Stricter air pollution rules and higher carbon prices are set to push even more plants into unprofitability, according to the analysts Carbon Tracker, with 97 percent of the plants losing money by 2030. Furthermore, rapidly falling renewables costs are on track to make building new wind and solar farms cheaper than continuing to run existing coal plants by the mid 2020s.
Utility companies continue to run lossmaking plants in the hope that competitors will close their plants first or that governments will provide subsidies in return for guaranteed power, though the European commission wants to ban such payments. In Spain, the government has banned Iberdrola from closing its last coal plants, claiming it is concerned over energy security despite the country’s overcapacity in electricity.
Coal in Europe is in a “death spiral,” according to Carbon Tracker, with seven nations including the U.K. already having announced the end of coal power by 2030 or earlier. At the UN climate change summit in November, the launch of a new alliance of 19 nations committed to phasing out coal rapidly was greeted as a political watershed. “The time of coal has passed,” said the U.K.’s climate minister Claire Perry.
Until recently European utilities were strong performers, beating Europe’s Stoxx 600 index by 60 percent between 2000 and 2010. But since then, the utilities have plunged 20 percent in value as the rise of renewable energy and government policies radically reshaped the market.
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