THE BLOG

Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign Crosses 100,000 MW Milestone for America's Clean Energy Transition

After over a decade of tireless advocacy from our Beyond Coal campaign and more than 100 allied organizations, America just crossed one of its biggest clean energy transition milestones yet: the announced retirement of more than 100,000 megawatts (MW) of coal power since 2010 -- enough to prevent 100,792 asthma attacks, 9,420 heart attacks, and 6,097 premature deaths annually.

This 100,000 MW milestone came when Dynegy, Inc., a Houston based electric utility, announced that it will phase out the use of coal at units one and three at the massive Baldwin Power Station in Baldwin, Illinois and unit two at the Newton Power Station in Newton, Illinois -- eliminating a total of 1,877 MW from its energy portfolio and bringing our country to an important benchmark in the shift to clean energy.

This milestone is the latest sign of the profound energy transition underway, as we've partnered with 100 plus allies to move the country to clean electricity. Since 2010 when we turned our focus from stopping new coal plants to replacing the nation's 500+ existing plants with renewable energy, there's been an average of one coal plant announced for retirement every ten days. To date, our network of partners has helped secure the announced retirement of a total of 101,673 MW of coal electricity, which includes 232 coal plants and 662 coal units across the country.

While we've crossed an important threshold, it's also important to remember that we still have a lot of work ahead of us. With over 300 coal plants still chugging along and one-third of America's electricity still coming from coal, we have a long way to go before we can ensure our air, water, climate, and families are safe from coal pollution. For our fellow Americans living near deadly coal plants, dangerous coal mines, and places in the vice grip of a changing climate, that progress can't come fast enough.

The good news is that this phase out of coal has been accompanied by a robust buildout of clean energy across America, which we have also been pushing hard to accelerate in state after state. We hit another milestone this week with the #MillionSolarStrong project, which celebrates the million solar installations now operating in the United States. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that U.S. solar installations have grown seventeen-fold since 2008, from 1,200 MW to an estimated 27,000 MW today -- enough electricity to power 5.4 million homes.

DOE has also estimated that U.S. wind energy capacity has increased nearly 16-fold between 2000 and 2010, and is projecting U.S. wind power generation to double in the next five years and power 100 million homes by 2050. In Illinois, the state home to this coal retirement milestone, there are more than 113,000 workers currently employed in clean energy today. It also has the 5th highest amount of wind energy installed when compared with other states -- $7.7 billion of total wind investment -- and enough wind turbines up and running to power nearly 1 million homes.

With stronger clean energy policies in place, Illinois wind can take off and create thousands of jobs in rural communities.

The rise of our clean energy industry and the retirement of more than 100,000 MW of coal based electricity is especially important in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's temporary hold on the Clean Power Plan. It shows that the coal industry will continue to decline and clean energy will continue to rise as the historic carbon protections make their way through the courts, sending a clear message to the coal industry that it's heyday isn't coming back and that its leaders must acknowledge its shrinking place in America's energy landscape.

We asked the coal industry to do as much when we sent an open letter to coal executives and energy analysts in late April after Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy, urging coal companies to accurately forecast their downward decline to their investors moving forward -- pushing back against recent suggestions by industry leaders that coal was poised for a rebound after Peabody's fall.

In addition to acknowledging their new place, it's also vitally important for coal companies to keep the promises they've made to the workers and communities that have contributed heavily to the industry. As they decline, coal companies must make sure that they completely fund the worker pension and healthcare benefits they've committed to, and set aside the necessary sums to clean up their abandoned mines -- which can cause serious health risks to nearby communities.
It's important to hold the coal companies accountable. But the reality is that protecting the livelihoods of working families and communities that have depended on coal will also require substantial public and private investment. In light of this, we're working hard not only to transition more of our energy to wind and solar, but also to generate the billions of dollars in economic diversification and other investments needed for a truly just transition.

That's why, for example, we are supporting President Obama's Power+ Plan, a proposal to direct billions of dollars in investments into coal communities to not only clean up old mining sites, but also fund economic diversification and development programs geared toward providing new economic opportunities to places historically reliant on coal.. The 100,000 MW of coal electricity we have secured for retirement will go a long way to help protect our health and our climate, but we must also make sure that these communities don't get left behind in the clean energy economy.

We are fired up and on track to meet our goal of transitioning all of America's coal electricity to clean energy in the next 15 years, and we'll do it with real efforts toward making sure our communities historically reliant on coal can make the transition with us. Join us.