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Coal Retirements Accelerate; New Renewables Development Outstrips All Else

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These continue to be good times for a renewable energy sector on an unstoppable upward glide path – and the remarkable growth we’re seeing in the green energy sector is coming right out of the pockets of dirty energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy Information Administration.

For starters, EIA reports that solar, natural gas, and wind made up almost all of the new generation additions in 2016. In fact, of the 26 gigawatts in new electric generating facilities to be added in 2016, the largest chunk, 9.5 GW, would come from solar, followed by gas at 8 GW and wind at 6.8 GW. Adds EIA: “If actual additions ultimately reflect theses plans, 2016 will be the first year in which utility-scale solar additions exceed additions from any other single energy source.” It’s clearer now than ever that solar is right on track to assume its position as the nation’s leading future electricity power source.

Not so much for coal. EIA also reports that coal made up more than 80 percent of retired electrical generating capacity in 2015: “Nearly 18 GW of electric generating capacity was retired in 2015, a relatively high amount compared with recent years,” EIA reports. “More than 80 percent of the retired capacity was conventional steam coal. Coal’s share of electricity generation has been falling, largely because of competition with natural gas. Environmental regulations affecting power plants have also played a role. About 30 percent of the coal capacity that retired in 2015 occurred in April, which is when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule went into effect.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s Office of Energy Projects Energy Infrastructure Update for January 2016 reveals that all new electricity capacity installed in January 2016 came from wind (468 megawatts) and solar (145 MW). Period. No new generation capacity from coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower, or other resources. In January 2015, it was wind at 742 MW, solar at 212 MW, and natural gas at 121 MW. The nation’s total installed generating capacity continues to go very green: Natural gas has the largest percentage of total generation at 42.8 percent, followed by coal at a shrinking 26 percent. Wind has grown to 6.4 percent and is about to overtake hydroelectric, which is currently at 8.5 percent of the nation’s electricity portfolio, sometime in 2017.

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