ORIGINAL REPORTING: The big opportunity in turning old coal to new solar
Are utilities missing out on the opportunity to use old coal sites for solar? Turning coal site liabilities into solar assets may be an idea whose time has come
Herman K. Trabish, March 8, 2018 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Momentum was slowly gathering behind this idea until the White House started pushing its inane idea to support coal. But the economics make the transition described here inevitable.
Utilities could turn liabilities into assets by building solar arrays where coal plants have left sites unsuitable for other purposes — but only a few forward-looking utilities are even exploring the possibility. Unused coal sites make up a small portion of the 450,000+ U.S. brownfields, where expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. These coal sites are seen as liabilities for their utility and independent power producer (IPP) owners. They offer no benefits and impose maintenance costs that burden ratepayers and shareholders. Two small utilities, one in Florida and another in Massachusetts, have turned financial burdens into financial opportunities, and other utilities may benefit by looking at what they've done…
The numbers suggest there is good reason to think about the coal-to-solar possibility. From 2008 to 2016, nearly 35% of U.S. coal generation capacity was shut down, converted to another purpose, or scheduled for one or the other, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The most common reuse of shuttered coal sites has been conversion to natural gas generation. But more than 95% of them remain unremediated and unrepurposed, based on EPA data and a UCS report. The barrier to redevelopment at many of the sites is coal ash. There are at least 1,424 coal waste disposal sites with nearly 1,100 ash ponds, according to the Sierra Club. A Tennessee Valley Authority study found closure-in-place costs $3.5 million for a 22-acre pond and up to $200 million for a 350-acre site, according to a 2017 report.
Excavation and removal of waste can increase costs 270% to 2,200%, the report added. But remediated and repurposed brownfield sites have leveraged $16.11 for every taxpayer dollar spent, led to more than 97,000 jobs, and increased residential property values 5% to 15.2%, EPA's website reports. The agency's project tracker shows only two coal-to-solar projects. But the Holyoke Gas and Electric (HG&E) Mount Tom 5.76 MW solar and 3 MW/6MWh battery storage project in Massachusetts, which replaced the Mount Tom coal plant, and the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) 13 MW array in Florida suggest utilities with unremediated and unrepurposed coal sites might want to consider the possibility… click here for more
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