Even before he assumed office, US President Donald Trump vowed to bring back jobs to the coal sector. Shortly, after elections, he signed an executive order to overturn the Clean Power Plan to revive the coal industry.
However, it seems like his efforts did not stop US utilities from shutting down coal-fired plants. Last year, 27-coal-fired plants with a combined 22 gigawatts (GW) capacity were announced for closure and early this year, energy companies have said that that they will close down at least five coal plants with more than a 1000 GW total capacity.
These announcements of closure are not surprising. Coal generation in the US has declined by 28 percent from 2012 to 2015 as more energy companies realized that shifting to Renewable Energy (RE) is the most cost-effective solution in bringing down power rates. In fact, several US utility companies are set to retire their coal plants and replace them with RE ones.
For example, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), the largest energy company in New Mexico, which boasts of roughly half a million customers will start retiring coal by the year 2022. PNM, which generated approximately 56 percent of its power from coal in 2015 will begin shutting down coal plants as it plans to produce all its power from solar energy, natural gas and even wind power in a bid to improve their financials and lower rates.
PNM’s Integrated Resource plan for 2017-2023 released April last year concluded that phasing out coal completely was the best way for the firm to match the demand for power with the lowest cost in the coming years. According to PNM’s estimates, the company’s most cost-effective portfolio is to increase the use of renewables to 36 percent and 33 percent from natural gas by 2035 from 11% and 6% respectively in 2017.
Similarly, Wisconsin’s largest utility, We Energies decided to shut down its 1.2 GW Pleasant Prairie coal plant this year. The energy company with its 2.2 million customers, sourced 50.6 percent of its capacity from coal in 2015 and will replace a portion of the size with its 350 MW solar power plant by 2020.
Likewise, in Texas, Luminant, an energy firm that supplies some 18 GW of power has decided to close its 1.8 GW Monticello power plant in January as well as two other coal plants with a combined generation company of 2.3 GW and will replace the lost capacities from coal plants with wind power. So far, the firm can generate 21 GW of wind power and additional 14-27 GW solar power by the year 2030.
These are just some of the major utilities in the US that are now moving away from coal and shift to cleaner forms of energy, and there are more. After all, contrary to those opposed to RE, it is possible to go 100 percent renewables.
We do not have to look far to see such an example. Recently, the local government of Guimaras, the small island province in the Visayas announced its “Guimaras 100% Coal Free Declaration,” a ban on coal-fired plants in the province. In his speech, Guimaras Governor Samuel Gumarin said that “The people of Guimaras have embraced renewables over dirty, polluting energy. We want to show that a sustainable-development path, powered by renewable energy, is not only possible but more viable.”
Guimaras is not the only province in the country that favors RE. Last March, the Bohol local government through its Bohol Energy Development Advisory Group or BEDAG has decided to prevent the building of new coal plants in the province. In a statement, the BEDAG said: “the BEDAG and the entire Provincial Government of Bohol are fully intent on maintaining the sanctity and pristine condition of the environment.”
The development came after the provincial government via an SP ordinance has declared environmental impact as the most important consideration for the selection process for interested energy developers as part of the province’s energy development program. The provincial government will institutionalize its “No Coal” stand through an ordinance.
The above examples only show that it is possible to shift from coal power to cleaner energy. Unfortunately, while others are already shutting down coal-fired plants to lower energy costs, we in the Philippines are busy building them since 90 percent of the roughly 7300 MW capacity approved or already for construction by the Energy Department are coal-fired power plants. This despite calls from experts, world and business leaders to work extra hard to make the shift to greener forms of energy possible.
I wonder how long and what will it take to convince others that RE is the practical choice for all of us.