13 gigawatts of New Wind power in US in 2012, Renewables Half of all New Energy

The US put in 13 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2012, 5 of it in December alone, according to a Bloomberg study. The Office of Energy Projects report was a bit more conservative, but confirmed the general trend.

h/t Grist

Wind alone now accounts for 6% of US electricity generation!

Even the government figures showed that about half of all new energy generation in the US came from renewables in 2012, mostly wind turbines.

The US also put in about 1.5 gigawatts of new solar power last year.

In some markets, such as Texas, installing wind turbines for electricity generation is now actually cheaper than building natural gas plants! Reflecting this trend toward wind grid parity, more new wind capacity was added to the US electrical grid than natural gas, which was itself no mean shakes. Gas puts out less carbon dioxide than coal, but fracturing it from underground rock formations may release so much methane (a very potent greenhouse gas) that it is a wash with coal. Both coal and gas plants need to be mothballed as quickly as possible.

The bad news is that the US still generated 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, the highest per capita in the OECD nations! We are poisoning the world and provoking catastrophic climate change, and all the good news about wind and solar doesn’t offset our massive contribution to looming environmental disaster.

Specially bad news is that 1.4 gigawatts of new, dirty coal power was brought online in 2012 in the US. That should be illegal! Coal is poisoning us and our world! Carbon dioxide in the quantities we are producing it is a toxin for the world. Not to mention that we are being mercury-poisoned by dirty coal emissions!

If you care about your children, call your state representative (look him or her up) and demand that building new coal plants be made illegal. Now! We don’t need it. Put in wind and solar instead. In many markets it wouldn’t even be more expensive, and if you count in the cost of nerve poisoning by mercury and loss of seaside real estate, wind is dirt cheap compared to coal!

Likewise, call your city council representative and demand that your city generate its own electricity with wind and solar, taking it off the coal grid (this is especially important in the Midwest, where typically 65 percent of electricity generation comes from coal). And if you can afford it, put solar panels on your roof. You can cut your electricity bill 20-40% even in the Midwest. And invest in crowdsourcing solar projects (Warren Buffett is investing in solar, why shouldn’t we?)

We can do this from the bottom up. We can’t wait for the backward Neanderthal tea partiers in our Congress, who practically eat lumps of coal for lunch and wash it down with a petroleum martini. There isn’t much time to bring the carbon down, America. 2020 is a deadline, and it is only 7 years off. Goals of being 20% green by 2020 won’t do it. We need a major national movement and transformation, on the scale of the Civil Rights movement. Because clean energy and a non-warming world are a basic civil and human right that we deserve and will only get it if we demand it.

22 Responses

  1. The tones of urgency and alarm that you raise here are absolutely necessary. I don’t think these alarms can be exaggerated or over-played.

    It is really time for us to stop playing games. I do mean both our personal entertainments, and such games as nationalism, militarism, fomenting ideological hatreds and disputes, supporting political parties that act selfishly in their spheres of action, and so on.

    Of course we won’t do it. You may young, or disabled, or otherwise feeling that your community and political efforts will not be effective, your personal games and entertainments may seem very necessary in your life experience. And of course the serious adults who embody hateful & destructive nationalisms and coercive military forces and the silent genocide of the petroleum and coal industries will never change until they encounter sufficient opposition (from active citizens who are no longer willing to play games with their future).

    It’s time to stop playing games, or the social environment that allows you to play games may suddenly change for the very worse. We’re not going to do it immediately, yet it’s time to start thinking it and saying it, and becoming aware of the citizen power that can be mobilized against the destructive elites that now dominate our political and economic elites.

  2. I notice that there is no link provided to support that claim that methane releases from natural gas drilling “may” make the replacement of coal-fired power plants with gas-fired plants “a wash.”

    “May” is such a useful word.

  3. Specially bad news is that 1.4 gigawatts of new, dirty coal power was brought online in 2012 in the US.

    Just so everyone is clear: that is a gross figure. During 2012, 9 gigawatts of old, dirtier coal power was shut down (8.5% of the total coal-fired capacity in the United States), representing a net reduction of 7.6 gigawatts. Even this figure underestimates the net gain, because the plants being shut down are much less efficient than the new ones.

    In coming years, coal-fired capacity is projected to be retired at an even faster rate, while the construction of new plants will drop to zero before the end of this decade.

    • OK Joe, I’m in the professors camp (the drastic action now camp). What camp are you in?

      Google ” methane, fracking” and you’ll find lots of article that indicate much higher release of methane from fracking than had previously been suspected. And you’ll find articles disagreeing (lots of industry articles in fact). So its easy to choose, depending on your perspective.

      But Burning natural gas instead of coal will not save us from a climate disaster. Natural gas spews about half as much co2 into the atmosphere as the equivalent amount of coal. So after every single coal plant is replaced by natural gas, we will still be loading up the atmosphere with co2 that has nowhere to go – at a lesser rate. That will not prevent climate disaster in any way, but may cause some delays.

      • Google ” methane, fracking” and you’ll find lots of article that indicate much higher release of methane from fracking than had previously been suspected.

        Sure, but the leap from that to “therefore, natural gas may be as bad as coal” is a vast one, and I’m going to need more than a lecture about ideological purity before I credit that assertion.

        But Burning natural gas instead of coal will not save us from a climate disaster.

        Switching from coal plants to natural gas plants is one early step in an extended process that will save us from a climate disaster. It’s a transitional step, not a permanent fix.

        You know what else won’t save us from climate disaster? Pretending that we can shut down all the coal plants next Tuesday without a replacement. Switching from coal to natural gas won’t get us all the way to where we need to be, but it will do a lot more than putting all of your energy into talking talking talking about “drastic action” that wont happen.

        • I’m an optimist, and agree that we can “do it all with renewables” eventually, but it’s going to take a generation to get there, and the coal plants need to close yesterday.

          Also, on the point about the release of methane during frackinig: that is something that can be controlled. Proper techniques, enforced by regulation, can eliminate, or almost eliminate, such releases. It is possible to get natural gas without those methane emissions.

          Burning coal, on the other hand, cannot be done without releasing all of that carbon dioxide.

          The problems with fracking need to be handled through regulation. The problems with coal cannot be handled except by getting rid of coal.

    • Whether you’re burning coal, natural gas, or a petroleum derivative, you are bringing up ancient carbon that has been isolated from the biosphere for millions of years and injecting it into the atmosphere.

      Methane may lack the mercury of coal, may produce less ash, etc – but it still puts new carbon into the air, burned or in its natural form. It IS – and its combustion GENERATES – greenhouse gases.

      We can generated methane from renewables, and in this way have a convenient transportable “fuel.” This would just recycle carbon that’s already part of our biosphere. But “producing” methane from underground adds new carbon, and needs to be stopped. Period.

      • Whether you’re burning coal, natural gas, or a petroleum derivative, you are bringing up ancient carbon that has been isolated from the biosphere for millions of years and injecting it into the atmosphere.

        But in massively different amounts. It’s the levels that matter here, remember?

        If drilling for natural gas was “stopped. Period” as you recommend, zero (0) of the reduction in coal capacity would have occurred, and billions of tons more of carbon dioxide, as well as mercury, would have been released into the atmosphere. To advocate for that is the most irresponsible thing an environmentalist can do.

        • It isn’t massively different amounts. If no methane factor, natural gas is about half of coal. 2.5 bn metric tons of CO2 annually is still unacceptable.

          We can go green by 2030 if we try, sooner if we try hard.

    • I’m surprised to hear that, because Australia is so much more urban than the US.

      Is their energy mix much more coal-intensive? Do they rely on brown coal?

      • That is because Australia is a huge coal exporter. Like the US , Australia is a major coal consumer, but is a major exporter as its domestic market is not large on an international scale.

      • Yes, its mostly brown coal here. We rely on exporting it too, and we are expanding our mines and associated infrastructure rapidly. Sorry about that.

    • I love Australia.

      It is not that important as a source of carbon emissions. The US is.

  4. Since there will be virtually no significant measures to counter global warming coming through Congress for some time, as long as the GOP maintains its majority-by-gerrymander in the House, the Senate should do what they can do unilaterally: hold nationally televised extensive hearings on the 350.org issues. This will show at least a large portion of the public that climate change is far more urgent an issue than portrayed in, say, “An Inconvenient Truth”, and spur political action

    Of course, whatever CAN be gotten through the House should, and Obama should do whatever the president can unilaterally, something progressives should outline in detail

  5. Now for the “bad” news on US wind. That 13GW was put up in a rush to beat the Production Tax Credit expiration at the end of 2012. So the wind pipeline has been virtually emptied. We did get a one year extension as part of the “cliff” agreement -and this one covers projects started before the end of the year, some some new builds will happen this year, but it is expected to be a far cry from last year. The uncertainty about the PTC has caused a lot of damage to the US wind industry.

    On a related note, I made my first foray into crowdfunding of PV projects, accepting an unspectacular rate of return, for the pleasure of helping to accelerate the expansion of PV. The good news is that most projects were already funded, i.e. I think the concept is catching on.

    • I attended a presentation from a solar company called Vivant that has an interesting model for overcoming the funding and logistical problems that have impeded residential PV proliferation.

      This company doesn’t sell solar panels. They continue to own the panels that they install on your roof, and sell you the electricity they produce at a lower cost than the electricity from the power company. The homeowner doesn’t put down any money up front, and is not responsible for maintaining or replacing the solar panels, leaving that job to the company. After 20 years, when the solar panels are degraded and obsolete, Vivant will either give them to the homeowner to keep using, getting free power from them, or replace them with an updated system.

      Apparently, Vivant is now on track to become the largest commercial power company in the US within a few years.

  6. Australian coal exports were project to be 162 million tonnes in 2012, an increase of roughly 10% over 2011.

    I am encouraged that Detroit Edision, its Monroe coal-fired power plant was where George W Bush announced his Clear Skies initiative, just installed a 2.6 acre solar array on the University of Michigan North Campus with a second one on the way.

  7. The problem with people is that they refuse to accept any up-front costs or sacrifices whatsoever to replace our electrical power sources immediately.

    The reason for that is that they feel they have been screwed economically for years. Which is true. But the money that failed to get into their pockets was not “destroyed” by evil commie environmentalists. It was diverted into the pockets of the investor class. Then a tiny % of it was used to fund relentless right-wing propaganda, even from men of God, claiming the wealth was destroyed by evil commie environmentalists.

    The bad guys have set up the perfect trap, in this and many other issues. They dumbed us down so we couldn’t understand our wealth was being redistributed to investors, they seduced us with the promise of goodies so that we couldn’t accept their evil intent, and then pulled the rug out from under us and blamed it all on their enemies and victims.

    So now people are desperate, and will do whatever the rich command to survive to the next paycheck.

  8. Hi Juan –

    Perhaps you could be a little harder on Warren Buffet. Berkshire Hathaway owns Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which according to the Wall Street Journal, hauls enough coal to power 10 percent of homes in the US. Now, Peabody Energy wants to haul 24 million metric tons of coal per year out of Wyoming & Montana to west coast ports for power generation in Asia, using BNSF trains. Buffet is only too happy to take the load, since coal freight profits have been down lately due to the factors you describe above.

    link to articles.marketwatch.com

    link to articles.marketwatch.com

    link to coaltrainfacts.org

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