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Trump’s coal revival plan won’t work; clean energy tech is already cheaper

Lucas Mearian | Nov. 16, 2016
The cost of solar power systems has dropped 30% this year alone

The average number of employees at U.S. coal mines decreased 12% to 65,971 employees, the lowest on record since EIA began collecting data in 1978.

There is a concern, analysts said, about the possible roll back of the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar, which was passed in a bipartisan agreement and extended through 2019. After that, it will decline to 10% by 2022 in return for lifting of the oil export ban.

"It could happen, but [is] unlikely, due to the bipartisan nature of how the extension was passed in Congress and the momentum solar has right now," Prabhu said. "Solar has gone mainstream with utilities, businesses, and home owners, not to mention that solar jobs exceed over 200,000."

Last year alone, the solar industry added 31,000 new jobs, according to the Solar Jobs Census; that was 20 times the national average for job creation.

Coal mining jobs 

"Not only did solar create almost 2% of all new U.S. jobs last year, those hires were concentrated in the states where solar is booming primarily because of market-friendly policies," said Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University's Solar Institute.

Trump has also threatened to pull U.S. support for the Paris Agreement, which last year saw voluntary pledges by 195 nations to lower CO2 emissions. But the impact of such a move would be negligible at best in helping the coal industry, analysts said.

"Even if he did all those things..., which would require legislative hurdles, the economics still favor gas more as an energy generation source," said Colleen Kennedy, an oil and energy analyst with at Lux Research. "The economics just don't work out in favor of coal."

Because renewable energy can be intermittent, meaning when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining no energy is produced, EIA analysts use a "levelized avoided cost of electricity" (LACE) along with levelized cost of electricity. It represents the per-kilowatt hour cost of building and operating a power generating plant over an assumed financial life and activity level.

renewable energy 

For example, technologies such as solar and wind don't use fuel to generate electricity and have a relatively small variable operating and management costs. So their Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) is mostly determined by capital costs and financing costs, according to the EIA. LCOE values can also vary across regions because of differences in construction, fuel, and transmission costs as well as resources available for wind and solar.

Due to regulations, coal-fired power plants cannot be built without carbon capture and storage technologies, which removes about 30% of waste carbon dioxide. So Trump has proposed increasing the number of "clean coal" or carbon capture and storage (CCS)-enabled plants, which drive up the cost for constructing new plants or retrofitting existing ones, according to the EIA.

 

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