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80% Of U.S. Coal Plants Are Uneconomic As Renewables Costs Drop

As much as 80 percent of the coal-fired power plants in the United States are already uneconomic compared to new wind and solar projects, energy and climate policy think tank Energy Innovation said in new research this week.

The combined costs for fuel, maintenance, and other costs at most operating coal power plants in the U.S are higher than the all-in costs of new solar and wind projects because of the cost declines of wind and solar generation, Energy Innovation said.

The think tank’s report, The Coal Cost Crossover 2.0, compares the economics of each U.S. coal-fired power plant against the expected economics of potential new wind and solar plants nearby, using publicly available data.

“Out of the 235 plants in the U.S. coal fleet, 182 plants, or 80 percent, are uneconomic or already retiring,” Energy Innovation said.

The key findings of the report show that of existing U.S. coal capacity, 72 percent is either more costly to operate than new nearby wind and solar or is slated to retire by 2025. Of the existing U.S. coal-fired plants, 80 percent are more costly to operate than new nearby wind and solar plants or are slated to retire by 2025.

Coal-fired power generation has been on a decline for a decade, as cheap natural gas from the U.S. shale plays first started competing with coal for power plants, and then falling wind and solar costs started to make new renewable energy projects more competitive than coal.  

Renewables—mostly solar and wind—are set to account for more than two-thirds of the new electricity generation capacity that the United States will install in 2021, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a forecast early this year.

At the same time, due to higher natural gas production and increased natural gas-powered generation, coal-fired electricity generation capacity continues to retire in the United States. 

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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  • Peter Burrows on May 10 2021 said:
    I notice that India and China continue to build coal-powered plants. I wonder why that is. They probably suffer from too much "white math," or some such nonsense.
  • Suqi Madiqi on May 06 2021 said:
    Due to wind and solar's intermittency, these types of energy transducers must be backed by steady energy transducers like fossil fuels or nuclear. Ergo, how can wind and solar be cheaper, in the real world, when they need a back up system?
  • steve Sinclair on May 05 2021 said:
    I don't believe that for a second.... Wind and solar cannot produce 24/7 for a start.

    How about a comparison on actual production of energy.

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