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Renewables Outstrip Coal in the U.S. for the First Time Ever

It's a big milestone for renewable energy, though the victory will likely be short-lived.

by David Gilbert
Jun 26 2019, 12:15pm

For the first time ever, the United States is getting more of its energy from renewable sources of energy than from coal.

In April, power from solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams generated 68.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), released on Tuesday night. In the same period, coal-fired power stations generated just over 60 million kMW hours.

April’s figures mark a record high for clean energy sources, while the amount of power generated by coal is at its lowest point in years. The shift has been facilitated by the rapid expansion of solar and wind farms across the U.S., which is driven by falling capital costs.

A recent study found that in almost three-quarters of cases, producing electricity with wind and solar was cheaper than using coal.

But the victory is likely to be short-lived, given that coal’s low numbers were in part down to routine servicing at power plants across the country, Bloomberg reported. Coal is expected to once again to return to its position as the second-biggest source of electricity, after natural gas, especially as demand increases over the summer.

The Trump administration has sought to reinvigorate the failing coal industry by rolling back environmental regulations, but according to EIA forecasts, the percentage of electricity generated by coal will continue to fall in the coming years, while renewables will surge.

The U.S. is not alone in backing coal: G20 countries are giving the coal industry three times more in subsidies than they did a few years ago, according to a new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

In developing countries like China and India, subsidies prop up state-owned enterprises that provide lots of employment. In Western countries, they are used to keep coal available for when there is a high demand on the network that can’t be met by other sources.

The rise in subsidies comes despite the G20’s decade-old pledge to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Amid dire warnings about the impact that emissions have on the environment, global emissions continue to rise. Coal-fired power was the single biggest contributor to emissions rises in 2018.

Cover: Wind turbines from the Smoky Hills Wind Farm dwarf the Excelsior Lutheran Church Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, near Wilson, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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