U.S. Coal Plants are now more expensive than renewables

Coal Power Plants Less Economically Feasible Compared to Renewables. Image T20

Coal Power Plants Less Economically Feasible Compared to Renewables. Image T20

U.S. Coal Plants More Expensive than Renewables

According to a new report, building new renewable energy capacity is cheaper than continuing to operate any coal plant in the USA.

Image of a coal plant. U.S. Coal Plants are now more expensive than renewables
U.S. Coal Plants are now more expensive than renewables. Image: T20

More than 99% of the remaining coal-fired power plants in the US now cost more to operate than it would cost to replace them with new renewable energy.

The report shows that the plummeting cost of renewable energy, which the Inflation Reduction Act has further accelerated, makes it cheaper to build solar panels or a cluster of wind turbines and connect them to the grid than to continue operating all of the coal plants in the US, except one.

Most coal plants in the US are deteriorating and getting more costly to keep operational, while much cheaper natural gas has become a preferred energy source. Despite a 55-year low in coal production in 2020, the industry saw fleeting signs of recovery following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which drove up the price of energy globally and prompted countries to find alternatives to Russian gas.

Because of this, coal is unlikely to completely disappear in the immediate future as many utilities remain deeply invested in the fuel source. Renewable infrastructure, such as energy generation, new transmission lines, and storage to cope with intermittent delivery, is not yet robust enough to cause coal to be shut down in mass, but the end is near. The era of coal appears to be over, a sentiment backed by last year’s climate spending.

Harvard University economist James Stock says coal is no longer economically competitive. In speaking to the Guardian newspaper, he said: 

“We can’t shutter all these plants tomorrow, we need to do it in an orderly fashion to support grid reliability but we should be able to do it in fairly fast order,” he said. “Coal has been on a natural decline due to economics and those economics are going to continue, this is a transition that’s just going to happen.”

“We built a lot of coal plants in the US around 50 years ago because we were worried about energy security in the world. That made sense at the time and they made an important contribution. But we know a lot more now about climate change, so now we need to make different decisions.”

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