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article imageCoal-fired power plants losing ground in favor of LNG, renewables

By Karen Graham     Feb 8, 2017 in Business
While President Trump has vowed to put America's coal miners back to work and in effect, bring a dirty fossil fuel back, our country's coal-fired power plants have moved on, being replaced by cleaner natural gas and other renewables for electricity.
With natural gas and renewable energy sources making up nearly half of all electricity production in the nation in 2016, up from 38 percent in 2011. Coal has lagged behind at 30 percent, the lowest it has been in 70 years when officials started keeping records.
Not only that, but based on a report published on Wednesday in the 2017 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, greenhouse gasses plunged to a 25-year low in 2016, on track to meet or even exceed the emissions reduction targets set by former President Barack Obama.
Wind power - This may be the future for Southeastern U.S.
Wind power - This may be the future for Southeastern U.S.
Avangrid Renewables
The factbook compiles energy and climate data, along with other statistics, from government agencies and industry groups in the United States. Colleen Regan, the head of North America power and environmental markets at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) points out that we are building natural gas plants and other renewables, and at the same time, retiring coal-fired power plants.
Regan also points out that this latest report is not a one-year or one-shot issue. It is evidence that has been adding up over a number of years in a row. Renewable energy is a prominent part (22 percent) of the U.S. 2016 power fleet, with 244GW installed capacity across the country, an 83 percent increase over 2007 levels. "These aren't one-off records or years," she added. "It's a larger structural change in the U.S. economy."
The EIA's short-term energy outlook
The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), quite often is quoted in regard to energy statistics in the nation. In the February short-term energy outlook report, the EIA states: U.S. coal production is estimated to have declined by 158 million short tons (MMst) (18%) in 2016, to 739 MMst, which would be the lowest level since 1978." The report then says that coal-fired electricity generation in 2017 is expected to contribute to a 3.0 percent increase in coal production. They add that coal production will see an additional increase of 1.0 percent in 2018.
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EIA
After seeing a decline of 1.6 percent in 2016, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are now projected to increase by 0.3 percent in 2017 and by 1.4 percent in 2018. But we need to remember that energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in the weather, economic growth, and energy prices.
The future of coal-fired power plants
At the end of January, Digital Journal reported on the possible closure of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), located on the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona. NGS is the country's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses by coal-fired power plants in the nation.
At the end of 2015, according to the EIA, there were 427 coal-fired power plants across the U.S. producing electricity, out of a total of 7,658 power plants. And with the lower costs and cleaner technologies associated with natural gas and other renewables, it makes sense that using coal as a source to generate electrical power is becoming a thing of the past.
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EIA
"It makes a lot of sense that utilities plan longer-term investments at the lowest-cost options that they have available, and [natural gas and renewables] are the two evident ones in the U.S.," said Tim Boersma, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, according to Mashable.
And Mashable points out that the age of many coal-fired power plants, along with the costs of meeting tougher pollution standards forced the closing down of 7,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity capacity in 2016, alone. A record 15,000 MW were retired in 2015.
So it makes no sense to believe President Trump's promise to coal miners that they will be put back to work because energy analysts say the trend away from coal is going to continue for years to come. "The power sector is in the midst of a pretty historic shift away from coal," said Rachel Cleetus, a lead economist and climate policy manager for Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.
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