to three coal plants proposed by Rocky Mountain Power.
  • In November 2007, Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson expressed his support for a coal moratorium at a rally organized by the Step It Up! campaign.

Other politicians supporting a moratorium

  • Ed Fallon, running against incumbent Leonard Boswell for Democratic Party nomination for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, stated his support for a coal moratorium and criticized Boswell's statement that "coal will be the mainstay for electricity for decades to come.

Local governmental bodies supporting a coal moratorium

  • In January, 2008, Black Hawk County (Iowa) Health Board recommended that the state adopt a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until it enacts tougher air pollution standards.

Move Toward Renewables

Some electricity producers are changing from coal to renewables.

Toward Solar

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel's voluntary decision to shut down two coal-fired power plants in the state and building one of the world's largest utility-scale solar power plants and adding 850 megawatts of wind energy to its system .

Toward Biomass

Biomass power is a growing trend in the United States . In 2006, Public Service of New Hampshire finished converting one of its coal-fired power plants into a 50-MW biomass power plant, the Northern Wood Power Project, which is fueled with wood chips. In 2008, DTE Biomass Energy (DTE Energy Company) agreed to buy the 50-MW E.J. Stoneman Power Plant in Cassville, Wisconsin, with plans to convert it to burn wood waste in 2009.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, asked the state's public service commission for approval to convert the coal-fired Plant Mitchell to run on wood fuel. If approved, the retrofit will begin in 2011 and the biomass plant will start operating in mid-2012. The 96-MW biomass plant will run on surplus wood from suppliers within a 100-mile radius of the plant, which is located near Albany, Georgia.

Coal-fired power plant in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, that formerly provided electricity to a sugar mill is now being converted into a 24-megawatt (MW) biomass power plant. MMA Renewable Ventures is financing the conversion and will operate the new plant, which will be called the Hū Honua Bioenergy Facility . Located about 8 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, the facility will draw on residual wood from the local timber industry and other biomass wastes to produce enough power for about 18,000 homes, meeting up to 10% of the Big Island's electricity needs.

Companies are also building new power plants designed to run on biomass.

See also


External links

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