Sunrise brief: Out with the coal, in with the renew


For the first time since before 1885 annual energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The milestone reflects the continued decline in the amount of coal used for electricity generation over the past decade as well as growth in renewable energy, mostly from solar and wind.

For the first time since 1885, renewable energy surpassed coal in 2019. Credit: EIA

Compared with 2018, U.S. coal consumption fell nearly 15%, and total renewable energy consumption grew by 1%.

EIA converts sources of energy to British thermal units (Btu) to compare different types of energy that are reported in different physical units (barrels, cubic feet, tons, kilowatthours, and so on).

EIA also uses a fossil fuel equivalence to calculate electricity consumption of noncombustible renewables such as wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal.

In 2019, U.S. coal consumption fell for the sixth consecutive year to 11.3 quadrillion Btu, the lowest level since 1964, EIA said.

Electricity generation from coal has fallen over the past decade and in 2019 reached its lowest level in 42 years. Natural gas consumption in the electric power sector has increased in recent years, displacing much of the electricity generation from retired coal plants.

Total renewable energy consumption grew for the fourth year in a row to a record 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2019, EIA said. Since 2015, the growth has been almost entirely attributable to the use of solar and wind in the electric power sector. In 2019, electricity generation from wind surpassed hydro for the first time and is now the most-used source of renewable energy for electricity generation on an annual basis.

Solar goes to school

Madison Gas and Electric asked Wisconsin state utility regulators to approve a $15.3 million project to deploy an 8 MW solar array. The utility would partner on the project with the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District.

If approved, the electricity will increase renewable energy use in City operations by nearly 20%. The school district aims to meet half of its operations’ energy needs with renewable energy by 2030, 75% by 2035 and all of it by 2040.

The solar array will consist of about 28,000 solar panels and will cover around 53 acres. The project would be developed by NextEra Energy Resources Development, LLC.The solar array may begin generating electricity by the end of 2021.

Under a Renewable Energy Rider (RER) with the utility, the city will take 5 MW of the output and the school district will take 3 MW.

The City and school district entered into separate RER agreements, subject to regulatory approval, with the utility. The RER enables Madison Gas & Electric to partner with a large energy user to tailor a renewable energy solution to meet that customer’s energy needs. RER customers cover costs associated with the renewable generation facility and any distribution costs to deliver energy to the customer.

Canadian group buys U.S. assets

Renováveis (EDPR), the renewable division of Portuguese power company EDP, has completed the sale of an 80% stake in a solar and wind portfolio with an installed capacity of 563 MW to Canadian investment group Connor, Clark & Lunn Infrastructure for $684 million.

CC&L Infrastructure said in September that it had entered into an agreement with EDPR to acquire the assets. The company partnered with Canadian financial services cooperative Desjardins Group on the acquisition, which includes five renewable power projects with a total capacity of 563 MW.

EDPR will retain a minority equity interest and continue to operate and manage the plants, reports pv magazine Global.

The portfolio includes a 200 MW construction-stage solar project in Indiana, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2021. Also included are operating wind parks with an aggregate installed capacity of more than 360 MW in Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Ohio.

The renewable energy plants are fully contracted through power purchase agreements. Off-takers include a group of local electric generation and transmission cooperatives.

Solar in coal country

Sheridan Solar LLC is asking local officials for permission to build a 20 MW solar energy facility in the heart of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal region. The site is owned by SunSource LLC, leased to Sheridan Solar LLC, and currently is used for cattle grazing. SunSource has its home office in India and U.S. offices in North Carolina.

As proposed, the project would consist of 90,000 PV arrays and use a fixed racking system. The facility would include underground collection systems that would tie into an existing Montana-Dakota Utilities substation.



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