Breaking news: Cayuga coal plant obsolete & clean energy just got another boost

In this week’s blog post we discuss exciting national clean energy news, take a look at the changing energy landscape with a particular focus on the coal industry, and announce some interrelated local breaking news that just came through today.

To begin, a bipartisan accord was just signed by 17 United States Governors in commitment to the development and implementation of clean energy policies and initiatives. This groundbreaking, multi-state effort emphasizes accelerated adoption of renewable technologies, expansion of clean energy sources, modernization of energy infrastructure, encouragement of clean transportation options, and overall development of the green energy economy.

The Governor’s Accord For A New Energy Future promotes collaboration and support amongst states, encouraging “states to work together to make these transformational policy changes… Many actions taking place in one state can de adapted to meet the needs of other states.” It suggests looking across state lines to one another’s renewable and energy efficiency standards for inspiration. New York’s incredibly progressive and comprehensive Reforming the Energy Vision and Clean Energy Standard mandates are surely setting the bar nationwide. Basil Seggos of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation said, “To be successful in the global fight to address climate change, collaboration and cooperation among state and national leaders is essential. By signing onto the Governor’s Energy Accord Coalition, Governor Cuomo is once again demonstrating his leadership while ensuring New York’s emerging clean energy markets are well positioned to grow even stronger.”

The governors come from both sides of the aisle and represent the states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Collectively these states are home to nearly half of the US population.

This agreement will have significant impact on the solar industry, which is already on the rise nationally. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that at the end of 2015 the United States reached over 24 GigaWatts of total installed electrical generation capacity from solar, which is enough to power over 5 million US homes. Last year the solar industry supplied 40% of all new electric generating capacity nationwide.

This accord is just another nail in coal’s coffin. The contrast between the burgeoning solar energy industry and coal industry’s demise is significant. Coal, America’s largest single source of air pollution, generated a record low in US’s energy output in 2015, and accounted for just 34% of the national market. This is down 5% from last year, and is its smallest share of the market since 1949 when Energy Information Administration records began.

That’s right, the coal industry is suffering, and while it might be a little premature to call it’s inevitable death, we think these facts speak loudly: 2015 saw crashing prices for coal and many coal-mining companies have declared of bankruptcy over the past year, including the second biggest coal mining company in the US, who filed for bankruptcy in hopes of alleviating $4.5 billion in just debt last month. Further, many diversified energy companies have opted to close their old, coal-fired power plants in anticipation of modernizing power plant rules, such as those outlined in the Clean Power Plan (read more about the Clean Power Plan in last week’s blog post). These recently closed plants accounted for about 5% of the entire sector. Co-author of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, released by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by Bloomberg New Energy Finance Coleen Regan, asserts, there is no coming back for coal.  She makes clear that these changes are structural and permanent, predicting that even more coal-powered plants will close in 2016.

In contrast, cleaner energy sources like solar and wind, accounted for 5.4% of the energy mix last year. And this shift in the energy market had immediate impacts on greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, falling 18% from 2005’s levels, which are the line in the sand for Obama’s Clean Power Plan emission goals. This is extremely significant and encouraging, as the drop brings us in one just one year halfway to our national goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 32% by 2030.

And just to bring this all home, today, Tompkins County lost a coal-fired power plant, one of the last in the state. The New York State Public Service Commission, “rejected a proposal that would have NYSEG customers pay to retrofit Lansing’s Cayuga coal power plant to also burn natural gas, while also approving the construction of an electric transmission line.” This power plant, located outside of Ithaca in the Town of Lansing, has been the object of much protest and grassroots campaigning in the past year. The future of this 312 MegaWatt plant had been in limbo and while it’s owners sought to transition the plant to burn natural gas in addition to coal. This retrofit would have cost nearly $50 million for NYSEG customers and require a ratepayer-backed subsidy of about $9 million over a decade. The plant has already been subsidized by ratepayers for about $4 million a month because it’s been unprofitable for years. The local utility, NYSEG, opposed the re-powering plant. While they agreed that the transmission lines needed an upgrade, they saw that in doing so, the power plant would be rendered obsolete. Supporters of NYSEG’s plan saw this option as better suited to meet local power needs, save millions of dollars for ratepayers, and be a significant step in the direction of enabling more renewable energy sources to come online.

It seems that each day nationally, statewide, locally, and across party lines our inevitable clean energy future is being set in stone. And we sure are glad to see that those stones won’t be mined from destroyed mountaintops.

 

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