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No U.S. coal plants by 2030? John Kerry makes bold prediction in Glasgow

A loader moves coal at the Huntington power plant in Huntington, Utah, on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.
A loader moves coal at the Huntington power plant in Huntington on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, said Wednesday there will be no more coal plants operating in the United States by 2030.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, said there will be no more coal plants operating in the United States by 2030.

His assertion was made during an interview with Bloomberg News while at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow and is being widely reported by other media, such as the Washington Examiner.

Utah has already retired one coal plant, in 2015 in Price Canyon outside of Helper, after PacifiCorp determined the aging plant would be too expensive to upgrade to meet a new mercury emission standard.

The U.S. still gets about 19% of its energy from coal, and Kerry’s comments lacked any detail on how the 2030 prediction will be met.

It is clear, however, that his comments won’t play well in coal-producing states such as Utah, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“We are very shocked at a comment like that,” said Thom Carter, Gov. Spencer Cox’s energy adviser and director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development. “It seems unbelievably reckless to make a comment of that nature without talking to states, producers and energy providers.”

But fossil fuel opponents are calling for an accelerated retirement schedule of coal-fired power plants and say some utility operators such as PacifiCorp, which serves Utah and six other states, should be more responsive to climate change.

Some power plants are switching to natural gas, and some power cooperatives are looking to nuclear energy to serve as a fossil-free base load source of energy.

One such planned project is at the Idaho National Laboratory, to be operated by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, which serves a half-dozen states.

The NuScale nuclear plant is slated to use Small Modular Reactor technology through the Carbon Free Power Project.

PacifiCorp has said it is turning its attention to more renewables to provide energy because the cost of the technology has come down so much.

As an example, it’s pursuing hydropower projects in Idaho that could provide up to 1,800 megawatts of significant long duration energy storage (up to 16 hours) for peak customer demand and renewable energy integration.

It plans to develop more wind and solar resources, to convert a coal-fired power plant and invest in storage for grid reliability.

It says it will retire 14 of its coal-fired units by 2030 and more by 2040. One of those would be the Huntington Plant in Emery County, which is slated for closure by 2036.

Plant retirements are happening because of the political pressure on coal and because of plants reaching their end of life stage.