New Wind and Solar Power Is Cheaper Than Existing Coal in Much of the U.S., Analysis Finds

Not a single coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River will be able to compete on price with new wind and solar power by 2025, according to a new report by energy analysts.

The same is true for every coal plant in a swath of the South that includes the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They’re part of the 86 percent of coal plants nationwide that are projected to be on the losing end of this cost comparison, the analysis found.

The findings are part of a report issued Monday by Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy that shows where the shifting economics of electricity generation may force utilities and regulators to ask difficult questions about what to do with assets that are losing their value.

The report takes a point that has been well-established by other studies—that coal power, in addition to contributing to air pollution and climate change, is often a money-loser—and shows how it applies at the state level and plant level when compared with local wind and solar power capacity.

“My big takeaway is the breadth and universality of this trend across the continental U.S. and the speed with which things are changing,” said Mike O’Boyle, a co-author of the report and director of energy policy for Energy Innovation, a research firm focused on clean energy.

The report is not saying that all of those coal plants could or should be immediately replaced by renewable sources. That kind of transition requires careful planning to make sure that the electricity system has the resources it needs. It also doesn’t consider the role of competition from natural gas.

The key point is a simpler one: Building new wind and solar power capacity locally, defined as within 35 miles for the report, is often less expensive than people in those markets realize, and this is indicative of a price trend that is making coal less competitive.

This shift shows how market forces are helping the country move away from fossil fuels. At the same time, coal interests have been trying to obscure or cast doubt on this trend, while seeking more government subsidies to slow their industry’s decline. 03-25-19

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