Solar and Wind are Now Cheaper than Most of America’s Coal

A new report from the non-partisan renewables analysis group Energy Innovation demonstrates that in the vast majority of places in the US, solar and wind costs are now cheaper than coal mining operations.

Dubbing this moment the “coal cost crossover”, the report says that we have reached a point in America’s energy landscape where the decline in renewables pricing has made the combined future costs of existing coal-fired power plants more expensive than the all-in costs of renewable energy generation.

In fact, the reports findings show that 74 percent of America’s coal-producing plants are producing energy that costs more than wind or solar firms in their same region.

The group partnered with software company Vibrant Clean Energy to pool and scrutinize datasets on coal, wind and solar costs. They ensured that their costs analyses were conservative by restricting their cost comparisons to local areas within a 35-mile radius, ensuring that coal was not being compared to solar power from several states over. The findings demonstrate that, as of right now, the vast majority of coal plants in the US are producing electricity that is more costly than wind and solar-generated electricity.

This became even clearer when the researchers looked at projections for future costs. They believe that by 2025 wind and solar energy will out-compete nearly the entire US coal industry at some 86 percent or more. This even holds true when the analysis factored in costs like new wind turbines and solar farms.

The report readily acknowledges that such like for like comparisons do not necessarily translate into real world “swaps”. There are several logistical issues that may stand in the way of replacing coal with wind and solar.

They also point out that the crossover point is just one consideration in shutting down coal plants, something that can often hinge on other economic factors. For example, many states have made coal plants part of their budgeting, so nixing them comes with broader workforce management and other economic considerations.

However, the researchers believe these findings demonstrate that the changeover from coal to renewables could go ahead earlier than many in the energy sector have anticipated, because more and more coal plants are now failing the coal crossover test.

“Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,” Mike O’Boyle, co-author of the report, told the Guardian. “Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace. 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. There is a huge potential for wind and solar to replace coal, while saving people money.”

This should come as no surprise to most people with even a cursory knowledge of the energy sector. Outside of the United States, governments in many nations are divesting from fossil fuels, and even nations like the UK, where heavily-criticized local governments still flirt with the industry, they do so under fierce scrutiny.

Domestically, even key players in the US coal industry have acknowledged that coal’s days may be numbered. Vistra Energy Corp.’s Chief Executive Officer Curtis Morgan said in a recent panel discussion that, “Coal is on its way out,” and that, “More and more plants are being retired.”

This opinion is reflected in utility infrastructure spending, too. While utility companies have fought the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, they have at the same time quietly shunned building more coal plants, instead looking to clean energy.

And yet, the Trump administration continues to ape its “energy dominance” effort, with President Trump continuing to curtail the EPA’s powers to enforce emissions standards while the government subsidizes the coal industry. The administration claims it has reinvigorated the industry, but while it has added some jobs in the coal sector, coal’s downward spiral has continued.

Coal’s days are numbered, but apparently the Trump administration doesn’t care.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

49 comments

Louise A
Louise A14 days ago

Thank you

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Lesa D
Lesa D15 days ago

thank you Steve...

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Beryl L
Beryl L15 days ago

Alec C. Great idea to dump Trump and his cohorts down a mineshaft

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Beryl L
Beryl L15 days ago

Stop using coal and use wind power instead

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Pat P
Pat P17 days ago

Coal should be gone from America! It produces immensely filthy pollution.

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Lorraine A
Lorraine A18 days ago

I for one would be glad to see the end of coal. People don't need to dying of black lung when we have so many healthier and cleaner alternatives.

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Frances G
Carla G18 days ago

thank you for sharing

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Sue H
Sue H19 days ago

They may be cheaper but according to a Care2 article that I read today, the United States is still a top contributor of pollution. We need to get our city and state officials to Embrace alternative energy.

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Karin Hanson
Karin Hanson20 days ago

Exactly what the country and the entire earth needs.... more clean, efficient energy sources to protect our environment as well as saving coal miners from the disasters of the mining industry.

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Debbi W
Debbi W20 days ago

The coal industry must be shut down. It's filthy and means death to the miners. Solar and wind are renewable and safe, and no one dies working in those industries.

I love Alea's idea.

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