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Pollution Rule Hurts Coal, Helps Other Sources

â¿¿ Renewable energy. Wind and solar developers, such as NextEra Energy and FirstSolar, may see increased demand for large projects, especially if power prices rise. That would also help rooftop solar installers such as Solar City attract more interest from homes and businesses.

â¿¿ Nuclear power. Nuclear, like coal, has suffered from the low power prices brought on by cheap natural gas. Utilities have abandoned ambitious plans to build new nuclear plants and they've shut down aging plants that have become too expensive to run. If prices rise, nuclear operators such as Exelon and Entergy will benefit. And because the new rule makes new coal plants so expensive, utilities afraid of relying too heavily on natural gas for future power production may turn instead to nuclear.

â¿¿ Power generators. If electricity prices rise as coal use declines, companies that sell wholesale electric power, such NRG Energy and Calpine, may benefit.


â¿¿ Coal miners. The U.S. coal industry is already struggling because coal supplies piled up and prices dropped as natural gas gained favor. U.S. production is expected to fall to a 20-year low this year, and 151 mines that employed 2,658 workers were idled in the first half of this year, according to SNL Energy.

While coal will continue to be an important fuel for electricity generation in the U.S. for decades, it appears to be facing a long, slow decline. The country will get less and less coal from the comparatively high-cost Appalachian region, and more from cheaper-to-access coal deposits in the Illinois Basin and in Wyoming. Companies with large Appalachian operations, such as James River Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, will likely continue to suffer.

â¿¿ Electric customers. Natural gas prices generally dictate the price of all electricity in the U.S. If demand for natural gas rises faster than drillers supply it, the price will rise and drag power prices up too, possibly boosting electric bills for homes and businesses. In the past, natural gas prices have been extraordinarily volatile.

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