However, 36% of all new electrical capacity deployed in the U.S. last year came in the form of solar power, according to the Solar Industry Energy Association.
"Solar could break 1% this year," UCS's Anderson said.
In addition, there are literally tens of thousands of coal-powered electricity plants targeted for closure over the next several years, Anderson said. "And tens of thousands of more are vulnerable ... and they're very unlikely to be able to compete with new natural gas or wind facilities," he said.
Those coal-fired generator closings are warranted because many the plants are rarely used and have outlived their 30-year lifespan. They also generate the worst of the harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases, according to a 2012 UCS report titled, "Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America's Costliest Coal Plants."
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. coal-fired power plants have also been under significant economic pressure in recent years because of low natural gas prices and slow electricity demand growth.
The EIA's Annual Energy Outlook projects that a total of 60 gigawatts (GW) of capacity will be retired by 2020. That electrical capacity will need to be filled by other resources, including solar power.
"Clearly the move toward renewable energy makes economic and environmental sense," Fischer said. "But clearly utilities have a lot of money and influence, and they're going to continue to fight these battles."
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