Homer City Generation LP in Western Pennsylvania announced it plans to decommission its coal units in 90 days—the last of the state’s traditional coal-fired plants to announce closure plans. This action followed a tumultuous run that included a bankruptcy filing in 2017 to erase its $600 million debt. Although coal was once the cheapest power generation source in Pennsylvania, that was years ago. Today, these legacy plants have been unable to compete with cheaper generation from fracked gas and, increasingly, clean renewable generation. It simply costs more to dig up and crush coal than it is to replace plants with cleaner alternatives.
Rather than recognizing that this shift in the market was underway and preparing for the transition to clean, renewable generation, fossil-fuel-friendly legislators have spent years in denial. When Governor Wolf proposed joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), legislators had the opportunity to direct proceeds from that program to support communities and workers impacted by the failure of fossil fuel plants. Instead, legislators have put all their effort into opposing RGGI as if doing so would make these plants profitable again.
If it wasn’t already clear that the failure of these plants had nothing to do with RGGI, which has still not been implemented in Pennsylvania, today’s announcement should end that argument. The last of our traditional coal-fired plants announced plans for its closure, no new coal construction is underway in the state, and no one has announced plans to build new coal plants.
Homer City joins hundreds of coal plants around the country closing in part because they cannot compete against cheaper energy sources such as natural gas and renewables. Market forces and poor management by industry have left the region and its 129 impacted workers with no alternatives.
RGGI represents a path forward that allows communities to transition from failing coal plants and have a say in what their future looks like by providing dollars to support the towns abandoned by these plants. Yet by choosing to fight RGGI for over a year, Pennsylvania lawmakers prevented helpful funds from being collected.
The coal industry has been dying for decades. Instead of fighting to keep a single polluting coal plant open for maybe an additional 365 days, Western Pennsylvania lawmakers could invest in supporting renewable energy job creation and job training.