The Sierra Club on May 26 touted figures released the prior day by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its Electric Power Monthly report for March showing that the U.S. got 19% of its electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower, 34% from natural gas, and only 24% from coal.
The club said this is a huge shift considering that until very recently the majority of all electricity consumed in the United States was produced from coal fired power plants.
The EIA’s release was reinforced by a report also released May 25 by the International Renewable Energy Agency, which found the number of U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas extraction for the first time last year. Employment in the U.S. solar business grew 12 times faster than overall job creation. Solar’s growth also coincided with strong showings from the wind energy sector.
In response, Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said: “These new numbers on US power generation are remarkable, and a clear sign that the clean energy revolution is well underway. No one can now deny America’s dramatic shift towards a clean energy economy and the fantastic benefits of having hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs that put Americans to work.”
Hitt added: “What’s striking is how quickly renewable energy is catching up with coal. For decades, coal provided half our country’s power, and the industry insisted that would always be the case. But in March, renewable energy came close to matching coal on the grid, and we’re working hard to ensure that shift continues. … While we’re making steady progress toward our 2030 goal of a grid powered by 100 percent clean energy, there is still much work to be done, including continuing to retire our nation’s 290 remaining coal plants, accelerating the growth of clean energy here at home, diversifying the economy in coal communities, and pressuring our local, state, and federal governments to do more to protect our most vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change.”
The EIA study found that in March of this year, net electricity generation from coal was down 33.4% from March of last year. Consumption of coal for power generation came in at 39.9 million tons in March of this year, down 31.5% from 58.3 million tons in March 2015.
For the first quarter of this year, coal-fired power generation was down 24.2% from the first quarter of 2015. Coal consumption for power generation clocked in at 152.7 million tons in the first quarter, down 22.3% from 196.7 million tons in the year-ago quarter.