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The New York Times: In a First, Renewable Energy is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.

Posted by Brad Plumer | New York Times on May 13, 2020

The New York Times reported reported renewable energy will exceed coal-fired power this year, an impact of reduced demand due to COVID-19, quoting AEE CEO Nat Kreamer. Read excerpts below and the entire New York Times piece online here. It also appeared in print on May 14.

The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change. It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants.

Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led electric 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 percent in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80 percent. And the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.

Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet.

As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. 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... 

The latest report from the Energy Information Administration estimates that America’s total coal consumption will fall by nearly one-quarter this year, and coal plants are expected to provide just 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, dropping for the first time below both nuclear power and renewable power, a category that includes wind, solar, hydroelectric dams, geothermal and biomass.

Natural gas plants, which supply 38 percent of the nation’s power, are expected to hold their output steady thanks to low fuel prices. The decline of coal has major consequences for climate change... 

The United States is not yet at the point reached in Britain, which now goes for weeks at a time without using any coal power at all. But some parts of the United States are now getting an early preview of life where coal is on the decline and renewables are soaring.

“In some parts of the country, we’re now seeing renewable penetration hit 60 or 70 percent on some days,” said Nat Kreamer, chief executive of Advanced Energy Economy, a clean-energy business group, “and no one’s screaming that they can’t do that.”

Read the entire New York Times piece here. 

Topics: AEE In The News