Go ahead and file this under “G,” for “Go Figure!”

As coal plants continue to retire in the energy transition, the United States is measuring a decline in C02 emissions. The Northwest region is no exception, as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council heard at its January meeting.

The Northwest has historically produced lower emissions compared to other parts of the U.S., the Council’s presentation said, largely due to its hydropower generation. Most existing coal plants in the region are scheduled to retire by 2030, and their capacity is set to be replaced by renewables.

Natural gas generated more power than coal in the region for the first time in 2018, and the NPCC expects an increase in gas plant utilization in the near term for the flexibility and reserves they provide. However, it expects few new plants to be built.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), CO2 emissions declined 3% between 2022 and 2023, mostly driven by some coal-fired generation being replaced by renewable energy like solar power. The EIA expects this trend to continue into 2024, with CO2 emissions declining 1% relative to 2023. It forecasted an 18% decline in coal-related CO2 emissions in 2023 and a 5% decline in 2024.

Credit: Northwest Power and Conservation Council

In 2023, power plant owners and operators planned to retire 8.9 GW of coal-fired capacity, around 4.5% of the total coal-fired capacity at the start of the year. EIA said that substantial U.S. coal-fired capacity has retired over the past decade, and a record 14.9 GW was retired in 2015. The Northwest saw 58% of its regional emissions come from coal in 2022, compared to the 78% in 2012. As the region’s coal use has declined, its natural gas use has increased.

Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, November 2023

Renewable use is increasing in the region largely due to legislative support and lower costs, per the council. Much of the recent nationwide increase in renewable generation is the result of an expected 60 GW of new solar generating capacity entering service during 2023 and 2024. The EIA expects that the solar capacity increase, in addition to its forecast of increased hydropower generation and modest gains in new wind capacity, will reduce both coal-fired and natural gas-fired power generation in 2024.

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