Renewables in US now cheaper than coal

26 Mar 19

Wind and solar power in the US are now cheaper than coal in a major setback for president Donald Trump’s promise to revive the ailing fossil fuel industry.

A report by independent think-tank Energy Innovation says America has officially entered the “coal cost crossover” – where existing coal power is growing more expensive than cleaner alternatives.

The organisation says a rapid fall in the cost of wind and solar power now makes coal-fired power plants more costly than their renewable competitors when their combined fuel, maintenance and other forward costs are considered.

Energy Innovation says wind and solar could already replace approximately 74% of US coal-fired stations at an immediate savings to customers, but by 2025 this could be 86% – spelling the demise of coal as a viable source of energy.

Its report recommends that local decision-makers consider plans for a smooth shut-down of old coal-fired plants that includes creating jobs for communities that may be affected. The coal industry is a major employer in some areas such as Appalachia.

There may be opportunities to build local renewables in the vicinity of coal plants, Energy Innovation says, by which wind and solar power could replace lost jobs and expand the local tax base.

There seems little doubt that the fortunes of coal are fading in the US.

Government statistics show that in 2016, natural gas surpassed coal for the first time as the main source of power in the US, and that the share of total power generation from coal-fired plants fell from 48% in 2008 to 28% in 2018.

Energy Innovation’s report is a personal setback for Trump, who pledged to end the “war on coal” and eased regulations to clamp down on emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Despite US government climate change reports indicating that immediate action is needed to curb greenhouse gases, the Trump administration announced proposals to reverse emissions rules for coal plants in order to make it easier to build new ones.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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