Good question. Old coal plants, like other old power generating facilities, go through a lengthy decommissioning process, although it’s less involved in the case of coal plants than it is for nuclear plants which can take 20 years to fully cycle down. Let’s take the case study of the Mohave Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Laughlin, Nevada. Mohave’s operator, Southern California Edison, shut down the plant in 2006 because it couldn’t afford to retrofit the plant to new environmental standards. It didn’t make sense to sell the plant so they decided to close it. The company began dismantling the plant in 2009 and will eventually spend $30 million on the process, which will include mitigating any potential hazardous wastes. Even after the buildings are torn down and the turbines dismantled, transmission lines and a switchyard will remain at the site. The whole process from start to finish is expected to take 2 years.
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