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U.S. coal power boom suddenly wanes

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Aside from the 28 or so coal-fired power plants already under construction, prospects remain tenuous for the half-dozen plants "near construction" and another 80 plants not nearly as far along, says Steve Piper, managing director of power forecasting at Platts, the energy information division of McGraw-Hill. "Expansions [of existing plants] still have a good chance. But others will come under increased pressure for deferral or outright cancellation."

Coal is still booming, some say

Some coal-industry officials say the cancellations belie a surge for coal.

"We're in the middle of a coal building boom with more new coal plants now under construction than anytime since the 1980s," says Joe Lucas, executive director of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a lobby group supported by coal companies and electric utilities.

Others call the growing resistance to coal power worrying.

"It is a crisis for us because what we are not really focusing on is: Where is the electricity we need for the next 50 years going to come from?" said Gregory Boyce, chairman of Peabody Energy, at a "clean tech" conference recently in Palm Springs, Calif. "We view it as short-term and very unfortunate because we need to continue to build these new coal plants – that are at least 15 to 20 percent more carbon-efficient than the plants they replace – while we continue to work on technologies for the next generation of plants that are carbon-capture ready or that capture carbon and store it."

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