Good News on Climate Change: More Coal Power Leaving the Grid

In the face of Congressional inaction on climate change and a right wing political movement intent on doing all in its power to prevent sweeping climate action, an encouraging trend for the climate is the growing list of coal-fired power units scheduled to be taken off the grid. Coal is the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels, and nothing would do more to prevent climate change than breaking the US addiction to coal. I’m thus glad to be able to report that this week climate hawks scored another victory, with the announcement that an additional 560 megawatts of coal power is likely destined to be taken off the grid.

On Monday Associated Press reported the utility Arizona Public Service Company is looking to shut down three of the dirtiest coal-fired power units in the country, at the Four Corners Power Plant located in the Navajo Nation. Though the Four Corners Plant has two additional units that will continue to operate, the closures will cut back on pollutants from one of the country’s dirtiest power plants. The Four Corners Plant has been designated the largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions in the entire US, and is of course a major producer of carbon emissions as well. State climate change laws, an Environmental Protection Agency crackdown on pollution, and a commitment to clean energy on the part of the Navajo Nation all deserve credit for this victory.

The most immediate reason for the decision to shutter three coal units seems to be the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent move to update clean air regulations for the first time in nearly a decade. Because it is such a dirty plant, the coal units at Four Corners will over the next few years be required to either shut down altogether or install expensive new pollution controls. Arizona Public Service Company concluded it would be more economical to close the dirtiest three units than to attempt to clean them up.

Meanwhile Southern California Edison, which also owns part of the Four Corners Plant, is looking to get away from coal so it can comply with California’s progressive climate change laws. The fact that this company plans to sell off its interest in Four Corners by 2016 frees up some of the plant’s generating capacity, and will make it easier for Arizona Public Service to retire the dirtiest units. At the same time the Navajo Nation, where the plant is located, is attempting to move beyond coal and invest in clean energy sources like solar and wind.

The lesson here is that when the EPA cracks down on polluters and state and tribal governments commit to clean energy, tangible improvements on the ground result. Even with Congress refusing to take action on climate change, the federal executive branch and lower levels of government can make progress toward de-carbonizing the grid. Here’s hoping the partial closure of Four Corners is a sign of things to come, and that we’ll see many other utilities commit to taking coal plants off-grid in the months ahead.

Photo credit: Huffington Post