Also on the agenda at the Public Utilities Commission’s first meeting of 2020 is Montana-Dakota Utilities’ application for deferred accounting on $4.8 million in deferred costs (mostly accelerated depreciation) related to the closure of three coal-fired generating plants, Heskett 1 and 2 in Mandan, North Dakota, and Lewis & Clark in Sydney, Montana.
Wait—wasn’t Trump supposed to save coal?
Ha—as usual, Trump doesn’t understand business. MDU says it’s shutting down these three coal plants because natural gas is a heck of a lot cheaper:
This decision was based on the age of the coal plants, the availability of low-cost natural gas driving low-cost power on the MISO market, as well as rising fuel related costs and operating and maintenance expenses (O&M expenses) at each of the units.
…these generating units are no longer economically competitive in the MISO market and that to remain economically viable, unobtainable reductions in operating expenses would be required. For example, O&M expenses would need to be eliminated entirely for all three units while Heskett 1 and Heskett 2 would require an elimination of O&M expenses plus a reduction in fuel costs. Based on a comparison of actual fuel plus variable O&M expenses for calendar year 2018, Heskett 1, Heskett 2 and Lewis & Clark 1 are the highest cost units in Montana-Dakota’s generation portfolio with costs on a dollar per MWh generated basis 1.4 to over 2 times Montana-Dakota’s 2018 average MISO energy market purchase price of $25.85 per MWh [Montana-Dakota Utilities, Amended Application to the Public Utilities Commission for Authority for Deferred Accounting, Docket No. EL 19-040, 2019.11.08].
The Energy Information Administration says that the share of U.S. electricity generated by coal decreased from 40% in 2013 to 28% in 2018, while the share generated by natural gas increased from 26% to 34%. The EIA projects that this year, coal’s share will drop to 22% while natural gas’s share will rise to 39%. Hydro, wind, solar, and other renewable sources will rise to 19%.
Trump’s rollback of EPA regulations on coal-fired power isn’t keeping MDU from dropping these three coal plants. Even as Trump gives coal burners a break on their toxic-waste handling and tries to rig the market to make households pay more for renewable energy, companies stuck on coal are going bankrupt faster under Trump than they did under the President Trump incorrectly blamed for the demise of this nineteenth-century fuel. Voting for Trump may be easier than adapting to the 21st-century, but, like coal, it’s not a sustainable solution.