A utility report reveals that without coal the lights stay on

For years the rhetoric from coal country is that the United States doesn’t have enough energy to replace its coal plants, but recent events debunk these claims. In reality coal power plants are being shut down and utility insiders say there’s plenty of energy left for everyone.


PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest transmission operator, has released a report saying system reliability is not threatened by coal-fired power plant retirements.

“Even with almost 7,000 MW less coal capacity clearing for the 2014/2015 Delivery Year, PJM estimates the RTO will carry a reserve margin of 19.6 percent for the Delivery Year, including the demand and capacity commitments of [Fixed Resource Requirement] FRR entities.”

The report comes in the wake of GenOn’s announcement that it would be shutting down the Potomac River Generating Station, a coal fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia in 2012. Several other plants have been retired in recent years, in all cases the lights stayed on. In fact, PJM, which is also known as the utility provider that “kept the lights on” in the 2003 northeast blackouts said in its report that energy conservation and technological advancements in energy storage are playing a strong role in reducing the nation’s need for coal power.

“Add into the mix the potential for new entry from Demand Resources [demand response and storage], as has been the trend in recent years, and resource adequacy does not appear to be threatened,” read the report.


The reality of the coal plant shutdowns and the PJM report directly contradicts the messaging framed by those working, in with and for the coal industry.

  • In 2010 William O’Keefe, the former head of the American Petroleum Institute, wrote a Washington Post editorial where he claimed, “The bulk of our electrical power comes from fossil energy and nuclear. It is going to take decades for that mix to change significantly and efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions should be based on that reality.”
  • A columnist with the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote in 2011, “We will be burning coal for decades, because we must. No other energy source can replace coal any time soon.”
  • In 2009 Entergy Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Wayne Leonard told a Times-Picayune reporter, “The U.S. cannot afford to shut down its existing coal plants.

The dirty millionaires club

While this rhetoric is not based in reality, substantial funding from the coal industry backs it. In fact the most recent financing reports reveal that at least three major coal companies have contributed more than a million dollars to congressional candidates.

Still, no matter the price paid by the industry and the number of politicians purchased, the more the lights stay on the more the industry’s rhetoric fails to pass the truth test.