The accelerated closure of coal plants across America fuels a new era of green initiatives, clean energy production, investment, and jobs.
Economic Impact of Green Initiatives
Last year more than 20 coal plants, representing about 16 Gigawatts of power, either switched to natural gas or shuttered their doors altogether due to cheap gas and renewable sources putting them out of business. An additional 4 Gigawatts of coal facilities are expected to close in 2019 and the trend is only increasing in that direction. (Taken together, the closures are the equivalent of powering 14.5 million homes).
At the same time, solar installers and wind turbine technicians have become So what do all of the coal plant closures actually mean in terms of new job opportunities and greater energy savings for American consumers? State by state, the evidence is becoming clear.
Statewide Green Initiatives
The Tennessee Valley Authority voted in February to shut down two expensive and unreliable coal plants in Kentucky, the heart of coal country. One of those facilities, Paradise Fossil Plant, is 49 years old and formerly one of the national’s largest coal-burning plants, though today it is only operational about 10% of the time. The cost to upgrade the two plants? About $1.3 billion. “Let me tell you what this decision is not about—it’s not about coal. This decision is about economics,” said the TVA’s CEO, Bill Johnson, whose utility closed its first two coal facilities in 2017 and has since been phasing in natural gas with renewables that save it around $1 billion annually while also generating clean energy jobs.
The Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Act making its way through the state legislature seeks to provide support and lessen the financial impact of coal plant closures on workers and electricity customers alike. Utilities like Tri-State and Xcel Energy, the largest energy provider in Colorado, have scheduled the closure of several large coal plants, adding to the six Xcel plants that were already shuttered or retrofitted to run on natural gas by 2017.
In New Mexico state legislators in February advanced a bill known as the Energy Transition Act that would create thousands of new jobs in renewable energy while providing job training and more than $40 million in assistance pay to plant and mine workers where coal facilities are shutting down. The measure earned the backing of the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s biggest electricity provider, despite the utility’s historic dependence on coal. And New Mexico’s secretary of economic development, Alicia Keyes, said the bill signaled “a progressive, and responsible, thoughtful transition—especially with regards to economic development and creating green energy jobs.”
The 2.25 Gigawatt coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, an old facility located on tribal land in the Four Corners area of the state, is due to close later this year. And in Illinois, a new bill known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act aims to power the state using 45% renewables by 2030 and 100% by 2050, while also creating a network of training centers to prepare workers for the coming wave of clean energy jobs.
In the case of Illinois private investment in renewables is expected to generate more than $30 billion in the state over the next decade and power more than 5 million homes with carbon-free electricity. Already 1 in 50 workers in Illinois are employed in the clean energy sector, which boasts some 120,000 jobs according to the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, making it a proving ground for the employment and profitability potential of the renewable energy economy.
Regional Green Initiatives
– Also in February, Montana-Dakota Utilities announced the closure of several coal-fired plants in Montana and North Dakota, because they were “no longer cost-competitive,” according to the utility’s president, Nicole Kivisto.
Leading states like Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa are already showing how this is being done with wind power, while California, Arizona and Nevada are among the fastest growing solar energy producers. From both a business and a community perspective it makes smart economic sense to create jobs, reduce energy costs to consumers, and improve grid security. But it’s taken the widespread market closure of coal plants to reveal why gas and clean energy are definitively in—and why coal production is out. More than three-quarters of Americans now think it’s possible to build a new energy system that prioritizes renewable energy and creates greater choice.
In region after region, and study after study, strong numbers associated with the renewables market continue to bear out. Last year, for example, The Hill Group released a report showing that an increase to 12.5% renewable energy sources in Michigan would generate $3.8 billion in gross economic impact by 2019, translating to more than 20,000 job-years and some $1.4 billion in employee paychecks. Going further, if the state upped its output to 15% renewables by 2021, the economic impact would scale to $6.3 billion, reaching as high as $10.3 billion by 2027 with 30% renewables production in the state.
Local Green Initiatives
Perhaps most striking is that it is the free market itself—a combination of entrepreneurial competition and consumer choice—that is getting us there. As states recognize the numbers, they have responded with robust investment and policies to back them up; both New York and Colorado, for instance, have announced goals to produce 100% clean energy by 2040.
At the same time, cities are realizing that they can take the lead. A case in point is Philadelphia, which will create lots of jobs with its new 70 Megawatt solar plant—a facility seven times bigger than any renewable energy project in Pennsylvania—while supplying the city with one-fifth of its energy needs and lowering consumer energy bills at the same time. “This will create economic opportunities for local companies and workers, and family-sustaining jobs for the future,” said Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney.
Making the Case for Green Initiatives
With renewable energy becoming a powerful economic engine of the 21st century, utilities, cities and states are realizing it’s in their interest to help speed the transition—which is why they’re already generating and sharing in the job growth and prosperity.