The outlook dimmed for coal in 2010
Some may describe 2010 as a tough year for those of us working to protect clean air, create clean energy jobs, and combat global warming. Some will say that the coal industry still has a headlock on our political system in Washington, evidenced by the Senate’s failure to adopt comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation.
But the reality is that 2010 was a rough year for the coal industry, as dozens of proposed new coal plants were taken off the drawing board and utilities announced the retirement of 12,000 megawatts of old coal plants (enough to power 12 million homes). While federal climate legislation may have stalled in Congress in 2010, that is only part of the story, and misses the fundamental change that is sweeping across America at the state and local level. Cities and states have taken the lead to end coal’s pollution, as well as its stranglehold on the nation’s politics and economy. That has created a huge opening into which clean energy has jumped with record investments.
Organized citizens are shaping the future, step by step, and dismantling the hold coal has enjoyed on our politics for far too long. Americans are bringing about the clean energy future.
2010 by the numbers
- 0 — New coal plants starting construction
- 38 — New coal plants abandoned or defeated
- 48 — Coal plant retirements announced (12,000 megawatts of coal power)
- 256,000 — People spoke out for strong protections from toxic coal ash
- 109,000,000 — Tons of carbon pollution prevented
- $2,600,000,000 — Direct economic benefits from domestic solar installations
The call for clean energy has been especially strong on the more than 50 campuses nationwide where students are organizing to move beyond coal. Just this year the University of North Carolina, University of Illinois, Western Kentucky University, Cornell, and University of Louisville have all made coal-free commitments.
From the mine to the plant to the unregulated ash dump, 2010 took a toll on coal.
Most new mountaintop-removal coal-mining permits are on hold while the Environmental Protection Agency determines if they meet clean-water protection standards. The agency has also recommended a rare veto on one of the largest mines ever proposed, the Spruce mine in West Virginia. The final veto is expected soon.
Any projects hoping to move forward will find it harder to get financing now as more and more banks are joining the growing list of those passing public policies limiting their financial relationships with mountaintop-removal coal operators.
The rush to build new coal plants has slowed to a trickle. What began in 2001 with plans to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants has fizzled. Citizen opposition, rising costs, and increased accountability have stopped 149 of these proposed coal plants. Since October 2008, not a single new coal plant has started construction in the U.S., and the Energy Information Agency now projects that no new coal plants will be built in 2011 without significant incentives.
This same widespread public concern for people’s health and the future of the U.S. economy that stemmed the flow of new coal plants is also behind a new trend: an unprecedented number of utilities are opting to close dirty and outdated existing coal plants.
The nation’s more than 500 existing coal plants are responsible for the bulk of the air pollution that makes it unsafe to breathe in many of our urban areas, and that also contributes to the unnecessary deaths of 24,000 Americans each year. As just one example, in Washington, D.C., this year, there were 32 days when it was unsafe to breathe, mostly during the summer months when kids and families were outside. For those of us who live with loved ones suffering from asthma and other lung ailments, this deadly legacy cannot end soon enough.
Most of the country’s coal plants were built before 1980, and many lack modern pollution controls. As much-needed new rules go into effect that will protect people from the toxic air pollution, soot, smog, and coal ash spewing from these outdated coal plants, the wave of coal-plant retirements is expected to continue.
It’s clear that the way forward for America is in clean, renewable energy, and that’s where an increasing number of utilities, developers, states, and communities are putting their investments.
Congratulations and thanks to all those hard-working Americans fighting for better energy in our nation. This holiday season, let’s celebrate the important progress we have made in 2010 outside of Washington. Here’s to continued victories in 2011 as we move the nation beyond coal and build the clean energy future!