Financing freedom from fossil fuels
October 24, 2019 9:34 AM   Subscribe

The next US administration has the chance to strike the greatest climate bargain of all time. For less than $3/ton of CO2 abated, the next US government could economically retire the nation’s coal plants and buy back the planet’s future – all while saving US consumers billions. (Jules Kortenhorst, RMI)
posted by flabdablet (9 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
They could at the very least start with the TVA.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:03 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Related: UK renewables out-generate fossil fuels for an entire quarter -- Massive new offshore windfarms are now working, and more are on the way. (John Timmer for Ars Technica, Oct. 15, 2019)
The third quarter of 2019 saw the UK's renewable generation pass that of fossil fuels for the first time, according to an analysis by the climate and energy policy group CarbonBrief. The shift is driven by the completion of several enormous offshore windfarms and has been accompanied by a near-elimination of coal on the UK grid. And it comes only four years after the very first day in which renewables outpaced fossil fuels.

Vanishing coal
CarbonBrief performs regular analyses of the UK electrical market based largely on government figures but also incorporating off-grid sources like combined heat and power facilities. In general, its results have been within 3% of the final quarterly figures for the last several years, but the numbers for 2019 are close enough that it remains possible that the first quarterly landmark will have to wait until 2020.

That said, the organization estimates that renewables produced 29.5 TeraWatt-hours in July, August, and September, while fossil fuels only produced 29.1 TW-hr. The news for carbon emissions is even better, as the UK is well on its way toward its goal of eliminating coal-fired generation—almost all of the fossil fuel generation was in the form of natural gas, which has relatively low emissions. The report estimates that less than 1% of the UK's electricity came from coal during the quarter.

Coal was planned to be eliminated from the UK grid by 2025, but the implementation of a carbon tax (Quartz) has hastened its decline. As a result, the UK now regularly goes weeks without using any coal (Ars Technica). Nuclear provided nearly 19% of the UK's electricity; if nuclear and renewables are lumped together as carbon-free generation, the UK is on track to have fossil fuels fall to under half its generation for the entire year, as had been predicted by its National Grid.
Smaller scale (this graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's Electricity Monthly Update seems to indicate that net generation from select fuel sources ranges from ~255 to ~395 TeraWatt-hours, compared to 29 TW-h for the UK), but any movement towards renewables and carbon-free emissions is a net positive for the world.

And per that graph from EIA, and the text of the update, coal is continuing to have a smaller and smaller footprint in U.S. energy production, though we're still mining more than we use, so we're exporting it:
Coal stocks (thousand tons) -- July 2019: 110,690; % Change from July 2018: -0.1%
Coal consumption (thousand tons) -- July 2019: 56,002; % Change from July 2018: -12.2%
posted by filthy light thief at 10:09 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

If Bechtel built a bunch of coal plants in South America and the Caribbean, we wouldn't say the US was making a global bet on coal, would we?
posted by wierdo at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2019

so if the entire world doesn't do this, to me it seems like a waste of time and money
posted by winterjim at 4:02 PM on October 24, 2019

I don't understand how a project that saves money can reasonably be characterized as a waste of it.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Why is China placing a global bet on coal?

Because the proportion of fuckwits influencing energy-related trade policy in China is only slightly lower than it is in Australia.
posted by flabdablet at 7:18 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm cynical and wonder if this plan is being pushed behind the scenes by the coal power plant companies. Rather than shutting down the no-longer-economical power plants and going bankrupt, you can sell them all to the US Government for $40 billion dollars.

Why doesn't the US government spend that money on renewable energy? You'll get the same result, but you'd have $40 billion dollars for clean power plants. Sounds like a much better deal to me.
posted by eye of newt at 9:29 PM on October 24, 2019

Why doesn't the US government spend that money on renewable energy? You'll get the same result

Not if the result you want is shutting down all the existing coal plant so its stops emitting CO2, which is what the result needs to be. Building renewable plant to replace it is an inherent part of this proposal.

Obviously it's true that giving a backhander to the existing coal operators to induce them to cut over involves using money that could be used to build nationalized renewable generation, but at this point I doubt you'd find any US political party far enough to the left to support nationalized power generation.
posted by flabdablet at 1:19 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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