There are other factors shutting down these coal-fired powerplants beyond just the cost differential with natural gas.
For those who don't wish to wade through the entire RA piece (posted in 2017), the salient points are pasted below:
In February 2017, a “Today in Energy” report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration outlined the current impact of economics and regulations on coal. The EIA said, “Without the Clean Power Plan, there is less incentive to switch from carbon-intensive coal to less-carbon-intensive natural gas or carbon-free fuels such as wind and solar. In the scenario where the Clean Power Plan is not implemented, coal again becomes the leading source of electricity generation by 2019 and retains that position through 2032.”
Another recent and more widely-seen admission that economics alone are not to blame for coal’s hardships came during a 60 Minutes interview of media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg that aired on April 23, 2017. During discussion of Bloomberg’s philanthropic efforts, reporter Steve Kroft said that Bloomberg had donated “a hundred million dollars to assist the Sierra Club and its lawyers in shutting down more than 250 coal-fired plants.” (Various reports indicate that Bloomberg personally donated $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in 2011, then another $30 million in 2015. Tens of millions more came from additional sources.) Bloomberg spoke to 60 Minutes in apocalyptic terms about the health risks associated with coal, while expressing sympathy for coal workers themselves. But he insisted, “Technology cost the miners their jobs, not the Sierra Club.”
However, the Sierra Club’s own statements to Railway Age, and coverage of its Beyond Coal campaign in other media, tell a far different story. An extensive May 2015 report in Politico, which should be a must-read for anyone in the rail or utility industries who cares to know what they’re actually up against, said, “The real war on coal is not primarily an Obama war, or even a Washington war. It’s a guerilla war. The front lines are not at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Supreme Court. If you want to see how the fossil fuel that once powered most of the country is being battered by enemy forces, you have to watch state and local hearings where the utility commissions and other obscure governing bodies debate individual coal plants. You probably won’t find much drama. You’ll definitely find lawyers from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, the boots on the ground in the war on coal.”
That report went on to describe Beyond Coal as “the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the Club’s 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement.” A key angle of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal effort is economics. As Politico put it, the group “usually wins by arguing that ditching coal will save ratepayers money.” This plays into the more widely stated perception that costs alone have hampered coal, until that view is sharpened to recognize the tremendous financial and social support that Beyond Coal has received from Bloomberg and others.
The Sierra Club itself takes much credit for the shutdown of numerous coal-fired power plants across the U.S., and the blockage of proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. In June 2016, the Climate Policy Director for the Sierra Club told Railway Age, “It’s certainly the case that a massive, ambitious American grassroots movement to move beyond coal is winning one campaign after another.” But the group is targeting more than just coal.
The Sierra Club also launched Beyond Natural Gas and Beyond Oil campaigns, which have since merged into the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. The Sierra Club said, “While the carbon content of coal is higher than natural gas, substantial climate pollution can be associated with leaks of natural gas during production and transportation, and in some cases that pollution can even be larger than coal burning.”
So, while some in the media continue reporting that natural gas has edged out coal because of decisions in the marketplace, they’re failing to tell the public that natural gas itself is in the crosshairs of the same organization—well-funded and highly organized—who lobbied to cripple coal.