Sierra Club: 2010, Outlook Dimmed for Coal

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 22, 2010. The outlook for coal continued to dim in 2010 as dozens of proposed new coal plants were taken off the drawing board and utilities announced 12,000 MW of coal plant retirements. While federal climate legislation may have stalled in Congress in 2010, cities and states have taken the lead to rein in Big Coal’s dangerous pollution and are working to end coal’s stranglehold on our economy.

“Coal is a fuel of the past. What we’re seeing now is the beginning of growing trend to leave it there,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “It’s clear that the way forward for America is in clean, renewable energy and that’s where an increasing number of utilities, developers, states, and communities are putting their investments.”

2010 By the Numbers:

New coal plants starting construction – 0
New coal plants abandoned or defeated – 38
Coal plant retirements announced (12,000 MW of coal power) – 48
People spoke out for strong protections from toxic coal ash – 256,000
Tons of carbon pollution prevented – 109,000,000
Direct economic benefits from domestic solar installations – $2,600,000,000

From the mine, to the plant, to the unregulated ash dump, 2010 took a toll on coal. Most new mountaintop removal coal mining permits are on hold while EPA determines if they meet clean water protection standards. The agency has also recommended a rare veto on one of the largest mines ever proposed, the Spruce mine in West Virginia. The final veto is expected soon. Any projects hoping to move forward will find it harder to get financing now that PNC and UBS, the largest financiers of mountaintop removal mining, have joined the growing list of banks passing public policies limiting their financial relationships with mountaintop removal coal operators.

The rush to build new coal plants has slowed to a trickle. What began in 2001 with plans to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants has fizzled. Citizen opposition, rising costs and increased accountability have stopped 149 of these proposed coal plants. Since October 2008, not a single new coal plant has started construction in the US, and the Energy Information Agency now projects that no new coal plants will be built in 2011 without significant incentives.

The same widespread public concern for people’s health and the future of the US economy that stemmed the flow of new coal plants is also behind a new trend – an unprecedented number of utilities are opting to close dirty and outdated existing coal plants. The nation’s over 500 existing coal plants are responsible for the bulk of the air pollution that makes it unsafe to breathe in many of our urban areas, and which also contributes to the unnecessary deaths of 24,000 Americans each year.

In 2010, the coal industry announced the retirement of a record 12,000 MW of old coal power. Nowhere is the effort to move beyond coal more clear than in the West, where plans announced this year to close coal boilers in Oregon, Arizona, Utah and Colorado will result in the retirement of nearly 10% of the entire western coal fleet.

Most of the country’s coal plants were built before 1980, and many lack modern pollution controls. As much-needed new rules go into effect that will protect people from toxic air pollution, soot, smog and coal ash contamination, spewing from these outdated coal plants, the wave of coal plant retirements is expected to continue.

“The grassroots movement continues to gain momentum and this year we’ve reached the tipping point, forcing the coal industry to not just hold its ground, but to cede it to cleaner energy sources,” said Verena Owen, volunteer leader of the Beyond Coal campaign.

The move away from outdated and dirty coal has created a huge opening into which clean, sustainable energy has jumped. Several large-scale clean energy projects were announced this year, creating needed new jobs and strengthening the economy.

The call for clean energy has been especially strong on the more than 50 campuses nationwide where students are organizing to move beyond coal. Just this year the University of North Carolina, University of Illinois, Western Kentucky University, Cornell and University of Louisville have all made coal-free commitments.

The Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign is a nationwide campaign working to stop the construction of new coal plants, transition away from existing coal plants to clean energy like wind and solar, and keep US coal reserves underground and out of world markets. Visit www.sierraclub.org/coal to learn more.

Source: sierraclub.org