Four Charts That Should Make the Coal Industry Nervous, Very Nervous

Wind energy is on track to break records this year as renewable energy overtakes coal as the source of new electricity generation.

Todd Woody is TakePart's senior editor for environment and wildlife.

Coal-fired power plants still supply about half the United States’ electricity, but those days are numbered. One indicator: The American Wind Energy Association reported Monday that at the end of June, nearly 15,000 megawatts' worth of wind power was under construction.

Wind Power Capacity Under Construction

How much coal-fired capacity was built in all of 2013? A grand total of 1,507 megawatts, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. 

U.S. power plant capacity additions in 2013

The U.S. installed three times more renewable energy capacity last year than it did coal. That's in comparison with the 6,861 megawatts’ worth of natural gas–fired power plants that came online in 2013. That capacity is just for so-called utility-scale power plants and doesn’t count, for example, solar panels installed by homeowners and businesses. Californians alone put more than 300 megawatts’ worth of solar panels on their roofs in 2013.

Keep in mind that just 1,032 megawatts of wind power capacity was built in 2013 because of the expiration of a key federal tax credit that brought the industry to a dead stop last year. In January, however, Congress extended the subsidy for another year, triggering the current building boom.

The map below shows how the renewable energy landscape has shifted over the past decade.

Difference between annual generation of hyfro and nonhydro renewable sources by state

Hydropower historically has been by far the largest source of carbon-free electricity in the U.S., as the map from 2003 shows. But by last year, non-hydro renewable energy—mainly solar and wind—was routinely generating more electricity. “April marked the eighth consecutive month that total monthly non-hydro renewable generation exceeded hydropower generation,” the EIA reported last week, noting that the number of states where non-hydropower produced more electricity than hydropower has doubled to 33 since 2003.

Finally, this map shows where wind projects are under construction, indicating the growing economic stakes states have in promoting renewable energy. No state is more invested in wind power than oil-rich, Republican Texas, where nearly 60 percent of that 14,600 megawatts of new electricity capacity is being built. 

Map of Wind Power Capacity by State

Comments ()