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October 08, 2013

Coal by Numbers

Great news: In the past three years, 150 coal-fired power plants either have been retired or have announced a retirement date. Plant number 150 was Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. Like lots of people, I enjoy tracking things by the numbers. If you have a quantifiable goal, reaching a big round number is a good time to reflect both on how far you've come (and still have to go).

For the Sierra Club and our local, regional, and national allies, reaching this milestone of 150 coal plants means that we're further along in our campaign to get America completely off coal-fired power by the year 2030 than almost anyone believed possible just a few years ago. To put it in perspective, just three years into a 20-year campaign, we've already secured the retirement of nearly 30 percent of the nation's coal-fired power plants.

The most important numbers, though, don't tally the number of coal plants retired. They tell us how our world will change simply by not burning coal. Much of that change can be measured by what won't occur. With 150 fewer coal plants, 4,000 Americans won't die as a result of coal pollution each year. More than 6,300 heart attacks and 66,600 asthma attacks will never happen. Americans won't have to pay $1.9 billion in annual health costs. As for the personal suffering and heartbreak that those 150 plants will no longer cause -- I don't think there's even a number for that.

Something we can measure, though, is the positive change to our nation's energy future. As we've retired 60,493 megawatts of coal power, we've also added more than 32,800 megawatts of clean energy like wind and solar -- enough to power the equivalent of 9 million American homes.  Across the country, this growth in clean energy is creating local jobs -- nearly 200,000 so far -- while providing clean, affordable energy and dramatically reducing the carbon pollution that threatens our climate.

As far as we've come, though, and as much as we've accomplished, I'm even more excited about the future beyond coal plant number 150. The transition from coal is gaining momentum for several reasons. First, the grassroots movement that is the heart of the Beyond Coal campaign is gaining strength and diversity as entire communities realize they can cast off the curse of coal. Second, the steadily falling cost of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar has made it even easier to replace coal with clean, non-polluting power. And last but not least, the long-overdue regulation of carbon pollution from old, out-of-date coal-fired power plants is going to tilt the energy economics even more decisively toward cleaner sources.

The Beyond Coal campaign could never have reached this milestone so quickly without the hard work and passionate dedication of many, many people -- all of whom deserve to feel proud about what we've accomplished together -- and even prouder about the great things we're going to do next. You can count on it.

 

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