All of the nation’s coal-fired power plants but one are less cost-effective to operate than constructing new solar or wind facilities in the United States, according to a study published Monday by the firm Energy Innovation.
Analysts compared operating costs at the 210 coal plants in the continental U.S. in 2021 to the estimated costs of developing new solar and wind, both within about 28 miles of the plants and within the broader region.
They determined that 209 of the plants were costlier than either wind or solar would be. When adding energy community tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act, 199 of the plants were more expensive than solar plants within 28 miles would be, while 104 plants have cheaper wind-energy sources within 28 miles.
The single plant that is cost-competitive with wind and solar is Wyoming’s Dry Forks Station, which the analysis determined is one of the newest and cleanest in the U.S. coal fleet and is still only $0.32 per megawatt-hour cheaper than regional wind would be. If a similar plant were built now, capital costs would keep it from being competitive with renewable energy.
Overall, the median cost for coal-fired plants is $36 per megawatt-hour, compared to $24 per megawatt-hour for new solar.
Analysts also found that the savings from transitioning to locally produced solar energy could be used to add 137 gigawatts worth of batteries across all plants and at least 80 percent of the capacity at one in three existing coal plants. In other words, they wrote, “the economics of replacing coal with renewables are so favorable that they could fund a massive battery storage buildout to add reliability value along with emissions reductions.”
Coal is one of the biggest drivers of carbon emissions worldwide. In the U.S., its use has steeply declined since the 1960s, but at a year-to-year level, it increased 14.5 percent from the previous year in 2020, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Over 90 percent of that coal was used for electricity generation.