Renewables Surge While Coal Power Fizzles

Locally Produced Clean Power Is on Its Way

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This year, for the first time, renewable sources of energy will provide more electricity than coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA is predicting that total electric generation will fall by 5 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even more surprising, this year, electricity from coal generation will drop by a whopping 25 percent, while electricity produced from renewables is expected to grow by 11 percent. This will make renewable current the fastest-growing source of electric power in 2020.

Despite the White House’s efforts to shore up the coal industry, it is shrinking rapidly. In 2014, a mere six years ago, it produced 40 percent of total electricity in the U.S. Last year, it declined to 24 percent of the total and is projected to account for only 19 percent this year. Coal is becoming less profitable every year as wind and solar power generation get progressively cheaper. 


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An article in the New York Times reporting on this trend cited the closing of over 200 coal-fired power plants during the past decade, or more than a third of all such plants in the U.S. Another 40 have announced that they will close or reduce output in the next five years. For comparison, over this same period, the cost of electricity from harnessing the sun declined by more than 80 percent. Apparently, the ongoing pandemic is accelerating coal’s decline but not affecting renewables’ steady gain in market share.

There is much speculation about how the economy is going to be reconfigured as it reemerges from weeks of shutdown. With carbon dioxide emissions expected to decline by 11 percent this year, according to the EIA, our air is getting cleaner. 

Improvement in air quality will continue locally, as the County of Santa Barbara opted in 2019 to join the Monterey Bay Community Power program. This community choice energy program offers green energy choices to communities from Santa Cruz down the coast to S.B. County. Offerings of 100 percent renewable power at affordable and competitive prices will be available to all residents and businesses in S.B. County beginning next year. This program will be a factor in reshaping our local economy. It is expected to reduce the cost of electric vehicles, develop renewable energy microgrids (for greater reliability), encourage the building of local solar projects, and increase energy efficiency, all while keeping a lot of the jobs and profits local.


At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.

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