Not Your Grandfather’s Economy

Cheap Electrical Power is something we take for granted that, were it otherwise, would drive business and consumer economic incentives in entirely different directions. A major argument from pro-Carbon Dinosaurs (in addition to complete denial about Global Warming and misrepresentation about reliability) is that it’s cheaper.

Not so much anymore.

It’s cheaper to replace most coal plants with renewables than keep them open
by E.A. Crunden, Think Progress
Mar 25, 2019

It would be more expensive to keep the majority of U.S. coal plants open than to replace them with new wind and solar power alternatives, according to new findings published Monday.

Authored by the environmental firm Energy Innovation in partnership with the grid analysis company Vibrant Clean Energy, the research finds that replacing 74 percent of coal plants nationally with wind and solar power would immediately reduce power costs, with wind power in particular at times cutting the cost almost in half. By 2025, the analysis indicates, around 86 percent of coal plants could similarly be at risk of cheaper replacement by renewables.

“We’ve been closely following the cost of wind and solar in the U.S. and globally, and the costs have come down so far that we’re now seeing unprecedented low [costs] for wind and solar,” said Mike O’Boyle, Energy Innovation’s electricity policy director, on a call with reporters.

Trump has worked hard to save U.S. coal, going so far as to advocate for a financial bailout to rescue the dying industry. But data largely suggests that coal’s economic value will continue to plummet, a downturn that comes as wind and solar power are becoming increasingly cheaper and more viable options.

“America has officially entered the ‘coal cost crossover’ – where existing coal is increasingly more expensive than cleaner alternatives,” the report argues.

Using a data set of coal, wind, and solar costs, the report contrasts the cost of generating energy at coal plants against costs associated with potential wind or solar hubs in the nearby area. The report only examines the “local” area — defined as 35 miles from a given coal plant — to determine whether the plant has the potential to be replaced by cheaper renewables within that zone. Restricting the distance to the local area, however, leads the analysis to be more conservative.

“That local analysis is quite constraining,” O’Boyle said, noting that wind and solar grow in number when considering areas farther away from coal plants. The authors indicated that they opted for the local comparison because it offers a greater incentive to communities looking to transition from coal to renewables.

Nonetheless, the findings are stark even on a local level: 211 gigawatts (GW) of existing U.S. coal capacity as of the end of 2017 is at risk from renewable energy alternatives capable of providing the same amount of energy at a cheaper price. Within six years, that number increases to 246 GW, or nearly the entire U.S. fleet.

Some 93 GW of existing U.S. coal capacity, meanwhile, is substantially at risk from new renewable energy sources in 2018, with wind and solar poised to undercut costs by 25 percent. Even as federal renewable energy tax credits phase out, the amount of coal at risk of being replaced by renewables is projected to increase to 140 GW by 2025.

The firms behind the study both support renewable energy and argue in favor of a transition away from fossil fuels. But their analysis builds on existing research showing that the U.S. coal industry is rapidly on the decline. In fact, more coal plants shut down during Trump’s first two years in office than during former President Barack Obama’s entire first term. U.S. coal consumption also dropped to its lowest rate in nearly 40 years in 2018.

That swift decline has come hand in hand with the rise of wind and solar energy, both of which are widely considered far more economically appealing than coal.

“Coal is a dirty and expensive way to generate electricity,” the report observes, going on to note that it is becoming “increasingly uneconomic” when contrasted with new wind and solar opportunities.

Regional opportunities also abound. While the Midwest is likely to be disproportionately impacted by the closure of coal plants within the next five years, the region has ample potential for wind energy, according to the report. There are also abundant solar opportunities in a number of areas, including the sunny Southeast, where almost all coal plants are already substantially at risk.

So there. Good News. Decline in the use of Coal and Petroleum for Power is inevitable, even in the absence of positive Governmental incentives (use for Petro-Chemicals is likely to continue).

Gone the way of Buggy Whips, Coaches, and Farriers (all of which are still available for hobbyists, check Amazon).