Utilities May Waste $981 Billion on Coal Plants, Study Finds

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  • Power industry risks capacity glut, environmental groups say
  • New coal plants threaten global effort to curb global warming

Power companies worldwide risk wasting investment of $981 billion in the coal-fired electricity plants they are seeking to build even though nations have pledged to reduce pollution, a report by researchers from non-government environmental organizations showed.

“While the amount of electricity generated from coal has declined for two years in a row, the industry has ignored this trend and continues to build new coal-fired generating plants at a rapid pace, creating an increasingly severe capacity bubble,” according to the report published by green groups including CoalSwarm, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

The industry has 338 gigawatts of new coal capacity under construction and 1,086 gigawatts in various stages of planning, comparable to the equivalent of 1,500 coal plants, according to the report, according to the report based on the Global Coal Plant Tracker database.

Since 2010, 473 gigawatts of coal power capacity gas been added, with China building 298 gigawatts and India 101 gigawatts, the study found. The average coal plant in the “massively overbuilt” Chinese market is now used less than 50 percent of time and the rate is still decreasing.

Increasing the number of coal-fired power plants could undermine the global goal to cap temperature increases since pre-industrial times to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the report.

“Even with no further building of coal plants, emissions from current coal plants will still be 150 percent higher than what is consistent with scenarios limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius -- meaning that most operating and new coal-fired plants will have to be phased out well before the end of their planned lifetime,” it said.