Pandemic accelerates renewable energy surpassing coal energy in US

In an article by Brad Plumer of The New York Times (see below) called “In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal,” the growth of renewable energy has been further fueled by the pandemic. This year, renewable energy (solar, wind, bio-mass, geothermal and hydroelectric), will surpass coal as the second largest energy source.

Per Plumer, efforts by the current president to keep propping up coal-burning plants have proven ineffective against market conditions. He notes “Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40% in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80%. And, the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.”

Plumer adds the impact of COVID-19 which has reduced electricity usage with fewer stores and restaurants open is hastening this trend. “And because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.”

Further, “Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and its decline has already helped drive down US carbon dioxide emissions 15% since 2005. This year, the (Energy Information Administration) expects the US emissions to fall by another 11%, the largest drop in at least 70 years.”

Coupled with people driving less and avoiding traveling by airplanes, an upside to COVID-19 is 2020 will be an impactful year on less carbon usage which will help in cleaning air (which is noticeable from satellites) and addressing climate change. As the economy slowly recovers with the majority of people being cautious in their movements and spending patterns, at least this positive impact will continue for more than 2020. And, hopefully with the coal plants being used more and more in the bull pen for extra need, more may be retired.

Still, some folks are surprised by the news of the decline in coal. They should not be. About eight years ago, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens was on “60 Minutes” and said the future energy source in the windy plains states is wind energy. He added fracking for natural gas will buy time until the cost of wind is more economical. Now, oil rich Texas bears that out with wind energy surpassing coal by itself this year. While Texas produces more wind energy than any other state, Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind and most of the top states in percentage of electricity are plains states.

Not only has coal become relatively more expensive due to the cost declines in other sources, its costs and risk continue beyond the life of the fuel and the plant. Duke Energy and TVA have had to clean up messes from coal ash that have bled into the water systems. And, Duke’s Dan River spill was from a long-ago retired coal plant.

The people I feel for are the coal miners whose hopes have been propped up by politicians who have not been forthcoming. I have known about coal’s demise since that Pickens’ interview and through other news and reading sources. My guess is so have the politicians, yet rather than be truthful and help them plan for new careers, they kept feeding their hopes. And, last time I checked, the wind blows and sun shines in those coal producing states. So, these miners are owed long-time-coming truths and help to find and train for new jobs.

14 thoughts on “Pandemic accelerates renewable energy surpassing coal energy in US

    • Marilyn, I do as well. I was just stating a fact about what has led to the demise in coal. Fracking uses so much water that cannot be allowed to go back into the water table, as it is greased with chemicals to lessen friction. There are a number of towns who have little water now. Then there is the increase in earthquakes (check out Oklahoma, eg). Plus, the venting of methane on wells not in use can be seen from space. And, for a while the 1 out of 20 caps failed immediately, so leakage occurred. Methane is worse than carbon, but it has a life of seven years, while carbon has a much longer life. Keith

    • Hugh, agreed. See my note to her. I saw yesterday, the president will be increase some access fees on wind and solar. This person is so beholden to the fossil fuel industry. He is worse than VP Dick Cheney in harming our environment. Keith

  1. Note to Readers: Here is a paragraph on wind energy from Wikipedia using data from last fall.

    “By September of 2019, 19 states had over 1,000 MW of installed capacity with 5 states (Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and California) generating over half of all wind energy in the nation.[5] Texas, with 28,843 MW of capacity, about 16.8% of the state’s electricity usage, had the most installed wind power capacity of any U.S. state at the end of 2019.[6] Texas also had more under construction than any other state currently has installed.[7] The state generating the highest percentage of energy from wind power is Iowa at 42% of total energy production,[5] while North Dakota has the most per capita wind generation.”

  2. Of course it’s all fake news by tree* hugging snowflakes**.

    *tree a plant vital to the processing of the oxygen carbon dioxide cycle, and also as a preventative against soil erosion.

    **Each a unique ice crystal which when falling in vast numbers in addition to many affects bring toxic producing cars to halt.

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