Alabama Cooling On Coal And Warming On Solar

State Economy

The population of Alabama is approximately 4.93 million people[1]. Alabama is the 24th most populated state in the United States.

In 2020, Alabama’s economy was ranked 27th in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. The state’s economy is dependent on the aviation, aerospace, biotechnology, agriculture, automotive, chemical, and forestry industries[3].

Environment Policies

Alabama is one of only 13 states that has neither a renewable portfolio standard nor a renewable energy  goal[4].

In June 2021, state utilities used natural gas (41.3 %), nuclear energy (32.7 %), coal (16.8 %) and renewable energy to generate electricity[5]. Hydropower, biomass, and solar are the primary types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in the state.

In June 2021, the average cost of residential electricity in Alabama was 13.52 ¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 13.85 ¢ per kWh.

Recent renewable energy developments in Alabama include:

  • 227 MW Solar Project – In September 2021, Danish power company, Ørsted commissioned the Muscle Shoals solar project at a site approximately 175 miles northwest of the state capital, Montgomery.
  • 100 MW Solar Project – British energy company, Lightsource bp is continuing work on the Black Bear solar project at a site approximately 5 miles north of Montgomery. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2021.

Conclusions

Commercial coal mining began in Alabama in the 1830s[6]. Coal was initially used to fuel steam engines for the railroad, forges, and furnaces.

In 2019, Alabama had 7 underground and 22 surface operating coal mines[7], which produced approximately 14.1 million short tons of primarily bituminous coal. Alabama’s coal is primarily used to fuel electric power plants and to produce steel.

In 2010, 45.6 % of Alabama’s electricity was generated from coal-fueled power plants[8]. In June 2021, 16.8 % of the state’s electricity was generated from coal-fueled power plants. Why the decrease?

  1. Pollution – Coal ash, the product of coal burned in a power plant contains arsenic, mercury, and lead; which are toxic. In 2019, coal ash was documented to have leaked into the ground water around 241 coal-fired plants in America[9].
  2. EconomicsThe cost to generate power from coal is more than double the cost to generate power from renewables, like solar.
  3. Climate Change Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas.

Alabama has significant renewable energy potential, including solar, biomass, and hydropower. However, state utilities have been slow to move from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) to renewables.

The cheapest form of power ($/kWh) without any subsides is onshore wind, followed by solar, hydropower and then natural gas. Economics have prompted Alabama utilities to install over 1,350 MW of solar projects over the next five years[10]

Alabama is now cooling on coal and warming on solar!

  Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”

www.jackkerfoot.com

 

[1] Alabama Population 2021, World Population Review

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis

[3] Biggest Industries in Alabama – World Atlas

[4] National Conference of State Legislators – State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, January 4, 2021

[5] U.S. Energy Information Agency – Alabama State Profile and Energy Estimates

[6] Mining Technology in the Coalfields of Alabama by Elizabeth Yates, April 11, 2006

[7] U.S. Energy Information Agency, Annual Coal Report – 2019, October 2020

[8] EIA, Electric Power Sector Consumption Estimates, Alabama 1960-2018

[9] Reuters, “Coal Ash Contaminates Groundwater Near Most U.S. Coal Plants: Study” by Valerie Volcovici, March 3, 2019

[10] Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

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2 thoughts on “Alabama Cooling On Coal And Warming On Solar”

  1. Alabama is one of the states in the South that lags far behind on renewables. The drop in coal is commendable but they should have installed hundreds of thousands of rooftops with solar panels, but that’s not happening. And renewables plus storage are cheaper than coal and gas – there are zero ongoing fuel cost for renewables.

    The state is helping little if any with renewables. Some utilities are seeing the advantages of renewables and are taking the initiative in some states. It’s really sad that politics is getting in the way of progress with renewables.

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