Republican rhetoric about the Obama administration’s alleged ‘war on coal’ has been heated, and frequently repeated over the past eight years—but it’s wrong. The only war against coal is being waged by market forces, in the form of plentiful and cheap natural gas, low or stagnant electric demand growth, cleaner and ever-cheaper solar and wind, and finally being forced to pay the bill for years of environmental neglect. And the market forces—those same brutally efficient and unemotional market forces that Republicans so cherish in the abstract—are winning.
The Energy Information Administration reported earlier this month that more than 80 percent of the almost 18,000 megawatts of generating capacity retired in 2015 was coal-fired. At first blush (and certainly for the conspiracy-minded) that sounds implausible. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a much different story.
All told, 94 coal-fired units were retired in 2015, and as a group they were much smaller and older than the rest of the coal fleet. Specifically, EIA says the average age of the units retired in 2015 was 54, compared to 38 years for the plants still in operation. Similarly, the retired plants had an average net summer capacity of 133 MW, compared to 278 MW for the remaining coal fleet.
The EIA graphic below does a great job of visualizing the disparity between the two classes of plants.
Continue reading Economics, Not Politics
Is The Real Problem
For U.S. Coal-Fired Fleet
Congressional Republican leaders and a number of GOP governors have marched virtually in lockstep for the past seven years in the opposite direction of President Obama’s environmental proposals, particularly regarding the development of emissions-free wind and solar power and initiatives to address climate change. It is now embarrassingly obvious that they are marching to a tune that only they can hear, and that virtually no one else, not even most of their own party, is following along.
A fascinating poll (which can be found here) released last month shows conclusively that the vast majority of Republicans nationwide (see chart below) support government action to spur the development of clean energy sources, policies that by definition would cut emissions and help address climate change concerns. Unfortunately, in the current congressional climate those very same views could get a Republican congressman run out of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives by the give no-quarter Freedom Caucus if its members weren’t otherwise preoccupied with shutting down the whole chamber. Specifically, the poll found that a whopping 72 percent of Republicans said they supported taking steps to spur the development of clean energy. Even among self-described conservative Republicans, 68 percent supported clean energy. In addition, the poll found that most Republicans, even the self-identified conservative Republicans, said the climate was changing and that human activity is at least partially responsible.
Continue reading Republican Leaders
Badly Out Of Step
With Party Regulars
Resources for the Future released some interesting global warming polling data last week that should be required reading for energy and environmental policy wonks nationwide.
Not surprisingly, the data, collected in January in partnership with Stanford University and the New York Times, shows strong public support for tackling the issue. Not surprising because, to be honest, if the results didn’t show such support they likely never would have been released. But also, for anyone that has been paying attention, the latest results are not surprising because the public has backed action on climate change in poll after poll for years.
What is far more interesting are some of the details and trends apparent in the latest data. But before we delve into those details, a note or two about polls: They are, to be sure, a fascinating means of getting a snapshot view on a given issue, but the results should never be taken as the Gospel truth. Indeed, just like the energy forecasts I caution about (see here for more on that), they should be interpreted cautiously.
Still, it is worth taking a closer look at a couple of the results from the latest RFF polling.
Continue reading Public Is Way Ahead
Of Congressionial GOP
On Climate Change,
RFF Polling Shows
What a difference a few years can make: In 2008 there were 22 megawatts of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generating capacity in the U.S., today that number has jumped to more than 8,100 MW—and more is on the way.
There are a number of reasons behind this growth—including significant declines in PV module prices and the long-term enactment in 2006 of an investment tax credit for solar installations—but perhaps most important was the financing push provided by the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office. Yes, that is the same office bashed repeatedly by Republicans in Congress and the conservative media for gross mismanagement and “crony capitalism” (whatever that really means).
But the reality is, the loan office works, and works well.
Continue reading DOE Loan Office
Played Pivotal Role
Launching Utility PV
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the newly installed Senate majority leader, is fond of lambasting the Obama administration for its “war on coal’’ and its impact on his Kentucky constituents. Following the latest U.N. climate change meeting in Peru in December, for example, McConnell criticized the administration for its “entire international crusade against coal jobs” and pledged that he would “continue to take the war on coal right back to the president and his EPA with laws aimed at protecting coal jobs….”
Too bad the senator wasn’t so worried about those same jobs prior to President Obama’s election in 2008.
A review of the commonwealth’s own coal mining statistics1 shows that the industry has been in decline for years—driven by nothing more than market forces that punish high cost producers. The same market forces that Republicans tend to champion, at least in the abstract.
Continue reading Markets, Not Mandates
Are Responsible For
Kentucky’s Coal Woes