Replacing Coal Power with Solar and Wind Will Cost Far More Than it Saves


Environmentalists are claiming electricity customers in Illinois would save money if a series of coal plants were replaced with wind and solar facilities.

Eight coal plants in southern Illinois can be retired by 2025, replaced with solar and wind, and save customers up to $14 billion on electricity costs, according to a May report from Vibrant Clean Energy — prepared in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. The plants examined are owned and operated by Vistra Energy Corp.

“The output from the Dynegy-Vistra plants can be feasibly and reliably replaced with a cost-effective mix of wind, solar, gas and nuclear, without the need for transmission expansion,” acording to the report’s conclusion.

“The cleaner generation mix lowers the cost of electricity for Illinoisans compared to what they pay today. In fact, Illinoisans would save between $12.5 billion and $14 billion on their electricity bills between 2018 and 2030 under the cleaner generation mix compared to the current coal-dominant mix.”

The study’s findings strongly coincide with the NRDC’s and Sierra Club’s long-held opinion of the coal industry. Both environmental organizations have served as ardent opponents of the traditional fossil fuel source.

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The NRDC believes coal “has no future” and the Sierra Club has even launched its own campaign with the goal of completely eradicating U.S. coal production.

Gas is a cheaper and more efficient option to coal, however, this is not the case for wind or solar. Despite the renewable energy sector slowly becoming more affordable in recent years, the unpredictability of solar and wind have contributed to the rise of electricity prices.

The wind blows and the sun shines at unpredictable intervals, creating volatility in their energy output. This is unlike coal plants, which can churn out power at a more constant rate.

Governments with a higher wind and solar share of energy production have seen a sharp rise in electricity prices.

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Coal has a bigger presence in Illinois than most would expect. Illinois has one-fifth of the country’s demonstrated coal reserve base and is the country’s third largest bituminous coal producer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The same can’t be said for the solar and wind industry. The U.S. Department of Energy currently ranks Illinois 34th in the country in terms of its renewable energy production, with the state’s wind and solar generation barely registering on the graph.

Replacing coal with wind and solar would require a major shift in the state’s energy industry and would not appear to save money for electricity customers in the foreseeable future.

Vistra Energy stands as a much larger company following its $1.74 billion takeover of Dynegy in April. The major consolidation comes as the energy market continues to grow more competitive.

Vistra coal plants in Illinois, much like coal across the country, have struggled with profitability in recent years. Company officials are now asking for legislative action to keep their plants running.

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Vibrant’s report, however, claims this isn’t necessary and its analysis “refutes Dynegy-Vistra’s claims, and demonstrates that all eight coal plants can be reliably replaced with cheaper and more efficient resources, while delivering large economic benefits to Illinoisans.”

The coal plants examined by Vibrant include Coffeen Power Station, Hennepin Power Station, Havana Power Station, Baldwin Energy Station, E. D. Edwards Generation Plant, Newton Power Station, Duck Creek Station and Joppa Steam Plant. The eight plants have a combined capacity of 5.86 gigawatts.

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