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Coal-fired electricity generating units (EGUs) provide approximately 46 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, yet most of the existing coal-fired electricity generating fleet is 25–45 years old. Deploying new coal-fired EGUs and maintenance of the existing fleet requires an industrial capacity to provide equipment, skilled labor, and project management expertise. This monograph addresses the concern about whether the industrial base for the U.S. domestic coal-based electricity generation industry can maintain the capability to design, construct, operate, and maintain coal-fired EGUs within reasonable cost, schedule, performance,environmental, and quality expectations. The authors reviewed existing reports and databases, conducted interviews with a variety of stakeholders, and collected and analyzed data describing key elements of industry capability and validation or verification of concerns. They find that some capabilities are maintained through active operation and maintenance and pollution-control markets but that new construction is required to maintain complete capabilities; that coal boilers are critical to the coal power industrial base but the equipment market is global; that workforce challenges are not unique to coal but could raise costs during high-demand periods; that construction costs and schedules have increased for recently built coal-fired power plants; and that potential future challenges could increase costs and schedules. By first describing the capability that is inherent in the existing coal-fired fleet, this monograph takes a first step toward addressing the larger policy questions of how to develop, deploy, and maintain an advanced, low-carbon electricity-generation industry capability into the future.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    The Role of Coal-Fired Power in the U.S. Electricity Sector

  • Chapter Three

    Coal-Fired Power Plant Designs, Systems, and Components

  • Chapter Four

    Market Structure

  • Chapter Five


  • Chapter Six

    Observations and Remaining Questions

  • Appendix A

    Key Companies in the Coal-Based Electricity-Generation Industry

  • Appendix B

    Supplemental Tables on the Coal Industrial Base Workforce

This research was sponsored by the National Energy Technology Laboratory and was conducted in the Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment.

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