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Coal and Carbon Emissions Decline in California’s Renewable Energy Age

By Media Office Staff

Coal continues to vanish from California’s energy landscape as renewable energy takes a more prominent role.

The California Energy Commission’s latest tracking progress report reveals a number of new findings about coal use, while providing updates on changes in the energy sector.

As coal plants retire and contracts expire, a reduction of coal-based electricity decreases California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of coal, the state’s utility companies are turning increasingly to low-emission energy sources, such as solar or wind.

California’s Emission Performance Standard and the state Cap-and-Trade program are major drivers for California utilities’ rejection of coal. The emission standard limits investments in energy generation with high carbon dioxide emissions. The two programs are crucial factors to explain why utilities have ended contracts with large, out-of-state plants that burn coal.

Coal-fired generation for California declined about 75 percent from 50,011 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2007 to 12,075 GWh in 2017, according to the report.

Only one operational coal-fired plant remains in California, the Argus Cogen plant in San Bernardino County. Many other plants previously retired or converted to biomass energy production.

Coal-fired electricity generation in California declined from about 17 percent in 2007 to about 4 percent in 2016 and 2017. That is projected to be about 3 percent by 2019 and almost zero by the end of 2025. The end of coal is several years earlier than anticipated as utilities have accelerated the end of ownership and contracts for coal-fired power generation, the report said.

California is not alone in its departure from coal. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and several Northeastern states have minimized reliance on coal.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey.

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