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An update on Coal’s Decline

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Whatever you want to call the coalition of folks working to get our country off of coal–committed activists, radical environmentalists, or just smart people worried about the future–these folks have been working hard, for years, to end our reliance on coal powered electricity generation.

The country has of course benefited from our coal development. But knowing what we know, the great problem of epistemology, it is irresponsible to continue burning coal: it is toxic to our planet’s air, water, and the health of everything that relies on air and water.

So how are these efforts going? Recently, the retirement of two Chicago coal-fired plants was announced, a major win in a decades long fight. This victory has prompted a bit of self-evaluation in the crusade to get our electricity freed from coal.

Clean Technica has an update on how the movement is coming.

A confluence of factors is making it very difficult for owners of coal plants — particularly old coal plants — to compete. A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.

So just how much of an impact have these factors had on coal closures? Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign sent along these numbers:


  • 106 coal plants, 319 units
  • 42,895 MW (13% of fleet)
  • 150 million MWh (8% of fleet)
  • 162 million tons/year of CO2 (9% of fleet)
  • 921,417 tons/year of SO2 (16% of fleet)
  • Average age: 55 years old
  • (For plants with available data – Data from Clean Air Task Force): 2,042 pre-mature deaths, 3,229 heart attacks and 33,053 asthma attacks prevented each year (about 15% of total health impacts from fleet).  All together these plants retiring will save about $15.6 billion in health care costs.

This is no way to imply that the effort on behalf of climate change is winning. As producers are moving away from coal in some parts of the country, plans for new coal plants (“clean coal”) are progressing. And much of this generation is being replaced with natural gas, which has its own questions.

But it is important to take a step back from time to time and acknowledge that despite what the big political stories of the day might be, progress is being made.


Written by Christopher ZF

March 7, 2012 at 10:46

Order 1000 voted on by FERC, didn’t you hear?

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Here’s some encouraging news you probably didn’t hear about. The FERC passed order 1000 yesterday, amending and reforming cost allocation methodology for interstate and regional transmission build-out.

Didn’t you hear? Probably not, unless you are a part of the energy and electricity world. Well, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a ruling yesterday that provides a big boost to potential renewable energy development in the United States.

TRC will avoid the technical details, which are essentially everything, but broadly speaking, the rule’s purpose is to create regional guidelines and cost-allocation methods for future build-out of the electrical transmission system. By requiring utilities and transmission providers to consider regional planning processes, as well as state and federal public policy requirements (i.e. renewable portfolio standards), the ruling aims, very obviously, to encourage renewable energy development. Which is a positive result, since adding  megawatts of renewable energy to the grid displaces megawatts of fossil fuels, no matter what the junk science out there says.

The electrical grid in this nation is very old, poorly connected, and maxed out on dirty electrons, making wind and solar development more and more difficult every passing year. Our grid is in a bottle neck: there are great quantities of renewable energy waiting to be developed but no way to send that energy anywhere.

The local nature of the electricity system in the US simply does not work in the 21st century. Occasional piecemeal build-outs needed to support old generators connected to old substations connected to old transmission lines connected to old distribution lines should be the way of the past.

Now, with FERC’s  interstate, regional transmission guidelines and an outline for how those interstate lines should be paid for, new renewable development will (siting and permitting problems not withstanding) be capable of bringing green electrons from the renewable energy zones of rural America to the load centers of urban America.  That is what new transmission should be for. Period. Hopefully the nations utilities and transmission providers comply.

Want to learn more about our electrical grid? Here is a fun map. And here. And here is a good primer.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 22, 2011 at 14:28