Study: US renewable farms outperform 99% of coal plants economically US News

Renewables outperform coal in the United States economically to such an extent that keeping 99% of the country’s coal-fired power plants running is more than it would cost to build a brand-new solar or wind power plant nearby, which is new. Analysis found.

The falling cost of renewable energy, which was supercharged under last year’s Cut-In Inflation Act, means it’s cheaper to build an array of solar panels or a bunch of new wind turbines and hook them up than to keep them running. Of the 210 coal-fired plants in the contiguous United States, with one exception, According to the study.

Michelle Solomon, Policy Analyst Energy innovation, who performed the analysis. “This report certainly challenges the narrative that coal is here to stay.”

The new analysis, conducted on the heels of the $370 billion in tax credits and other clean energy subsidies that Democrats passed in last summer’s Inflation Reduction Act, compares the fuel, operation and maintenance cost of America’s coal fleet with building new solar or wind power from scratch. In the same utility area.

On average, the marginal cost of coal plants is $36 per MWh, while the marginal cost of new solar plants is about $24 per MWh, or about a third cheaper. Only one coal plant – Dry Fork in Wyoming – is cost competitive with new renewables. “It was a little surprising to find this,” Solomon said. “It shows that not only is the cost of renewables falling, but that inflationary law is accelerating this trend.”

Coal, a carbon-dense fuel responsible For 60% of planet-warming emissions from electricity generation, it once formed the backbone of the American grid, generating enough power to light 186 million homes at its peak in 2007. By 2021, however, that output will have decreased by 55%while jobs in the coal mining sector have more than halved over the past decadeto less than 40,000.

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Most coal plants in the United States are aging and getting more expensive to maintain, while the fuel source has been widely replaced by cheap gas sources. Environmental regulations, which Donald Trump has vowed to roll back An unfinished mission to revive the coal industry at the presidencyIt has also imposed costs on the sector by imposing reductions on toxic emissions such as mercury and sulfur dioxide.

Coal production has reached 55 years down in 2020 But the industry saw later Signs In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led to a rise in energy prices around the world and saw pressure on countries to find an alternative fuel source for Russian gas.

Coal supporters maintain that it is a reliable fuel in a time of instability and have attacked Joe Biden for trying to shift the US away from fossil fuels. “Forcing core coal capacity out of the grid — without reliable alternatives and the infrastructure to support it — will only deepen the reliability and economic challenges,” Rich Nolan, president of the National Mining Association, said in November.

“Look at our friends in Europe, who have rushed blindly to shut down coal plants at such a rapid pace and are now working from Germany to Denmark to get those same plants working again. The global energy crisis is real and is imposing very expensive burdens on people around the world and here at home; Calculated steps to intensify that crisis are reckless and unimaginable.”

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While coal is declining over the long term, it is not likely to disappear in the near future – many utilities are still investing deeply in the fuel source and scale of renewable infrastructure, including power projects, new transmission lines, batteries and other storage to deal with intermittent delivery, not broad enough to cause a mass coal shutdown. But analysts say the broader trends, bolstered by spending last year on climate, look poised to call the time in the age of coal.

A solar farm in San Antonio, Texas. Photo: Tannin Mori/EPA

“We can’t just cut our fingers and shut down all coal plants,” Solomon said, “but we need to speed up building wind and solar power so that when the time comes we can wean ourselves off coal.”

“There is a huge opportunity here to invest in coal communities, building local economic resilience and saving money in the process.”

James Stock, a Harvard economist who did not participate in the program energy The Innovation Report said the analysis was “correct” and that coal was no longer economically competitive.

“We can’t close all these factories tomorrow, we need to do it in an orderly way to support the reliability of the network but we have to be able to do it in fairly quick order,” he said. “Coal has been in a natural decline because of the economy and those economies will continue, and that’s a transition that’s just going to happen.

“We built a lot of coal plants in the United States about 50 years ago because we were worried about the energy security of the world. It made sense at the time and they made an important contribution. But we know a lot now about climate change, so now we need to make different decisions.” .

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This article was last modified January 30, 2023. An earlier version said that new solar power is about a quarter cheaper than coal plants. At $24 and $36, respectively, per megawatt-hour, new solar is a third, not a quarter, cheaper.

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