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Coal’s downward spiral in 2012

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It was a big year for Big Coal — in the sense of big losses and setbacks for the coal industry’s agenda, which made it a very good year indeed.

When thousands of people show up at the Seattle Convention Center for a technical “scoping” hearing to comment on and protest plans to export coal through Pacific Northwest terminals to Asian markets – Big Coal’s master export plan is in doubt. One coal plant each week was retired during 2012, which perhaps helps to explain why there is such zest on the part of the industry to ship the stuff overseas.

The Sierra Club‘s nationwide campaign—Beyond Coal—to phase out coal burning in the United States won victories from coast to coast, including the coal plant retirements and record investments in wind and solar. The coal industry experienced numerous setbacks in 2012 as its market share fell and stock prices tanked.

“With an overarching goal to move America off coal and slash carbon pollution, an unprecedented coalition including Sierra Club and more than a hundred local, regional and national organizations has helped to secure the largest drop in U.S. coal burning ever,” the club said in its year-ean review.

The campaign, which received major backing with a four-year $50 million commitment from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2011, now includes legal and grassroots fights that target every stage of the coal lifecycle in more than 40 states. It has grown to become one of the largest and broadest grassroots environmental campaigns in the nation’s history, according to the club.

The following Sierra Club info-graphic tells the campaign tale of the tape:

Many investors lost big on coal, with numerous bankruptcies of coal mining companies and coal-burning utilities including Midwest Generation in Illinois, Patriot in West Virginia, and Dynegy in Texas. After declaring bankruptcy, Patriot – Appalachia’s third largest coal company – reached an agreement with the Sierra Club and its allies to end the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and retire much of its large scale surface mining equipment. Coal’s poor economics were underscored news that the Great River Energy Spiritwood coal plant in North Dakota has sat idle since it was completed at a cost of $440 million earlier this year.

NRG Texas Energy announced this month that it will not proceed with plans to build the Limestone 3 coal unit in Jewett, Texas, 120 miles south of Dallas. NRG filed the initial applications to build the plant in 2006, when a handful of other Texas utilities were filing similar proposals to build more than a dozen new coal boilers in Texas. As of December 2012, the majority of these proposals have been cancelled, due to the changing economics of coal plants, the growth of wind energy in the state, and because of legal challenges and grassroots opposition.

Coal is on the run and battling on many fronts – 2012 may turn out to be a watershed year in its downward spiral, especially if 2013 sees the fall of Big Coal’s PNW export plans. That will be a great new year indeed.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

28 December, 2012 at 2:07 am

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