USA: Vistra plans to retire 1.3-GW Zimmer coal plant in Ohio five years early

• Failed to clear PJM capacity auction
• LMPs in 2020 below estimated O&M

Vistra on July 19 said it would close its 1.3-GW Zimmer coal-fired power plant in Ohio on May 31, 2022, five years earlier than previously announced, after the plant failed to clear the PJM capacity market.

“The Zimmer coal-fueled power plant has recently struggled economically due to its configuration, costs, and performance,” Vistra CEO Curt Morgan said. “The PJM capacity revenues are critical to Zimmer, and unfortunately, without them, the plant simply doesn’t make money.” According to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, the 30-year-old Zimmer plant had a capacity factor of less than 48% in 2020 with operating and maintenance costs of less than $28/MWh.

Located in Clermont County, Ohio, the 30-year-old Zimmer plant could use PJM’s AEP-Dayton Hub prices as a pricing benchmark. So far in 2021, the day-ahead on-peak locational marginal prices in that location have averaged $33.80/MWh, but they averaged about $23.25/MWh in all of 2020, according to S&P Global Platts price database.

This June, PJM’s capacity market auction for 2022-23 cleared at $50/MW-day, some of the lowest levels on record, down from $140/MW-day for the most recent previous auction, completed in 2018. Conflicts at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over PJM’s minimum offer price rule delayed the auction for three years.

Vistra said this year’s capacity auction results were about half what they were for the 2021-22 auction in the relevant zone for the Zimmer coal plant.

Ohio coal plants aging
“In addition, indications suggest future PJM capacity auctions have the potential to experience low clearing price results, as well, resulting in a multimillion-dollar loss in expected future capacity revenues compared to previous years,” Vistra said in a news release. “As it is doing at its plant sites across the country, the company will evaluate the Zimmer site for potential investments in renewables or grid-scale battery storage, utilizing existing infrastructure.”

Vistra’s 10 coal-fired plants have a combined capacity of more than 11.1 GW, but 7.3 GW of that is slated for retirement: 1.9 GW in 2022, almost 2 GW in 2025 and almost 3.4 GW in 2027.

Vistra’s two remaining coal plants, the 2.3-GW Martin Lake plant and the 1.6-GW Oak Grove plant, supply the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ energy-only market, which usually has a $9,000/MWh systemwide offer cap.

Vistra’s two Ohio coal plants slated for retirement represent almost 24% of the state’s 10.8 GW of coal-fired nameplate capacity, which have a median age of 54, according to Market Intelligence.

PJM as a whole has 52.3 GW of coal-fired capacity considered operational with an average age of 48.