U.S. Coal Market Burning Out

As clean energy catches on, coal is not the commodity it was in decades past.

by Colin Wood / July 20, 2015

Coal is dropping in price and coal power plants are closing. Of the 523 American coal power plants in operation five years ago, 200 have since closed, Fierce Energy reported

Most recently, Interstate Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, agreed to pay $620 million to upgrade seven of its Iowa coal power plants to resolve a federal lawsuit alleging the company had violated the Clean Air Act. The company, which will also spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects and pay a $1.1 million civil penalty, is expected to reduce Iowa's emissions by thousands of tons each year through its upgrades.

Coal prices have dropped 20 percent in the last five years, leading one coal producer, Walter Energy, to file for bankruptcy protection on July 15. Alpha Natural is also reportedly looking to declare Chapter 11 next month. Competition from natural gas and an oversupply of coal have led to a depressed market, Business Insider reported.

"In Iowa and across the country, people are demanding clean air and clean water — and they are winning," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told Fierce Energy. "Iowa is a leader in America's transition from coal to renewable energy, and is providing a model for other communities as they demand and realize a 100 percent clean energy future."

Since 2010, an average of one coal plant has closed every 10 days.

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