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.
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 America, bar one, according to a new 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 report noted that, 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.
Solomon acknowledges that it's not possible to immediately close down all the country's planet-harming coal plants “but we need to accelerate the buildout of wind and solar so that when the time comes we can wean ourselves off coal." The report points out that there is a huge opportunity to invest in coal communities, build local economic resilience and, crucially, save money in the process.
Coal, which is a heavily carbon-intensive fuel, is currently responsible for 60 percent of planet-heating emissions from electricity generation.