Overall, fossil fuels still dominate electricity generation in the United States. But the shift from coal to gas and renewable technologies has helped to lower carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution.
Last year, natural gas was the largest source of electricity in 20 states, while wind emerged as a leader in Iowa and Kansas. Coal remained the primary power source in 15 states – about half as many as two decades ago.
Source: United States Energy Information Administration
The decline of coal has largely been driven by market forces. Mr. Trump pushed to weaken regulations on industry, but more coal power plants closed during his first term than in the last four years of Barack Obama’s presidency, as utilities found it more economical to switch to cheaper natural gas and, increasingly, renewable power.
“We’re going to continue to see coal plants retire,” said Kate Konschnik, who heads the climate and energy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “The big question now is whether those plants get replaced with gas or cleaner energy.”
Natural gas has come out on top in recent years, but clean technologies like wind turbines, solar panels and batteries have fallen so far in price that they are now often the cheapest option available. Concerns over climate change have prompted many states to envision a shift away from gas, which, although cleaner than coal, is a major source of planet-warming emissions like carbon dioxide and methane.
While Mr. Trump has campaigned on a promise to preserve America’s reliance on fossil fuels — championing coal in 2016 and fracking for oil and natural gas this year — blue states like California have moved in the opposite direction, requiring utilities to use increasing amounts of wind and solar power each year. Last year California generated nearly half of its electricity from renewable sources and is serving as a testing ground for the type of transition away from coal, oil and natural gas that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has promised to pursue if he is elected president.
Below, we have charted how electricity generation has changed in every state between 2001 and 2019 using data from the United States Energy Information Administration. Scroll down or skip to your state:
In 2001, coal fueled more than half of the electricity produced in Alabama, but several of the state’s aging coal plants have since closed or transitioned to burning cheaper natural gas. In 2019, natural gas was the top electricity source in the state, followed by nuclear power. Coal came in third place, providing less than one-fifth of the state’s power generation.
Alabama generates more electricity than it consumes and typically sends about one-third of its output to nearby states.
Natural gas has been Alaska’s top source of electricity generation since 2001, but hydroelectric power has increased its share during that time. The state aims to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, but that goal is voluntary and has no legal weight.
Alaska has its own electric grid, which means that “whatever electricity is created there is what they’re consuming,” said Glenn McGrath, a power systems analyst at the Energy Information Administration. “It’s about as isolated as you can get.”
Many of Alaska’s rural communities are not connected to the main grid and use diesel generators for power, although smaller wind turbines are also becoming a common option.
Coal was Arizona’s top source of electricity generation until 2016, when natural gas began to surpass it. The state also has the largest nuclear power plant in the country, the Palo Verde Generating Station, which produces nearly one-third of Arizona’s electricity.
In recent years, coal’s decline in Arizona has accelerated, a result of competition from cheap gas. The state’s Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in the West, closed in 2019, despite a push by the Trump administration to save it.
Arizona supplies electricity throughout the Southwest. The state has abundant solar resources and its largest utility, Arizona Public Service, has set voluntary goals of getting 45 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and going completely carbon-free by 2050. In the past, however, the utility has lobbied against proposals to enshrine these renewable targets into law.
Coal was the largest source of electricity produced in Arkansas every year between 2001 and 2019, but its market share has slowly declined over time. Natural gas, meanwhile, has expanded and provided 33 percent of the…
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