Renewable Roundup: Clean energy eclipses coal

  • Published on May 24th, 2020

The targets become ever more tempting as antiquated coal plants age out and become ever more financially ruinous for their owners. Which ones are they working on where you are? Are we having fun yet?

300 dirty coal plants shut down in 10 years
And that was in early January — now we’re up to 304 coal plant retirements in the past 10 years. Screenshot of Sierra Club #300 video

The coronavirus has pushed the coal industry to once-unthinkable lows, and the consequences for climate change are big.

WASHINGTON — The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change.

It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants.

Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led electric utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40 percent in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80 percent. And the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.

Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet.

Enjoy the links. I am going to look at some targets for action, below.

List of largest power stations in the United States

As of 2020 the largest power generating facility is the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. The facility generates power by utilizing 27 Francis turbines and 6 pump-generators, totalling the installed capacity to 6,809 MW. The largest power generating facility under construction is the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Wyoming, which will generate 2,500-3,000 MW when completed in 2026.[1]

We have data on every single one of them. It is not news that coal-fired plants put out CO2 and numerous pollutants directly hazardous to the health of man (etc.) and beast. It is not news that coal ash is a huge problem. Bet you didn’t know how huge, though.

For example,

W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station — Ashtracker

W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station has 61 groundwater monitoring wells, 59 of which have been polluted above federal advisory levels based on samples collected between May 24, 2010 and October 10, 2017. Groundwater at this site contains unsafe levels of sulfatemanganesestrontiumfluoridearsenicboronmolybdenumchromiumcobaltselenium and barium.

The plant began operations in 1977 and currently operates four coal-fired units and four natural gas-fired units.This facility is among the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of potential damage cases, indicating that it has potentially polluted groundwater or surface water at levels which threaten human health and the environment. Plant W.A. Parish operates three coal ash disposal units: Unit 001, Unit 020 and Unit 021. You can find the industry reported data here.

For more information on the W.A. Parish Generating Station, see EIP’s reports, Risky BusinessGroundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps and EIP’s 2019 National Coal Ash Report Coal’s Poisonous Legacy.

For more information about Texas Coal Ash, see Earthjustice’s fact sheet, Texas and Coal Ash Disposal in Ponds and Landfills.

From their home page:

Ashtracker provides public access to industry-reported data from state and company records about groundwater contamination at coal ash dumps. Coal ash, a toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants, is one of the largest industrial waste streams in the United States. Each year, coal plants generate over 100 million tons of ash, most of which is dumped into landfills and ponds that are often unlined. Pollutants in the ash frequently leak into groundwater and nearby waterways, and some of these contaminants (such as arsenic and mercury) can cause cancer, neurological damage, and other health problems.

Although groundwater contamination from coal ash is widespread, groundwater quality data can be hard to find. Ashtracker makes it easy to find this information by summarizing and visualizing actual groundwater monitoring results at each site and providing access to analysis-ready data downloads. Use the map and list of recently updated sites below to start exploring groundwater quality at coal ash dumps. Our groundwater quality database dates back to 2010, and it will continue to expand as we process new information for each site. You can also subscribe for data updates to stay on top of new developments.

Ashtracker currently tracks groundwater at 27,369 monitoring wells distributed among 301 sites across the country. 18 percent of wells have been contaminated above safe levels.

We can actually do this world-wide now. We can track coal plumes from space, and we have increasing ground data, even from the most recalcitrant governments.

About the Author

Generalist BA, Math and Philosophy Peace Corps, South Korea Buddhist monastic training High-tech market analyst Tech Writer Serial NGO Founder Education for a billion children End poverty at a profit

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