As President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate pact, the last coal-fired power plant in New England quietly closed its doors for good.
Despite the administration's avowed support of coal jobs, energy industry analysts and economists who study the sector say that even Donald Trump's executive order scuttling the EPA's Obama-era Clean Power Plan and a pullout from the Paris accord won't bring back coal's boom times.
"Economics, not regulation, is the prime driver of near-term coal sector distress," wrote Swami Venkataraman, an analyst with Moody's Investors Service. Cheaper natural gas and renewable energy will be the primary culprit behind coal power plant closures for the next three to five years, he said. "The trend of low gas prices and declining renewable costs are independent of expectations created by the CPP and will continue to affect coal-fired generation even in its absence."
Over the long term, Venkataraman wrote that rolling back the CPP would slow — but not halt or reverse — the secular decline of coal. "Many coal plants will need financial support to survive into the next decade given the sector's dire economics. There are no concrete proposals for such support at this time," he wrote.
According to a January report published by regional utility operator ISO New England, "Several factors are making it hard for coal- and oil-fired resources to recover the cost of capital investments to maintain their older plants." Coal-fired plants contributed just 2 percent of the region's power in 2016, down from 18 percent in 2000.