America Enters 'Coal Cost Crossover' as Solar and Wind Are Now Cheaper for Most Households
By Julia Conley
In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.
That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.
Energy Innovation based its study on companies' financial filings data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). It found that coal has become more expensive as maintenance and anti-pollution compliance costs have risen, while technological advances have made solar and wind power cheaper.
Those trends are expected to continue, and the group predicts that by 2025, 86 percent of coal plants will be producing electricity that is more expensive than renewable energy.
"America has officially entered the 'coal cost crossover' — where existing coal is increasingly more expensive than cleaner alternatives," reads the report.
Climate action advocates applauded the report's findings on social media.
Wind and solar are already cheaper! Goodbye to coal. Thank you for getting us here but something better is taking y… https://t.co/6EBXePMtNX— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1553528400.0
Around 75% of coal production is more expensive than renewables. The industry could be out-competed on cost by 2025… https://t.co/nVf11SUaSu— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1553529611.0
Energy Innovation reported in January that half of all U.S. coal plants have shut down in the last decade, while renewable sources now account for 17 percent of energy production — twice the amount of electricity they provided in 2008.
Monday's study provides the latest evidence that coal production is becoming an increasingly unrealistic method for creating the energy that powers American homes.
"We've seen we are at the 'coal crossover' point in many parts of the country but this is actually more widespread than previously thought," Mike O'Boyle, co-author of the report and electricity policy director for Energy Innovation, told The Guardian. "There is a huge potential for wind and solar to replace coal, while saving people money."
The study calls for a complete drawdown of the use of coal plants in the U.S. But with President Donald Trump intent on putting his environmental policy in the hands of EPA administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler; deregulating the coal industry to allow plants to pollute nearby waterways and soil; and imposing tariffs on solar panels to stop the renewable sector from replacing the dying industry, states have been the ones leading the way in transitioning from fossil fuels.
California and Hawaii announced plans in recent years to shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Monday to move the state's utilities to sustainably-sourced energy by 2045, while Puerto Rican legislators are planning to vote on the issue this week and a number of cities and towns throughout the country have voted to end their dependence on fossil fuels.
"It would be better if we had a federal cohesive policy because not all states will take the initiative," O'Boyle told The Guardian. "In order to get an affordable, clean energy system we need both federal and state actors involved."
Energy Innovation asserted in its report that replacing failing coal plants with renewable energy projects could be an immediate boon for local economies.
"Any coal plant failing the cost crossover test should be a wake-up call for policymakers and local stakeholders that an opportunity for productive change exists in the immediate vicinity of that plant," reads the report.
The So-Called Political Divide on #Coal vs. #Renewables Is Fake News @NRDC @LakotaLaw @ienearth https://t.co/a0eEl15UVs— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1551354911.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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