It’s Thursday, February 2, and it’s getting even harder to justify the U.S.’s fleet of coal plants.

Wind turbines are silhouetted against the sky at sunset

Continuing to run the United States’ 210 coal-fired power plants isn’t just bad for the climate; it’s uneconomical. According to an analysis released this week by the energy and climate policy think tank Energy Innovation, it is now so expensive to keep 99 percent of the country’s coal-fired power plants online that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with new wind and solar operations.

“[I]t is clear switching to renewables saves significant money,” Energy Innovation said in a blog post.

The chasm between the costs of coal and renewables has been widening for years. Thanks to improving technology and policies to encourage their adoption, global solar projects got 89 percent cheaper between 2010 and 2019. But in the U.S. it’s the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal tax credits included in President Joe Biden’s landmark climate spending bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, that Energy Innovation says have made the economic case for replacing coal with clean energy “unequivocal.”

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All but one of the country’s coal-fired power plants are more expensive to run than to replace with new wind and solar, Energy Innovation said. The think tank’s analysis also suggested that all but five could be replaced with more cost-effective renewable options sited within a 28-mile radius. For the local option, the savings of a coal-to-renewable transition would be so great that they could finance the installation of 137 gigawatts of four-hour battery storage, allowing renewable energy to be deployed when there’s no sun or wind.

These dynamics are expected to accelerate the ongoing decline of U.S. coal power, which already generates 52 percent less electricity than it did in 2010. Nearly one-fourth of the country’s remaining coal-fired fleet is already scheduled to be retired by 2029.

To further facilitate the transition away from coal, Energy Innovation urges state-level regulators to reassess utility investment plans that were completed before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — since older plans’ renewable energy cost estimates are now outdated. To ensure a just transition for communities and coal workers, the group also recommends that state legislatures and energy agencies prioritize local renewable energy projects that create jobs and tax revenue.

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