The 1,600 MW coal-fired Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois will soon be operational, making it the largest new coal power plant to be built in the U.S. in the last 30 years. This is a significant development for the future of coal power for several reasons: pollution control, efficiency, and economics. The plant is equipped with $1 billion in air pollution controls that will remove 98 percent of SO2 emissions, 90 percent of NOx emissions, and more than 99 percent of particulate matter emissions. In addition, the plant utilizes a super-critical steam electric process, making it more efficient than typical (and older) coal-fired power plants. Prairie State is located adjacent to the coal mine that is projected to power the energy complex for the next 30 years.
While announcements of coal unit retirements seem to appear weekly, Prairie State Energy represents the potential to keep coal power an important part of the nation’s energy mix. Even with falling natural gas prices, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts coal-fired power will maintain a significant percentage of the generation mix – 39 percent in 2035 – still surpassing either natural gas or renewable sources. If coal is to retain such a vital role in the generation mix over the next few decades, the industry will need to navigate increasingly stringent environmental regulations, including those aimed at carbon emissions. Changes in natural gas prices, the economic viability of carbon capture technologies, and the ability to permit upgrades or new coal-fired power present risks to the industry. Good or bad, Prairie State may be the harbinger for the future of coal power.
Read more: A Path Forward for Coal