Replacing Coal Plants with Renewables Is Cheaper 80% of the Time

Money time quality triangle with money in red

A new report shows that the economics may not even support running U.S. coal plants, let alone building them.

May 31, 2021
Leslie Kaufman - Bloomberg

About 80% of U.S. coal plants are now more expensive to keep running than to swap out for new wind and solar capacity, according to a report from Energy Innovation, a non-partisan climate and energy think tank.

While renewables cost more than fossil energy for much of the last century, prices for new wind and solar have dropped so quickly in recent years that they were already cheaper than new coal. This report shows that the price differential holds true for a growing amount of existing coal, as well. “This is becoming true for more and more plants moving forward—and at an accelerating pace,” said Eric Gimon, a senior fellow with Energy Innovation and a co-author of the report.

Coal has been steadily declining as a fixture of the U.S. energy mix for more than a decade due to combined pressure from activists and market forces. The Sierra Club, which runs the Beyond Coal campaign aimed at eliminating coal power in the U.S., says that 339 plants have either been retired or are on their way to retirement since 2010, leaving just 191 still operating indefinitely. (Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has committed $500 million to launch Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-powered plants in the U.S. by 2030 and slowing the construction of new gas plants.)



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