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TheStreet Open House

Old King Coal Heads to Retirement Home

Stocks in this article: DUKDAEP

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Disposing of a coal plant isn't as simple as taking out the trash.

It's a new era of eliminating coal power, with a new federal rule ensuring the demise of many coal plants across the United States.

Opponents of the coal and utility lobby got their biggest victory in recent history in December, when the Environmental Protection Agency implemented a new rule for power plant standards that will make many existing coal plants obsolete. It marked the end of a 22-year battle in Washington D.C.

Utilities have been preparing for this day, but haven't quite figured out how to deal with the death of a coal plant.

Most utilities have decided it would be too costly to upgrade aging coal plants to the new EPA standards, and will look to convert them to other fuel sources like natural gas, idle or even demolish the plants going into retirement.

The utilities will also look to sell the coal plants, possibly piece by piece, wherever there is value to be derived from a turbine or steel rebar. The industry is still working out other sale methods as well, and that's where the story could get interesting.

The prospect of coal plant sales raises the issue of exporting pollution to other countries, while cutting down on it domestically. Global warming knows no geographic boundaries: The benefits to human health from the coal plant retirement in the U.S. would remain, though the global warming dimensions of the victory over coal would be diminished should the idled coal plants be revived on the horizon of other polluting skies.

Is it possible to export pollution by moving a coal plant, lock, stock and barrel to another country? It would seem unlikely, according to utility industry experts and executives at the utilities now charged with disposing of the legacy coal plants. However, corporate auction officials engaged in the still-evolving era of coal plant sales see some potential in an overseas market for the U.S. coal castoffs.

One trend is clear, though: Something has to be done with all of the coal plants that are no longer viable as U.S. energy assets, and demolition won't always be the option.

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