Biggest U.S. coal plant will halve production

CASPER — The biggest coal-fired power plant in the country gets all of its coal from Wyoming. A second of its four units is now slated for retirement, halving total capacity before the end of the decade. 

Three Wyoming mines — Buckskin, Caballo and Eagle Butte — supply most of the millions of short tons of coal burned annually by Georgia’s 3,520-megawatt Robert W. Scherer Power Plant. 

Last year, roughly 10 percent of the mines’ combined coal production went to Scherer, according to the Energy Information Administration. 

Unit 3 is expected to shutter by 2025, E&E News reported Friday. It’s the only unit owned primarily by the plant’s operator, Georgia Power, a subsidiary of utility holding company Southern Co., which announced the closure during a call with investors on Thursday. 

Southern Co. also revealed plans to close two of the four units at the country’s next-biggest coal-fired power station, Plant Bowen, also operated by Georgia Power. Bowen sources most of its coal from Midwestern mines. 

More than a year after two other part-owners of the Scherer plant announced that Unit 4 would close by 2022, eliminating one-fourth of Scherer’s coal consumption, news of another retirement came as no surprise to industry. 

“This is the trend we’ve been seeing,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. “The less coal that utilities buy, the less coal we produce. And the less coal we produce, the lower revenue we generate. It’s a ripple effect.” 

Coal’s contribution to the state’s general fund has declined since production peaked a decade ago. The share of severance tax revenue that comes from coal is down almost 15 percent from 2011, according to the October CREG report. 

During Thursday’s call, Southern Co. reiterated plans by another subsidiary, Mississippi Power, to close both coal units at the Victor J. Daniel Electric Generating Plant by 2027. 

Last year, more than 90 percent of the coal transported to Plant Daniel came from Wyoming’s Black Thunder mine — 2.4 percent of the mine’s total production. 

“We can’t stop this from happening,” said Shannon Anderson, staff attorney at the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming-based conservation and landowners group. “And so the next step for us is, what do we do about it?” 

Oglethorpe Power Corporation, majority owner of Scherer units 1 and 2, has not publicized any plans to retire the plant’s remaining capacity. 

“We have time to start planning for our future, and figure out how to attract new industry and new business,” Anderson said. “But the window of planning is shrinking.”