US renewable energy farms outstrip 99% of coal plants economically – study

A solar power farm in San Antonio, Texas. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Coal in the US is now being economically outmatched by renewables to such an extent that it’s more expensive for 99% of the country’s coal-fired power plants to keep running than it is to build an entirely new solar or wind energy operation nearby, a new analysis has found.

The plummeting cost of renewable energy, which has been supercharged by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, means that it is cheaper to build an array of solar panels or a cluster of new wind turbines and connect them to the grid than it is to keep operating all of the 210 coal plants in the contiguous US, bar one, according to the study.

“Coal is unequivocally more expensive than wind and solar resources, it’s just no longer cost competitive with renewables,” said Michelle Solomon, a policy analyst at Energy Innovation, which undertook the analysis. “This report certainly challenges the narrative that coal is here to stay.”

The new analysis, conducted in the wake of the $370bn in tax credits and other support for clean energy passed by Democrats in last summer’s Inflation Reduction Act, compared the fuel, running and maintenance cost of America’s coal fleet with the building of new solar or wind from scratch in the same utility region.

On average, the marginal cost for the coal plants is $36 each megawatt hour, while new solar is about $24 each megawatt hour, or about a third cheaper. Only one coal plant – Dry Fork in Wyoming – is cost competitive with the new renewables. “It was a bit surprising to find this,” said Solomon. “It shows that not only have renewables dropped in cost, the Inflation Reduction Act is accelerating this trend.” 01-30-23

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