WASHINGTON – If the pace of U.S. coal-fired power plant closures in 2019 continues throughout 2020, more plants will have shut down during President Trump’s first term than during President Obama’s second term, according to data compiled by the federal government and Reuters.
In 2019, electric utilities across the country retired or converted roughly 15,100 megawatts, or MW, of coal-fired electricity generation, according to Reuters, which relied on new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2015, during the Obama administration, 19,300 MW of coal-powered electricity closed, which remains the most in a given year.
Yet, as the analysis by Reuters shows, since President Trump took office, 39,000 MW of coal-fired power plant capacity has shut down. The report says:
If that trend continues, more coal plants will have shut during the first four years (2017-2020) of the Trump administration – an estimated 46,600 MW – than during Obama’s second term (2013-2016) – around 43,100 MW.
The precipitous decline in coal-powered electricity is largely the result of far cheaper alternative sources of energy, including wind, solar and natural gas. In the first half of 2019, coal-generated power dropped 13 percent, and electricity from solar alone grew by 10 percent. Over the past decade, the cost for solar and wind power fell by nearly 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
“Telling the truth may be a foreign concept to President Trump, but the stark realities facing the coal industry and the jobs evaporating along with it are surely not lost on those struggling communities in coal country,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “It is hard to find another group of Americans the president has lied to more often than coal miners and their families.”
During the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump repeatedly promised voters in Appalachia he would “bring back coal” if they supported him at the ballot box, which they overwhelmingly did. Roughly 70 percent of voters in West Virginia cast their ballots for Trump.
In May 2016 Trump told a throng of West Virginia coal miners, “Get ready because you’re going to be working your asses off.”
As president, Trump and his administration have actively worked to roll back regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency with the promise it will revitalize the coal industry, including the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate pact, in addition to the failed attempt to direct then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry in 2017 to bail out the coal and nuclear industries on the backs of ratepayers.
But as Inside Climate News reported, in December, the Trump-appointed Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, or FERC, which sets wholesale energy prices, voted two to one to order what was essentially a bailout of existing coal and natural gas plants at ratepayers’ expense, a move that is sure to result in lawsuits. FERC directed the country’s largest regional wholesale market, PJM, which operates in the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, to change its market rules to prop up coal and natural gas generators and make it harder for new wind and solar resources to be built and enter the market.
Dissenting commissioner Richard Glick remarked that the order was “illegal, illogical, and truly bad public policy,” Inside Climate News reported.
“The truth is renewable energy is quickly overtaking fossil fuels as a dominate source of energy in the U.S. and, though the Trump administration may slow things down a bit, there is no policy prescription or campaign promise the president can make that can stop private sector and public support for renewable energy,” Cook said.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.