2013: A Landmark Year For Clean Energy; Twilight for Coal
As you reflect on your year, remember 2013 as a momentous year for clean energy. Solar and wind generation hit record highs, prices plummeted, and wind and solar took on increased market share from coal. Installation of renewable energy capacity outpaced coal, oil, and nuclear growth combined. The coal industry saw numerous setbacks, and nationwide thirty percent of existing coal plants in the United States are now announced to retire -- 158 plants, representing over 20 percent of the nation’s coal power. Not a single coal plant has broken ground over the past three years. Not bad for just 365 days.
This is great news for Americans: "Thanks to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, American citizens will breathe cleaner, healthier air this holiday season," said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies which has committed $50 million to the campaign. "Coal use is down in almost every region of the country, and carbon pollution is at its lowest level in almost two decades. We have a lot to celebrate - and a lot more work still to do."
A growing movement
With an overarching goal to move America off coal and slash carbon pollution no later than 2030, an unprecedented coalition including Sierra Club and more than a hundred local, regional and national organizations has helped to secure a record number of coal plant retirements. The campaign now includes legal and grassroots fights to transition to cleaner and more modern sources of power in more than forty states and has grown to become one of the largest and broadest grassroots environmental campaigns in the nation's history. This year, more than 2,000 activists nationwide showed up to Environmental Protection Agency hearings to protect the public from carbon pollution, and more than 10,000 showed up to oppose coal exports out of the Pacific Northwest. And over 200,000 people submitted comments to curb coal pollution and invest in clean energy.
Moving beyond coal
The year saw 39 existing coal plants retired or announced to retire (total 22,164MW), an average of three coal plants per month. American Electric Power announced this year that it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma, having decided to increase its wind investment threefold after seeing how affordable wind power had become. AEP added that the increase in wind "would provide substantial savings to our customers."
Additionally, 2013 was the year that leading investors like Warren Buffett publicly announced that coal will decline in importance. Last week, his utility MidAmerican ordered $1 billion worth of wind turbines for Iowa, where wind is the cheapest source of power. MidAmerican's CEO Bill Fehrman announced at their launch event that "wind power provides a hedge for our customers going forward in an era of reduced coal generation."
In 2013, one of the biggest steps forward was the large-scale withdrawal of public support for new coal fired power plants overseas. First, President Obama's Climate Action Plan announced an end to financing new coal power plants abroad, which was echoed by five Nordic countries, the UK and large multilateral development banks like the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the ERBD and the US Ex-Im Bank.
Beyond Coal 2013 - By The Numbers
- 2 proposals for new coal export facilities defeated in the Pacific Northwest and 3 defeated on the Gulf Coast
- 10 proposed coal plants abandoned or defeated
- 39 coal plants retired or announced to retire this year, with a grand total of 158 coal plants announced for retirement since January 2010
- 3 out of ten coal plants in the country now slated to retire, representing 19% of all coal capacity in operation in 2010
- 60% drop in the cost of solar panels over the past three years
- 30% drop in the cost of wind power over the past three years
- 2,485 megawatts of solar power installed as of September 2013 -- bringing the total amount of solar operating in the U.S. to 10,250 megawatts -- enough to power 1.6 million homes.
- 60.5% record-setting percentage of energy generation from wind in Colorado in May. In total there are now 60,000 megawatts of wind power operating in the U.S. -- enough to power 17.7 million homes.
- 19 million homes – can currently be powered by the amount of solar and wind generated in the U.S.
- 100,000 workers currently employed by the solar industry in 2012
- 39% of overall electricity generation provided by coal through September 2012, a historic decline from 50 percent less than five years ago
- 200,000 comments submitted to curb coal pollution and invest in clean energy.
- 13,000 people attended coal export hearings in Washington and Oregon over the past 18 months -- with a solid majority of them opposed to the new coal export terminals.
- Overseas, 7 countries and 4 international financial institution all adopted coal bans
So, as you sit down to make your new year resolutions, commit to helping make 2014 an even bigger year for clean energy. If 2013 has taught us anything, it's that people have the power to stand up to say no to dirty, dangerous fossil fuels and yes to powering their homes and lives with modern, clean technologies that also create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Together, let's make 2014 the year that America moved beyond coal -- cheers to that!